Is Sex for Procreation?

“Contraception is wrong because it’s a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as ‘natural law.’ The natural law purpose of sex is procreation.

…sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation.”

http://www.catholic.com/library/Birth_Control.asp

Among Christian religions, it is a common teaching that the “natural” purpose of sex is for the creation of children, and that any other reason for sex is sinful and a subversion of God’s law. This belief underlies a great deal of Christian attitudes toward sex, including the religious right’s condemnation of homosexuality and extramarital sex and the Roman Catholic church’s opposition to birth control.

However, while the overtly theocratic manifestations of this belief – denying civil rights to gay couples, denying emergency contraception to rape victims, attempting to ban pornography, refusing to teach young adults accurate information about sex, opposing the development of vaccines for STDs – have been attacked, and rightfully so, as far as I am aware the belief itself has rarely been challenged. That is unfortunate, because as in many other things, this is an area where the religious right stands on very shaky ground. This post will accordingly examine the facts, or lack thereof, supporting this belief.

First of all, it would seem that if the purpose of sex – the reason for sex’s existence – is procreation, then all or most acts of sex should result in pregnancy. However, this is not the case among human beings. Consider what anthropologist Jared Diamond has to say in his book The Third Chimpanzee:

…even young newlyweds who omit contraception and make love at maximum frequency have only a 28 percent probability of conception per menstrual cycle. Animal breeders would be in despair if a prize cow had such low fertility, but in fact they can schedule a single artificial insemination so that the cow has a 75 percent chance of being fertilized! (p.77)

As Diamond points out, human beings are far less fertile than most animal species. And, please note, the numbers Diamond quotes are for young newlyweds. Human fertility declines steeply as we age, especially in women but also in men. Female fertility peaks between the ages of 20 and 24, begins to decline as early as the late 20s, and drops off more sharply during the 30s. By age 45, the vast majority of women are infertile (1, 2). Even if an older woman does become pregnant, her chance of miscarriage remains substantially higher than a younger woman’s.

The Bible itself says that the human lifespan is between seventy and eighty years (Psalms 90:10), and given the advances in lifespan brought about by improved nutrition and modern medicine, we can safely use the higher estimate. We should then ask why, if sex is intended for procreation, it is all but impossible to use it for that purpose for about half of our natural lives. Even during the biologically brief window of maximum fertility, our rate of conception is significantly lower than that of most other animals. If sex’s only or primary purpose is procreation, then it would seem to be a badly designed mechanism indeed, considering how inefficient it is for that purpose.

There is yet another biological argument that suggests that the primary purpose of sex is not procreation. In our species, females do not experience estrus – that is to say, human women do not go into heat. Virtually every other species of mammal does, and in many of those species, the onset of estrus is marked by conspicuous physical changes that advertise the female’s sexual availability. For example, female chimpanzees‘ genitals become swollen and bright pink when they are ovulating, a sign that is obvious at a glance.

By contrast, ovulation in humans is not just not advertised, it is concealed: there are no external physical or behavioral signs that reliably indicate when a woman is capable of becoming pregnant. In addition, the length of the female menstrual cycle exhibits much more variation than cycles of estrus in other mammals, making accurate prediction difficult. (Ironically, although the rhythm method is unreliable for humans, it would work great for gorillas.) These facts, as Jared Diamond points out, ensure that most human sex acts will take place at the wrong time for fertilization. Again: if the religious right is correct and sex was designed by God primarily for procreation, why would God make it so difficult to use it for that purpose? Why would he design human beings so that we must have sex many times to stand a good chance of initiating a pregnancy?

These difficulties persist as long as one clings to the view that the only reason for sex is procreation. But if we discard that assumption, the matter comes into clear focus. An alternative explanation that accounts for the facts much better is that sex has two primary purposes: for procreation and also for pair bonding. And while pair bonding strengthens the family structure needed to raise healthy children, that is not its only purpose. In nature, it can also be used as a stress reliever, to strengthen group cohesion, as social currency, and simply for pleasure. Even homosexual sex exists in nature. Are animals violating “natural law” when they use sex for these purposes?

The concealed ovulation of females, and the constant receptivity of both genders, not just allows but encourages human beings to have sex more often than is strictly necessary for procreation. One might say that we are designed this way. If we abide by the religious right’s simplistic arguments about what is natural or what we are meant to do, we are not just guided but compelled to the conclusions drawn in this essay.

However, we, unlike other animals, are not rigidly bound by the dictates of evolution and instinct. We are not required to abide by what is “natural”. (If the religious right were consistent, they would also oppose eyeglasses and surgery for appendicitis – and priestly celibacy! – since those things are just as “unnatural” as condoms or birth control pills.) The purpose of sex is whatever we decide it is, and so long as we do not use it in ways that harm others or infringe on their equal right of self-determination, that decision is our right to freely make.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    Precisely. If sex were indeed “for procreation” then that’s what it result in. Else God’s a lousy designer.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    Nice approach, I liked it. It’s not finished, though.

