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Further Thoughts on Homosexuality

February 24, 2012

Yesterday I mentioned Gregory Cochran’s view that homosexuality is a disease. And then I started wondering how much of a reproductive hit gay men really have taken, historically. Even in the West up until recently, lots of gay men still got married and had kids. And in segregated societies, there seems to be a lot of homosexuality (as in prisons and the navy). For example, there were recently stories about US soldiers discovering that Pashtuns like to take boy lovers:

For centuries, Afghan men have taken boys, roughly 9 to 15 years old, as lovers. Some research suggests that half the Pashtun tribal members in Kandahar and other southern towns are bacha baz, the term for an older man with a boy lover. Literally it means “boy player.” The men like to boast about it.

“Having a boy has become a custom for us,” Enayatullah, a 42-year-old in Baghlan province, told a Reuters reporter. “Whoever wants to show off should have a boy.”

Here’s the best bit:

Even after marriage, many men keep their boys, suggesting a loveless life at home. A favored Afghan expression goes: “Women are for children, boys are for pleasure.”

Reading Plato’s dialogues, it’s clear a lot of Greeks felt this way, too. Socrates was married, but the Charmides has a charming passage in which he gets flustered after getting a peek inside a boy’s cloak. And the Symposium has a passage praising the military value of homosexuality: you’re not going to run away if your lover is also in the lines.

To sum up the thought: maybe homosexuality hasn’t had much of reproductive cost until recently? Might it even help in male bonding? Perhaps a willingness to engage in homosexual sex is even a safety outlet in conservative societies?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2012 9:26 pm

    I worked with a women who’s male friend had been gang-raped in Turkey. I’ve heard stories about roving gangs in the Middle East doing that kind of thing, but I don’t know what the truth of it is. It would make sense, given the history of pederasty in the Middle East, going all the way back to the Greeks.

    I suppose pedophilia is a similar situation, as there are many people who engage in it, but are not primarily pedophiles; but there are some who are apparently only sexually oriented towards prepubescent children. There’s also bestiality – a recent study of rural men in Brazil found over 1/3 had engaged in sex with an animal. So presumably that was common in rural societies. I don’t know anything about an orientation that way though – it seems unlikely.

    I guess I don’t really have a point here. Although all these things establish the importance of establishing cultural norms around sex, rather assuming that there is some healthy, natural state of human sexuality.

  2. mike permalink
    February 24, 2012 11:25 pm

    Try to imagine, from an historical standpoint, a man who lusts after men but whose society frowns upon homosexuality, derides it. He marries, has kids, but he has to force himself to have sex with his wife, and when he does so, he has to imagine he is bedding a man. It takes effort, a great deal of both mental and physical effort, to have sex with her. There are nights/days when he’d rather not. (You’d not feel this way as a straight man).

    This feeling or attitude, even if it led to only one fewer child per marriage over the course of a life, even if it only led to 1/2 or 1/3 less child on average for such gay men, would eventually cause their genes to be outcompeted by genetic competitors, the straight men.

    There is a great deal of man-on-man action as women are hard to come by for marriage. Many Muslim men have no jobs, no hopes of getting jobs, and they can’t take/get wives w/out jobs.

    It’s hard to know from Muslim tribe to Muslim tribe (I am speaking of Pashtuns, here) if some of their “preferences” aren’t the result of taboos with women. Yes, for children, they have sex with women, but in many tribes maybe actually having fun with sex is forbidden from a religious standpoint. That is, is it possible that it’s a matter of “in and out” and not much else for man-woman sex so as not to feel one is married to a whore?

    Or, who knows…sheep and Pashtuns have a history together, don’t they?

    • February 25, 2012 2:03 pm

      I agree that even a distaste for straight sex seems like a disadvantage. That part of why I was wondering if there might be some other advantages. Maybe if you’re more ok with boys or goats as a sexual outlet, you’re less likely to have an affair and get yourself killed? I dunno. Obviously just speculation.

      The disadvantage would also not be as great if, for cultural reasons, even married couples in general think sex is distasteful somehow. And you’re probably right in thinking that’s the case sometimes (I think the article I linked actually might have touched on that.)

      • mike permalink
        February 25, 2012 2:26 pm

        “Maybe if you’re more ok with boys or goats as a sexual outlet, you’re less likely to have an affair and get yourself killed? I dunno. Obviously just speculation.”

