What Sadomasochism Can Teach Us About Human Sexuality

Gregory Gorelik in Quillette:

AdobeStock_124519668Like all good husbands, I took my wife to see the latest instalment of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie series—Fifty Shades Darker­­—on Valentine’s Day weekend. Admittedly, this romantic gesture was not entirely altruistic. As it happens, I am currently doing research on the role of dominance and submission in human sexuality. Although neither of us is in the “scene,” we are nonetheless swept up in the current cultural fascination with consensual sadomasochism, albeit for different reasons.

My fascination stems from my general interest in human sexuality and its evolution. My field, evolutionary psychology, has been at the forefront of exploring human behavior through the evolutionary lens for more than two decades, and has made immense advances over the years. Although its greatest accomplishments are in the realm of sex differences and mating behavior, it is not confined to the sexual realm, as is evidenced by the increasing output of research on the evolution of morality,1 religion,2 and politics.3 Indeed, E. O. Wilson’s dream of a consilience of knowledge across the biological sciences and humanities is slowly inching its way toward fulfilment.4

Notwithstanding the ever-expanding reach of Darwinism away from sexuality, the exploration of the evolutionary roots of human sexual behavior is not yet complete. In addition to the continuing necessity of cross-cultural research on sex differences and variations in life history strategies (i.e., how interested individuals are in short-term versus long-term relationships), knowledge of actual human copulatory behavior is mostly untapped. Ironically, evolutionary scientists have made remarkable advances in the study of human reproduction without paying much attention to the reproductive act itself.5 I believe that it is time to get dirty—and the modern fascination with sadomasochism might lead the way.

More here.