Modern Erectile Sensitivity
What's the sitch with erectile sensitivity?
Natural selection is the process by which biological traits that increase the reproductive success of an organism become more common in a given population. For example, opposable thumbs allowed early primates to grab shit that other animals couldn’t, so they were able to exploit extra resources, live well, and make babies. Those babies also had opposable thumbs.
Invoking ‘natural selection’ as the reason we are the way we are is commonplace, and often leads to fun thought-experiments. But it is not necessarily scientifically rigorous or accurate, especially when discussing the biological traits of Homo sapiens living in 2014.
We have largely removed ourselves from the machinery of natural selection by exerting greater and greater control over our environment. Genes that predispose individuals to poor vision, that may have gotten them eaten by a lion or killed by a neighboring tribe in the past, are now masked with corrective lenses and passed onto future generations of dweebs. Folks with a greater ability to harvest food and wood are no more likely to survive cold winters than the dweebs from the first example. Etc. Traits that traditionally may have inferred a negative advantage now need to be FAR more ‘negative’ to still be selected against (i.e. inherited cancers that arise in childhood… I promise, that’s the darkest we’ll go).
Furthermore, positive sexual selection for traits is now based on more complicated factors than simply conferring adaptive advantage to a cruel environment. Perhaps hipster mustaches are in style these days… and perhaps the predominant hipster ‘ethos’ is that of free/cynical love and minimal birth control… if those things are true, then in a couple of decades there will be an increased rate of ‘the ability to grow bushy facial hair’ among adolescents living in the gentrified areas of America’s urban centers. Just one such hypothesis, but it demonstrates how tricky it is to apply these core biological principles to intelligent, emotional organisms with the technology to evade classical selective pressures.
Which finally brings us to our current question: what’s the sitch with male erectile-sensitivity? Is this a trait that was selected for prior to modern humans stepping out of the bounds of natural selection? In simpler words, did cavemen achieve erection at similar rates as modern men do today? At similar speed? In response to similar levels of physical and psychological stimuli?
I can certainly understand why the ability to achieve erection at all would be selected for. I don’t think we need to have that conversation right here, right now. We are already treading pretty lightly. Not to mention, male erection physiology evolved long before humans; we are just one more branch on a sizable tree of species with this trait. I’m not ignoring the idea that achieving erection quickly and completely is essential in certain sexual situations, especially primitive ones. But the current human male’s ability to achieve erection at the slightest stimuli is what gives me pause.
My hypothesis is, perhaps modern men have more sensitive genitalia than their primitive counterparts. And perhaps this is because when we, today, are distracted by an errant boner, we tuck it into our belts and continue on our commute. As opposed to our ancestors, where one small distraction at the wrong moment could mean death. The cavemen who achieved erection from the light brush of some tall grasses didn’t bring home as much meat as the guy next to him, who was able to stay focused when they were stalking that doomed Wooly Mammoth. The ease with which genitalia become engorged in modern men is due to the absence of selection against this propensity-to-boner, rather than some evolutionary drive toward an ever-quicker stiffy-response.
There are plenty of alternative explanations. Perhaps the suite of boner-generation genes are located in close proximity within our genome to a truly adaptive gene (such as strong bones) and they were all selected for in concert, as the weak-boned humans with normal-sensitivity erections slowly died off.
Perhaps the ability to achieve erection is based on such a vast array of genetic products, from sensory nerve tone to vascular competency to autonomic connectivity, that trying to explain it as a ‘trait’ that can be inherited is too silly even for a whatsthesitch.com article.
Perhaps there is quite a range of boner-sensitivities, and all but the furthest outliers (no-boner-dudes and constant-boner-dudes) confer no selective advantage one way or the other, thus applying no directionality over time to the heterogeneous state of boner-sensitivity in our population (and if this is the case, perhaps by writing this article, I am embarrassingly revealing where I lie along this spectrum…)
Many of the questions asked in this article will never be answered. My main erectile-sensitivity hypothesis will likely never be rigorously tested. And I’m sure we can all agree, that’s a damn shame. But, to the males reading this, next time a boner surprises you at a moment when you have no conceivable opportunity to reproduce, ask yourself, is this a reaction carried over from a time when all of these boners were put to serious use? Or, is this a distraction that has only survived because of our cushy, modern environment?
And to females reading this, I am so, so sorry…