        Well, that’s one explanation, but if you’re a believer in neo-Darwinism, it’s an explanation that doesn’t work. A strategy for “not getting yourself killed” because “you’re more ok with boys or goats as a sexual outlet” is no different than killing yourself, in the Darwinian sense: both “strategies” leave none of your genes behind, after all.

      • February 25, 2012 2:47 pm

        I was assuming the men in question were still willing to carry out their marital duties once they had a wife—as would usually have been expected. But before marriage, willingness to engage in non-heterosexual sex could have been a safety valve.

  3. gpm permalink
    February 25, 2012 12:01 am

    “To sum up the thought: maybe homosexuality hasn’t had much of reproductive cost until recently? Might it even help in male bonding? Perhaps a willingness to engage in homosexual sex is even a safety outlet in conservative societies?”

    I understand the desire for camaraderie, but why the buttsex? I have a few close friends, men I’d trust my life to, but there isn’t a sexual component to these relationships. I don’t understand how close friendship between two men culminates in sexual intercourse.

    Also, I’ve heard from numerous sources that gonorrhea is rampant in Afghanistan. How does that factor in? I guess my visceral disgust is kicking in here, but, blecchh. That’s gross yo.

    I don’t really have a point either I guess. I don’t think there’s too much to say, other than some guys just like to bone each other. I don’t see it serving a specific function. Guys who are frustrated with their marriage can always find a mistress, unless they want to bone dudes. Guys can be close to guys without having sex with them. I’m not seeing much of a rationale here.

    • mike permalink
      February 25, 2012 1:07 pm

      Perhaps in such societies, where hygiene is non-existent, and where bugs have free ride, that such bugs really have manipulated sexual behavior, not that they couldn’t do that elsewhere, mind you.

      BTW, here in the West, the CDC is already warning of gonorrhea strains that are resistant to antibiotics, just as we have experienced with methylin-resistant staph.

      I don’t know what demographic it has shown up in–tried to find out by a quick search at CDC, but couldn’t find it. It has to be among the promiscuous, which includes a lot of demos.

    • February 25, 2012 2:16 pm

      Well, in some societies, sleeping with an unmarried woman can get you dead. That’s part of what I was thinking.

      I have to say I don’t get it either. I don’t get why a nominally straight man would be willing to engage in homosexual sex under any circumstances, and yet it seems to happen a lot. I also don’t really get the social function, but certainly the greeks often claimed it had one—they said that man-boy relationships had a mentoring function, for example. Might just be self-serving, of course.

      • mike permalink
        February 25, 2012 2:32 pm

        re; the Greeks

        This happened among the elite, right? (China, too). And pederasty might actually be different than what we think of as pedophilia today. Greek men had sex with their wives, had children, and may have, as you said, been self-serving in that the boys “serviced them,” I’d imagine, orally? Among this man-boy stuff was probably some pedophilia as we’d term it today.

        On the other hand, what if a couple of thousand years from now, all we really have of the “history of San Francisco” are the writings or oral histories of Harvey Milk and friends, or certain CA Supreme Court justices, and other higher-ups? We might get a very skewed idea of what “common sexual practices” among the powerful were. (I did a bad job of giving examples here, but maybe you get my drift.)

      • February 25, 2012 3:06 pm

        Yes, it would have been pederasty. And yeah, you would have had to have status to get a boy (as in Afghanistan). It would often co-exist with marriage. It was supposed to involve inter-thigh sex (not sure what that’s called) but no doubt involved anal sex as well. Straight-up homosexual relationships between adults were not unknown.

        It’s definitely hard to know how wide-spread this stuff was in Greece. Looking at contemporary societies where this happens is maybe more useful in that respect. But it’s clear in many cases that there are more men who want a boy than can actually afford one. It’s a luxury good and to some extent the practice will have been limited just for market reasons.

  4. mike permalink
    February 25, 2012 3:57 pm

    Yes, that inner thigh stuff is called “frottage.”

    Bisexual acts, while hard for us to comprehend, I can intellectually, if not emotionally, conceive of as cultural accommodations for pleasure. If guys in prison can do it, why not the Greeks, I suppose. It’s a warm body type thing and I am guessing it somehow involved male competition.

    It’s the men who never have any lust for women, who don’t react to the female form who are the evolutionary puzzle and those are the ones who likely have neurological damage due to a pathogen.


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