    CS Lewis would pick up from where you left off and argue that in the case of sex, our instincts are out of whack and therefore we must use better judgment to fix our instincts to be in accordance with the natural law. As much as this begs the question, too many Christians buy into this. What I like to point out at this point is why CS Lewis wants to say that sex is an exception where natural law and our instincts diverge. In this case, we should take more time to look into what goes into the Christian formulation of natural law because they themselves place little emphasis on having it reflect nature.

    In the case of CS Lewis, his primary motive is his crude sexism. Natural Law diverges from sexual instinct because sex for pleasure undermines the need for marriage. Sex for procreation reinforces the need for marriage, since children introduce a binding contract onto the parents. But why marriage? Well, according to CS Lewis, we need marriage because men are to have the final say over women in any decision and women need the protection and guidance of her male counterpart. Women must submit to men the same way as men submit to God. Naturally, women cannot submit to God directly but must do so through man. When they die, apparently they are judged twice – once for their obedience to God, twice for their obedience to their man. This is the true “natural law” that is at the basis of it all. Christians can find overwhelming support for this view from Genesis all the way through the New Testament. It’s not sexist to them, of course, because it’s in the Bible. When we work our way backwards from this sexism, we come to see why they think that the natural law for sex is something different than what nature intended.

  • terrence

    Would Protestant gorillas be free to employ artificial birth control?

    “Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is great.
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate”

  • konrad_arflane

    If I were to play devil’s (God’s?) advocate for a moment, one might argue that God recognizes the other functions of sex enough to make it so that those young newlyweds will get to enjoy those secondary benefits for a month or two before the true and proper purpose takes precedence.

  • terrence

    P.S. Thought y’all might enjoy this question I once sent in to EWTN.com, and the response:

    birth control
    Question from on 06-29-2006:
    If artificial birth control is immoral because it interferes with the Divinely ordained natural order, please explain why it was not immoral for my father to ingest antibiotics, since they are an artificial means of interfering with the Divinely Designed tuberculosis virus.

    Answer by Fr.Stephen F. Torraco on 07-12-2006:
    An artificial means is not evil because it is artificial. Contraception is not evil because it is artificial. Antibiotics are good because they assist the body’s return to health. God created health. He did not create sickness and death.

  • Chrystien

    I was always under the impression that if Christians don’t want homosexuals to get married solely for the reason of being unable to procreate, than to be consistent, they should also deny these rights to a heterosexual couple where one or both members are sterile.

  • http://stereoroid.com/ brian t

    It’s not just the Catholics who like to go (back and) forth and multiply: check out the Quiverfull movement in the USA. The subtext behind these loons is the notion of “race suicide” – a response to falling Caucasian birth rates in the USA & Europe.

  • Grimalkin

    To ascribe a purpose to something natural, one must first assume that anything a) has a purpose, and b) if A is true, that it cannot be used to any other end. Screwdrivers are for screwing, but I’ve successfully used them as levers on many occasions, or to poke into tight spaces to dislodge something that’s gotten stuck. Is this wrong? Is this somehow “against” the screwdriver manufacturer? Would the manufacturer punish me for using the screwdriver in a manner she/he had not intended? Should I have to purchase separate tools specifically devoted to each individual function when one screwdriver can do all the jobs just as well?

    I’d also like the point out that I have trouble taking Roman Catholics seriously when they get in a tizzy about these sorts of issues because they got their knickers in a twist about the use of forks too (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fork)

  • http://wildphilosophy.blogspot.com Mathew Wilder

    You are right, of course, but I don’t think you’ll convince any believers. They’ll chalk it up to some mysterious purpose of God, thus shutting down all argument. That is what is fundamental about religion – shutting down all discussion.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    Pipe down Grimalkin, you’ve just voided the warranty :O Now you’ll never get to send it back it for a manufacturing defect.

  • Kevin Morgan

    Answer by Fr.Stephen F. Torraco on 07-12-2006:
    An artificial means is not evil because it is artificial. Contraception is not evil because it is artificial. Antibiotics are good because they assist the body’s return to health. God created health. He did not create sickness and death.

    Hmmm. I thought God did create death. Weren’t Adam and Eve immortal until they fucked up with the fruit salad?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    He did not create sickness and death.

    God didn’t create sickness? Then who did? I always assumed Catholics, like all Christians, believed in a single omnipotent deity who created all that exists. I think you should go back and check your records, Terrence – you may have emailed the Zoroastrians by mistake. :)

  • terrence

    You are quite right – I did mail the Zorroastrians by mistake – I see that Sgt. Garcia is now running that site.

  • Alex Weaver

    It’s not just the Catholics who like to go (back and) forth and multiply: check out the Quiverfull movement in the USA. The subtext behind these loons is the notion of “race suicide” – a response to falling Caucasian birth rates in the USA & Europe.

    Of course, given the effects of overpopulation on the human species, this argument is tantamount to “species suicide” instead.

    I guess conservative Christians do stand for equality in one sense…

  • Karen

    To be fair, I grew up fundamentalist-evangelical (now an atheist), and we were never taught that sex existed only for procreation. This is, I believe, primarily a Catholic teaching.

    Conservative Christianity teaches that sex is to be confined to “the marriage bed” and to express the love that god gave a married couple for each other. Sex outside of marriage is forbidden (for gays and straights) but it is not taught that sex must always result in pregnancy or always be intended for pregnancy.

