A Fresh Look At Love And War Between The Sexes

ANN ARBOR---Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, the cause of much of the conflict between the sexes isn't just that men are not monogamous.

According to a University of Michigan author, the underlying trouble is that we humans are anisogamous---we have sex cells of unequal size. Big eggs and little sperm. And what works to make eggs successful is very different from what works for sperm.

This fundamental inequality is the underlying reason that males and females of most mammalian species, from elephant seals and red deer to human beings, tend to engage in sex-specific types of mating behavior, says Bobbi S. Low, professor at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment and the author of "Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior," forthcoming this year from Princeton University Press.

It's the reason guys act like guys whether they're lions or lambs or Yanomamo tribesman or the presidents of post-industrial nations.

In the book, Low draws on biology, anthropology, economics, and many other disciplines to analyze how the evolution of small male and large female sex cells, among many other factors including culture and environment, influences the way each sex behaves in the high-stakes evolutionary game of reproduction. Such an interdisciplinary approach avoids the flawed conclusion that biology is destiny.

Low also discusses various explanations for the unequal size of male and female gametes. That has been the recent subject of lively academic debate, as has the purpose of sex in the first place. Since sexual reproduction reduces our genetic contribution to the next generation by 50 percent and appears ridiculously inefficient compared to simply dividing in half like an amoeba, it's a mystery to many why we do it.

One explanation is that sex is a way to weed out surprisingly common adverse genetic mutations from the human gene pool. We profit from being sexual, as one scientist recently said, "to flush o

Contact: Diane Swanbrow
University of Michigan

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