Ethics and Reproduction
We are all afraid that an alien group will seize power, disapprove of us and
deprive us of happiness, liberty and life. This is human history and
discrimination recurs inevitably. Every group has an implicit notion that its
members are selected and privileged. Every group wants more of their own
children and less children that belong to other groups. However, the last thing
the world needs is more humans. There is no easy path to a policy or procedure
that limits reproduction and fairly distributes the right to life. While
governments may promote birth control and limit the resources available to
mothers with more than one child, it is more difficult to take the next step to
define and demand an adequate standard of parental responsibility.
You could argue that to achieve an ideal society, the society must insist
that every newborn child will have the best nurturing and education available to
assure the best outcome. If you are a nurture enthusiast, you believe that
better nurturing will lead to healthy, happy and constructive citizens. Good
nurturing cannot fix the negative effects of bad genes, bad air or the wrong
food, so that more specific parental selection is required. It is more difficult
to establish genetic criteria for parents. It may be many centuries before
humans understand all the implications of the genetic code. The prospects for
genetically engineered, ideal humans are not promising, even if you could decide
how an ideal human should look and act. The options currently available are to
advise parents with genetic disease to avoid having children, and to abort
fetuses with developmental abnormalities.
One side of ethical arguments is dogmatic. For example, the dogmatist claims
that all human life is sacred and begins with the fertilized egg. This argument
has become the rallying call of the anti-abortion movement who claim moral
superiority when none is earned. A rational person will understand that human
life acquires increasing value as it develops and that all living things compete
for survival. The mother of an embryo has prior rights. The embryo is
subordinate to her needs and wishes, but gains more rights as it becomes an
independently viable human. Even when a baby survives birth, the mother may be
the only person who can assure longer term survival. When population density is
high and resources are scarce, the survival of a newborn infant becomes a luxury
rather than a necessity. In human and other primate groups, it is the immediate
group of female peers and elders who decide if the infant should survive or not.
They have practical concerns, not dogmatic preconceptions.
The repression of sexuality and the control of breeding privileges is as much
a human tendency as the expression of sexuality. But why is there so much
repression, even when sexuality is publically displayed in all its variants?
Every primate group has mating rules. Some rules are unspoken and unwritten, but
there are always rules.
A reasonable argument can be made that human sexual prudery is an expression
of an innate tendency to compete for sexual privileges. Just add some
exaggerations, distortions, power struggles, rules and cruelty and you can
develop most male behaviors. If you are a social anthropologist touring the
planet, you would find a variety of sex rules and divergent notions of what is
normal sexual behavior. The only certainly is that in every group sexual
behavior is molded and constrained by a combination of innate tendencies and
local rules. General rules about sexual behaviors are linked to kinship rules
and involve a hierarchical distribution of rights and privileges within the
Since males compete for females, rules regulate competition and minimize the
disruptive potential for male to male conflict. The rules must also minimize the
damaging effects of female to female competition for male affiliation, which
usually determines female status and privilege. Among the rules are limitations
on the exposure of body parts. In cold countries, nudity is often considered
improper and clothing serves both utilitarian and modesty functions.
In warmer countries, less clothing is acceptable but genitalia are often
covered.Since males, in particular, are aroused by seeing female breasts and
buttocks, clothing often covers these provocative shapes. A general acceptance
of public nudity signals a liberated sexual attitude. Female nudity on display
is a form of entertainment that pleases men and turns them into generous
patrons. In the later part of the 20th century public nudity in all its forms
was increasingly prevalent on the planet except for a few Islamic states.
