Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Why is Sex Fun? by Jared Diamond

eharnett's picture

Jared Diamond’s novella Why is Sex Fun? discusses the evolution of human sexuality and how our sexuality compares to that of other organisms.  In some ways the title can be a little misleading: throughout the book, instead of focusing on the actual act of reproduction, Diamond focuses on the many different aspects of human sexuality.  He questions why humans evolved in such a way so that our sexuality is the way it is: why do we have certain “rituals” that seem to be irrelevant to reproduction, or why we do things that may seem detrimental to raising offspring and passing along genes successfully to the next generation.  Throughout the book Diamond compares the human species to other species of animals, such as dogs, birds and seahorses in order to further understand our unique sexuality.  Many of the questions that he asks, such as “why don’t men breast feed?”, “why do we reproduce so few offspring?”, “why do women go through menopause?” are interesting topics of discussion.  The information that Diamond uses to answer his questions are very interesting and help the reader learn more about the differences between humans and other animal species, and ultimately what possibly makes humans more “special” compared to other organisms.           

The way that Jared Diamond writes his novella is very engaging: it’s an easy enough read so that readers without much knowledge of biology can still be engaged in the research, but it also gives enough information that readers with a background in biology can still find the topics and discussion interesting.  All of the chapters start off with little anecdotes to describe what the chapter will discuss, and these are some of the creative ways that Diamond helps set the scene.  Many of the stories that Diamond uses to start the chapters even come from his own life.  He writes, for example, how he and his wife raised their children together and the different “jobs” that they each had in the process, and compares these familial roles to those of other organisms.  This is one of the numerous ways in which Diamond is able to compare humans to other organisms, in this case by comparing how adults raise their offspring.  Also, by using his “male” perspective it provides another interesting way of viewing the different subjects (this can be seen when he discusses, for example, how he felt when he saw his wife having to breast feed, an energy draining task, and he was unable to help).  Because of these different techniques of writing, Diamond is able to engage the reader and not bombard them with information.  By using anecdotes from his own life, as well as relating to what the viewer knows from their practical experience, he is able to help the reader identify with the different subjects and engage them in the text.            

Many of the different topics that Jared Diamond talked about in his book were very interesting: one of the most interesting inquiries he discussed was why humans only have a couple of children in their lifetime (around 2 or 3) whereas other organisms will have many.  This low number of offspring would be thought of as detrimental to passing down genes, because if not many offspring are produced then there is a lesser chance of an organism’s genes being successfully passed down to the next generation.  However, according to Diamond, the exact opposite is true.  For humans, if fewer offspring our produced, then more energy (food, protection, teaching) can be bestowed on the offspring and help them to survive, whereas if there were many different offspring it would be harder for successful organisms to grow, and the offspring could become susceptible to fatality (death, disease, etc.).  This topic was interesting because, as I was reading this chapter, we were discussing in class how genes are passed down to offspring and how evolution works.  This chapter was related to our discussion because it discussed how human’s sexuality evolved so as to successfully pass down genes and therefore continue to survive and evolve.  This chapter of the book, as well as the rest of the novella, discusses how evolution has allowed for these characteristics of our sexuality to develop.              

Another subject of the book that was interesting and insightful was the chapter in which Diamond discusses the reason for why humans have recreational sex, other than because it is “fun”.  Diamond uses many humorous ways to discuss why recreational sex is actually “costly in energy, time and risk of injury or death” (67).  He goes on to list why, for other organisms, recreational sex is detrimental.  For example, couples “locked in an embrace” can be killed by unknown predators, sex causes a strain on the body that can ultimately kill them (such as the Emperor Napoleon the Third, who suffered a stroke during the act), and animals beings caught at “extramarital sex” can be risky (especially, Diamond reminds us, for humans).    Diamond goes on to explain why the evolution of human’s concealed ovulatory signs have led humans to have recreational sex more so as to have a better chance of fertilizing offspring.  This means that, because a male (and also a female) may not know of the optimal time to have sexual intercourse for reproduction because of lack of external signs of the female’s ovulation (Diamond gives the example of baboons for comparison, whose vaginas turn bright red when they are ovulating), having recreational sex all the time allows more of a chance of the couple being able to fertilize successfully.  The chapter, entitled “Wrong Time for Love”, explains for the reader clearly what all the information presented means and Diamond uses many theories of recreational sex to come up with his own “story”, as we have discussed in class.  This was another interesting part of the book: Diamond would mention observations made by other scientist and, by doing this, was able to create his own story, which he never defined as “definite”.  He presented his information and allowed the viewer to determine for themselves what they believed to be right. 

This book reflected on many themes that we discussed in class this semester, such as evolution and genes, as well as one of the most interesting and debatable topics in our class: “are humans special”?  I remembered how we had the debate in which we discussed factors that made humans special, and we ended up clarifying that there may not necessarily be a factor that makes us special, but makes us unique.  This book, thought not exactly answering this question of what makes us special, gives plenty of reasons why human beings are different from other animals, and some of these differences can be looked at as special factors.  The fact that humans reproduce fewer offspring or that we have recreational sex are not necessarily unique to us, and therefore one can argue don’t make us “special”, but these factors are definitely important in defining us as human beings, and why we are the way we are.  In a way this conflicts with my thoughts on humans-I still see humans as being special-because I cannot find the factor that makes us special.  Jared Diamond even views the human species as “bizarre” in his introduction, because of all these unnecessary factors that we have evolved with.  However, I find that Diamond’s novella Why Sex if Fun? definitely is a step in the direction to understanding the differences between humans and other organisms, and not only is it a fun read but it is also filled with great information.   

 Diamond, Jared (1997). Why is Sex Fun?. New York: Basic Books


mari's picture

sex is fun.. and..

sex is not just fun, it releases stress. for me after a days work, sex helps me relax and forget problems, i also do handmade jewelries to empty my mind from tons of work, its not all sex. haha