We’ve done a lot to call out the deeply androcentric biases in science. Male researchers have been criticized for testing drugs only on male lab rats, and unnecessarily masculine language in biology, which describes “passive” eggs being “penetrated” by sperm, is slowly being corrected to make way for objectivity. But we’ve got a long way to go, as scientists from the University of Nicosia in Cyprus recently reminded us. In a new paper, they claim that lesbians only exist because they turn on straight men. Somehow, they got this work published in an actual academic journal.
That paper, in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, argues for the validity of the “male choice hypothesis” as a way of explaining the existence of lesbians. This theory implies that lesbianism is hereditary — that is, it’s rooted in female genes, which in turn have been kept in the human gene pool because men “chose” them via sexual selection. In other words, lesbians exist because they turn men on, and so men kept them around for that reason.
The glaring biological issue here, of course, is that lesbianism is a sexuality that doesn’t lead to baby making. How, then, could the purported “lesbian” genes be kept in our gene pool? The lead author of this study, Menelaos Apostolou, Ph.D., hedges this by arguing that it’s in men’s best biological interest to have kids with women with bisexual tendencies.
The central question in biology is: What do I need to do — and what do I need to avoid — to pass on my genes to the next generation? Well, one thing that really screws with a guy’s ability to maintain his bloodline is when his mate cheats on him. Apostolou’s theory is that a dude is way less likely to get cucked if he has kids with a woman who is actually into other women. That way, if she does cheat, it doesn’t actually matter, because she will probably do so with a woman and “such a contact does not lead to conception.”
Apostolou takes his cuckold-prevention argument further by saying that mating with a lesbian or bisexual woman is great for guys who have many mates “because they have to divide their sexual effort toward several wives so, inevitably, some of their wives will remain unsatisfied.” Stick her with another woman, he says, and all will be fine. What’s more, it reduces the stress a man usually has to go through when he has to think about punishing his cheating wife!
As men cannot always guard their partners, and because, they cannot always impose heavy costs on them if they cheat - they are limited for instance, in using physical punishment, due to the risk of retaliation from women’s parents - they are always vulnerable to cuckoldry.
Apostolou attempts to back up his theory using data he and his team collected online from 1509 heterosexual people. The data show that straight men are into lesbians: 15 percent of straight men reported that they’d want their female partner to hook up with another woman, and 30 percent of men in short-term relationships wanted the same. Since about 15 percent of women are homosexual or bisexual and men are so obviously into them, Apostolou reasons, then these women must exist to serve the purposes of these lusty men, so his theory must be valid.
It is, of course, not: It represents one of many conclusions you could draw from this data, and the cuckold-prevention argument he requires to make it work is a stretch — not least because it makes the horrifying assumption that women of any sexuality have no choice in whether they are impregnated or not. There are plenty of other non-genetic reasons that men might be into lesbians that Apostolou doesn’t consider, such as their more relaxed views on sexuality and the relative prevalence of lesbian porn. But in an interview with IB Times, he dismissed lines of reasoning related to culture, saying that the male impulse to get turned on by lesbians is more “instinctive” than that.
This study should serve as a reminder that science, despite its safeguards ensuring objectivity, isn’t immune to gender bias. Its central question assumes that evolution centers around the betterment of men and dismisses the validity of female choice, recalling the controversy over the origin of the female orgasm. For a long time, scientists couldn’t understand why it existed because it didn’t result in ejaculation, as it did in men — and as such it was considered to not have a purpose. In 2016, researchers discovered that it used to be tied to ovulation but persists, nevertheless, “for other roles” — such as, perhaps, female pleasure and preference.
Such arguments have commonly gone ignored in science, which has been (and continues to be) a male-dominated field. But as the degenderization of science continues its slow and painful process, we can hope that more researchers will realize that doing so runs counter to the whole point of science, which is to assess all options equally against the given data in order to get to the facts. In this case, it’s very likely that the facts involve lesbians existing for a reason other than serving men — but we won’t know unless scientists have the balls to ask.Photos via Flickr / Boss Tweed, Flickr / bkusler, Vicky Cristina Barcelona