Monday, June 07, 2010

Survival: It's All About Sex

What I'm reading: Storm Prey, by John Sanford

Not much to update on the wildlife front - a raccoon got into the hummingbird feeder again. We've been bringing it in at night, but apparently not early enough. And I did spot a coyote on our way to breakfast Sunday.

On Saturday, I drove all the way into the Springs to attend a workshop presentation by best-selling romance author Linda Howard. I've summarized her 12 Steps to Intimacy on this blog more than once. I suggest you read today's post first. I'll give you the back link at the end.

Although the 12 Steps to Intimacy was the topic of the first part of her workshop, she spent a considerable amount of time explaining the why and how these steps came to be, from a species survival standpoint. I thought I'd share that with you today. Her research, as mentioned in my earlier post, is gleaned from Desmond Morris's books. He was an anthropologist, and his concepts are based on comparisons of human beings with other mammalian species.

Howard's first point was that sex is very powerful, and very important. It's more than recreation. Her comment: Sex and guns are powerful—handle both with care. Writing sensual love scenes requires an understanding of the human sex drive. Our mating rituals have deep roots in survival instincts.

And, as she points out, survival of the species is a more powerful drive than survival of the individual.

In order for humans to survive, they needed bigger brains. This meant that human infants required a long period dependent upon parental care. Most other infants are up and about shortly after birth. Babies are a LOT of work!

She also pointed out that babies are bald, toothless and incontinent, but their mothers still love them. Which should be encouraging to the husbands.

Having more than one person help care for the infant required a long-term commitment to a relationship. Very few other animals form these lifelong bonds. How did this evolve?

In a nutshell: Sex. In order to keep the male around, the female had to attract males all the time. Other mammals mate only when the female is in heat. Humans have no mating season. Sex kept the male interested. So, how did females attract males all the time? They had to 'seem' to be in heat. Along came pheromones. Female pheromones are transmitted through the air—males can smell them. On the other hand, male pheromones are transmitted by touch.

The aggressive male is in pursuit of the reluctant female—an evolutionary reality that is echoed in many romance novels. In order for the female to be attracted to the male enough for sex, she has to touch him. This requires the male find a way to get close to her.

Also, to keep the bond strong, males had to be able to respond at all times. Increased testosterone levels gave them the necessary sex drive. But what about the female? What was her payoff for frequent sex? The orgasm.

Howard mentioned that the female orgasm had a double evolutionary payoff—with the female sated, she was less likely to get up and wander off, which increased the chances of conception—which, in turn, increased the survival chances for the species.

Helping the woman achieve these orgasm, Howard went on to point out, was the development of the male's penis, which is one of the largest in proportion to body size compared with other species. Gorillas have nothing on humans. (Her visual here was her pinkie finger.)

Other adaptations encouraged bonding. Initially, humans mated from the rear. The male was attracted to a female's buttocks. However, bonding and intimacy required a face to face position. Thus, the evolution of the larger, rounder, female breasts, which mimicked the appearance of her behind. In other species, the breasts are much smaller with elongated nipples—because their primary function is to nurture the young. But in humans, it's to attract a mate.

To summarize—in humans, females create the illusion of being perpetually in heat. The increased testosterone levels required of the males are tied directly to increased aggression. This put the female in the position of having to attract a mate, and still remain safe.

We need to understand that humans have only the thinnest veneer of "culture" atop millenia of instinct. Deep down, we're not really that far removed from our cave man ancestors.

OK – now you can go read the other post if you've forgotten the steps. It's here.

Tomorrow, my guest is best-selling author Julie Leto, and she'll be talking about what it's like to write for a publisher that promises heat to its readers. And Wednesday, I'll continue with the second part of Linda Howard's workshop.


Wynter said...

Fascinating post - thank you. It explains an awful lot of things;-) I'm so envious that you got to hear Linda Howard speak. I hope to attend her workshop at RWA next month.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Terry,

Linda Howard has long been one of my favorite authors. I just finished her novel ICE. Thanks for sharing info with us.

I also read John Sanford. My husband and I both like his novels.

Terry Odell said...

Wynter - and there will be more on Wednesday. I came away from that workshop with more of an understanding of the hubster's behavior, even though we've been married almost 41 years.

Linda Howard is a great speaker. She had us all laughing despite the academic nature of her topic.

Jacqueline - I'm happy to share. I've only read the Lucas Davenport (Prey) series by Sanford. Might have to try the other ones.

Carol Kilgore said...

Really interesting topic. Thanks for sharing with us. Linda Howard is one of my favorite authors.

Terry Odell said...

Carol - glad you liked it. The very first romance I ever read was a Linda Howard.

jean hart stewart said...

Great post. I heard Linda once and she's fascinating, but she hadn't developed this subject yet...Certainly some new thoughts on sex here....Jean

Mason Canyon said...

I've enjoyed a number of Linda Howard's books. Interesting post. Looking forward to the second part, as well as your guest tomorrow.

Thoughts in Progress

Terry Odell said...

Jean - Linda said she wrote that presentation 21 years ago. :-)

Mason - Sex seems to be a topic this week. :-)

Katie Reus said...

Thanks for sharing, Terry! LH is my all time favorite author. Can't wait to read the next installment.

J K Maze said...


A great posting. Thank you. Linda Howard is one of my favorite authors. In fact, I just finished reading Burn - a must read.


Debra St. John said...

Great post...definitely food for thought!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks to Katie, Joan & Debra -- I read Desmond Morris's books back in my early college years, and I never dreamed they could apply to romance writing.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Love the sex and anthropology. So intriguing! Now I have to buy a Desmond Morris book to add to my mile high "to read" pile. Such an addict.

Great post. And more heat tomorrow. I'll stay tuned.

Mary Ricksen said...

Great Post. I'll stay tuned too!

Terry Odell said...

TerryS - I think when Morris's books came out, they were almost scandalous. Yes, stick around all week. :-)

Mary - glad you'll be back.

Jemi Fraser said...

I've enjoyed several of Linda's books - she writes well. Great points here! :)

Terry Odell said...

Jemi - glad they were helpful.

Debra Glass said...

I've heard Linda give this talk before. It's fabulous! She's a hoot, isn't she?

Terry Odell said...

Debra - I'd say a hoot and a half!

Neil Plakcy said...

This was a great post, Terry. Although it's from an M/F perspective I can see that it applies to M/M romance writing as well.

Terry Odell said...

Neil - I think intimacy and survival are definitely hooked together, and it's about building trust with a partner.