DNA has rules about who has sex with whom. Because adverse genetic mutations
concentrate when close relatives mate, it is not a good idea for brothers and
sisters or parents and offspring to make babies. There is, therefore, a natural
aversion to close sexual encounters within the family. This natural incest
aversion is strengthened by incest taboos, but incest is common in all
DNA's reasons are practical. Gene diversity is good and unrelated individuals
should have sex more often than related individuals. Bad gene mutations will
tend to concentrate in the babies of related parents, and if these babies
survive and reproduce, bad genes will become more common in the group. Brothers
and sisters have a spontaneous aversion to having sex together (if they live
together as children) and group rules enforce that tendency. There are
individuals who fail to regulate sexual behavior in terms of innate and local
rules and they do the wrong things. Fathers who have sex with their own
daughter's appear in every society and every social class, even though the
activity is genetically unwise and generally taboo. Unrelated stepfathers often
attempt to have sex with stepdaughters and their genes are unrelated so that
this has no negative genetic consequences.
Teenagers often hang out in groups with idle time, little parental
supervision and casual sex becomes a popular form of recreation. Young females
appear to be attracted to male groups and some will become promiscuous,
apparently unaware of their need to barter and trade sexual favors. On closer
examination, females are aware of the barter principle, but from a critical
observer's point of view, may be too generous with sexual favors, offering their
bodies for male attention, group acceptance, liquor, cigarettes and drugs. The
idea of "losing my virginity" and "saving myself for marriage" is a functional
aspect of prudery, originating from the marketing of sexual privileges.
A young woman has something of value, which she and her family can barter or
sell. Attached to her sexuality is her ability to produce children for a single
male who selects her, pays for her, and supports her. The value of virginity is
the guarantee that the women is not carrying another man’s child or a sexually
transmitted disease and is capable of discipline over desire. If the young woman
is overly receptive sexually, much of her value is lost. In some societies only
virgins can marry. The theme of discipline over desire is expressed in a variety
of ways in every culture and is incorporated into all the prevalent religions.
Some religious institutions promote the idea of virginity as a commodity and
attempt to suppress teenage sexuality by praising “virtue” and threatening dire
punishment from a stern God if you do not protect virginal virtue.
Rules that regulate reproductive access also regulate family structure and
child care. Strict traditions attempt to match couples and then maintain the
marriage contract through the lifetime of the couple. The discipline of family
life in traditional societies is thought to be morally superior to any other
expressions of life. Despite strict rules and dire punishments, premarital sex
and marital infidelity is common in all societies. In free societies, strict
reproductive and family discipline is regarded as oppressive and is associated
with patriarchy, female submission and unhappy children who rebel against overly
strict parental control.
Modern, educated, free humans will not accept unconditional moral authority
nor threats of moral punishments as incentives for discipline over desire. The
idea that you will go to hell for eternity for having premarital sex is
recognized as a ludicrous form of intimidation. Even more “realistic”
educational schemes based on inspiring fear of disease in adolescents tend not
to work. Sexually transmitted diseases are real threats but adolescents are not
adverse to risk and believe that the risk of getting life-threatening HIV
infection and dying of AIDS is low. Selfish DNA says: “I just want more babies”
so that desire is stronger than hesitation or fear.
Females have always had the greater responsibility to regulate sexual
activity since they have more to gain and more to lose by inappropriate liaisons
with males. Spontaneous reproductive discipline is linked to intelligence and
health. A smart, healthy young women is more likely to be constructively engaged
and is more selective of male partners. She can discern what is in her best
interest even if her family is lax in applying the rules of sexual restraint. A
less attractive or less intelligent female will be more reliant on sexual favors
to get what she wants; hence the association between the "dumb female" and
An odd quirk shows up in some males who become self-righteous bigots and act
out the fantasy of being impeccable humans who never have casual sex and never
break rules such as life-long monogamy. We are used to the revelations that
priests diddle little girls, boys and sometimes their mothers in the rectory.
Strident Christian males chastise others for fornication and then engage local
prostitutes in sexual play after delivering hell-raising sermons. There are
interesting discrepancies between stated prudery and what is really going on.
You could argue that overt and aggressive prudery is always a false persona that
attempts to disguise sexual desires and fantasies that are not acceptable under
the rules of prudery.