|Why are people and dolphins the only mammals that
have sex for pleasure?
|Question Date: 2006-01-20|
Your question gets at the heart of what many
cognitive scientists in the fields of
neuroscience, philosophy, and computer science are
trying to address. This great mystery in science
is consciousness. In particular, your question is
related to the mind-body problem. The issue here
is what, if any, neural states in our physical
brain lead us to have subjective experiences in
our mind, which are called qualia by many people
in the field of cognitive science.
humans and dolphins, other mammals such as certain
monkeys have sex too. Sex usually leads to
euphoric pleasures that are related to the release
of certain neurotransmitters in our brains. These
neurotransmitters help us relax and make us feel
The mammals you mention all have
neocortex, which is associated with higher levels
of consciousness. For example, ants do not have
neocortex. Higher levels of consciousness probably
lead us to do certain things for the simple
pleasures, such as art, food, and sex.
Most animals have sex purely for the purpose of
reproduction. The claim that dolphins have sex for
pleasure is true for a very specific definition of
"sex for pleasure," which is copulation between
the male and female of a species not for the
purpose of reproduction. Most animals cannot
afford to waste the energy that is put into the
sexual act unless it leads to the production of
offspring. For most animals, it seems that there
is no biological advantage in engaging in sex when
there is no possibility that their genes will be
passed through the production of offspring.
Therefore, Females of most animal species give off
detectable signals when they are fertile: a change
in appearance, a distinctive smell, specific
sounds or behaviors to signal to their partner
that they are fertile. If fact, most females will
push their mate away or ignore him when they are
Humans, bonobos (also known
as Pygmy chimpanzees) and dolphins are a bit
different in this aspect. They are all intelligent
social animals, whose cooperative behavior proves
to be more successful than that of the individual
alone. It is probable that in these animals, the
use of sex evolved beyond reproduction to serve
additional social functions. IT can keep the male
around the female and offspring, thus helping tend
for the offspring. Sex reinforces intimate social
bonds that can form larger social structures,
something that may help in overall survival, group
hunting defending against intruders and so on.
But there is a difference between humans
and animal in this aspect though. Animals other
than humans have no awareness that their sexual
activities are connected with reproduction: They
engage in sex because they're biologically driven
to do so, and if the fulfillment of their urges
produces a physical sensation we might "pleasure,"
it isn't the least bit affected by the possibility
(or impossibility) of producing offspring.
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