Recently I wrote an essay about the evolution of kinkiness ("Can Evolutionary Biology Tell Us What’s Kinky?"), and now I have the pleasure of writing about a new book by Psychology Today writer and Duke University's Dr. Jennifer Verdolin called Wild Connection: What Animal Courtship and Mating Tell Us about Human Relationships. I concluded my previous essay as follows: "And, judging from the incredible variability and broad range of sexual behavior among nonhuman animals for which Dr. Bondar’s lecture ["The birds and the bees are just the beginning"] gave us but a small taste, one better get ready for a wild ride if they’re going to outdo what we know about the sex lives of the fascinating animals with whom we share different niches on our magnificent planet. We can learn a lot from them, but I’m not sure the reverse is true." After reading Dr. Verdolin's book I stand by that conclusion. And, get ready for another wild ride.
In her comprehensive, science-based, easy-to-read, entertaining, and penetrating discussion of what the birds, bees, and many other nonhuman animals (animals) tell us about our mating rituals, from that initial attraction to courtship to orgasms, Dr. Verdolin considers a number of different topics including, "What makes an individual attractive to the opposite sex? Does size matter? Why do we tend to “keep score” in our relationships? From perfume and cosmetics to online dating and therapy, our ultimate goal is to successfully connect with someone. So why is romance such an effort for humans, while animals have little trouble getting it right?"
Chapter titles include: The birds and the bees, First impressions, False advertising, Sorry guys -- size matters, Are we mating or dating? and Getting cuckolded. Some interesting conclusions should whet your appetite to go out and read this excellent book:
-- It's not the color of the eye but the size of the limbal ring around the iris that is important in attractiveness. The darker and more prominent the ring, the higher the attractiveness score. We're born with the ring and it gives off information about the health and the age of a person.
-- Symmetry plays an important role in attraction for men and women.
-- Rumps matter.
-- Men really like feet.
-- Men know when women are ovulating but they don't know that they know.
-- Men find smart women attractive as long as they're not smarter or more successful than they are.
-- Promiscuity is not just for the boy.
-- Based on a very detailed discussion and comparison of penises, it turns out that size -- girth, not length -- matters, and sex shops inform science about the optimal shape and size of penises. (As I read this I thought about Lyndon Johnson's presidential penis he unabashedly called "jumbo". Some guys ...)
-- Females get shortchanged on the orgasm front. Female orgasms are not by-products of male orgasms. Perhaps females fake orgasms because they're bored "and asking us if we have gotten there is not helpful to the cause." Communication between partners is critical for sexual satisfaction, just like it is in wandering albatrosses.
-- Communication, cooperation, and compromise are critical and other species understand this better than do humans.
-- Monogamy is a moving target across many species, including humans.
"Researching and writing this book has been a wild ride"
For these and many other discussions Dr. Verdolin offers comparisons with numerous other animals. I found her analyses to be fascinating, fact-filled, and full of new information. In her last chapter titled "In a nutshell", she notes, "Despite our complex nature, there are biological principles that shape our perception perceptions and experiences out there in the dating world, just as they do in the wild world." She also stresses "we are all interconnected through biology." Throughout there are personal stories Dr. Verdolin openly shares with readers, and on the last page she writes, "Researching and writing this book has been a wild ride." Amen.
I highly recommend WIld Connection. It is very entertaining, eye opening, explicit, evidence-based, and well done.
Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also), and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)