    Now if you go back 100 years or so, when birth control was outlawed in the U.S., you might get that argument from Catholics as well as Protestants. But it’s not taught in contemporary Protestantism that I’m aware of. The Quiverfull movement, which I am aware of, is a small fringe group far outside the mainstream of evangelicalism.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Sex outside of marriage is forbidden (for gays and straights) but it is not taught that sex must always result in pregnancy or always be intended for pregnancy.

    While it’s true that it’s predominantly the Catholics who hold the view that birth control is a sin, it’s becoming increasingly common among Protestants, and not just devotees of the Quiverfull movement. Back in 2006, the New York Times ran an article which I wrote about in “Sacred Ponds, Sacred Cows“:

    Some Protestants have come to a similar view recently. [Albert] Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains the evolution of modern evangelical thought… “I cannot imagine any development in human history, after the Fall, that has had a greater impact on human beings than the pill… It became almost an assured form of contraception, something humans had never encountered before in history. Prior to it, every time a couple had sex, there was a good chance of pregnancy. Once that is removed, the entire horizon of the sexual act changes. I think there could be no question that the pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation.”

    Note that the Christian whom I wrote to in “Advice to a Christian” last year, the one whose marriage was breaking apart because of his refusal to use contraception, was an evangelical, not a Catholic.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    I can chime in and say the same thing. At least to their credit, most Catholics ignore the teachings of their church. I grew up Catholic and it’s the religion most familiar to me… and I can safely invoke the words of Frank Zappa and say Catholic girls… you know the rest. On the other hand, various protestant sects actually take this stuff seriously. I know of some protestant colleges where dancing is forbidden because that in and of itself is too close to sex for them. Some forbid all but line dancing. It’s as if they’re afraid that if someone busts out the wrong move everyone else will cream their pants. I’ve also known some protestant bafoons who ran around our dormitory my freshman year in college and knocked on everyone’s door to remind them that masturbation is a forbidden, deadly sin. They had their Bibles right in there and pointed to all the relevant passages upon request. There’s no shortage of Protestants willing to make complete fools of themselves with regard to sex.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    My favorite reply to the “unnatural sex” arguments has always been from Dan Savage (I’ll have to paraphrase, since I can’t find the exact quote):

    “Your nose was not ‘designed’ for you to rest your glasses on, either. That doesn’t mean it’s sinful to do so.”

    I think he was talking about anal sex, not contraception; but the argument is much the same. Even if you do think that sex was “designed” (by God or evolution) for procreation, that doesn’t make it bad to use it for other things.

    As to Father Torraco’s argument that it’s okay to interfere medically as long as you “assist the body’s return to health”:

    a) That’s the complete opposite of what the catholic.com site that EBon was quoting said. I think it’s entertaining that they can’t get it straight.

    b) Really. So if a woman had a medical condition in which pregnancy could harm or even kill her, contraception would be okay? That would be consistent with Father Torraco’s argument… but it’s not what Church doctrine says. Church doctrine says that, if pregnancy will endanger your life, you either risk your life or don’t have sex.

    c) I just want to point out the real reason the Catholic Church and many other religious groups oppose birth control. And that’s that they want more Catholic babies in the world. Everything else is just a rationalization of that basic goal.

    (Well, a real reason. Controlling female sexuality is another.)

  • http://ponzo.blogspot.com ponzo

    This thought occurred to me while reading this, and maybe there is someone here more knowledgeable about physiology than I who can answer it:

    Could the low fertility among humans be at least partly related to the position of the sex organs in relation to the “missionary position”? Our sex organs evolved in our quadrupedal ancestors; they did not flip around when humans stood upright and starting having sex front-to-front. Other primates continue to have front-to-rear sex, even though they are semi-upright, and their fertility rates are much higher than ours.

    Perhaps because of the resulting low fertility and likelihood of conception, humans began to use sex for pair-bonding without pregnancy as a desired result.

    Maybe I’m way off on this, and someone here can set me straight.

  • Alex Weaver

    c) I just want to point out the real reason the Catholic Church and many other religious groups oppose birth control. And that’s that they want more Catholic babies in the world. Everything else is just a rationalization of that basic goal.

    I’d always assumed that a, if not the, major reason they still oppose it is that to admit they were wrong on the subject before would mean abandoning the pretense of infallibility.

  • Alex Weaver

    Could the low fertility among humans be at least partly related to the position of the sex organs in relation to the “missionary position”? Our sex organs evolved in our quadrupedal ancestors; they did not flip around when humans stood upright and starting having sex front-to-front. Other primates continue to have front-to-rear sex, even though they are semi-upright, and their fertility rates are much higher than ours.

    Humans often have sex front-to-rear as well (“doggy style” being the most common, but by no means the only, formulation) and while some people believe that this position is better for conception, there is little evidence to support this.

    Perhaps because of the resulting low fertility and likelihood of conception, humans began to use sex for pair-bonding without pregnancy as a desired result.

    Other species, prominently including but by no means limited to bonobos, which are quadrupedal, also use it for this purpose.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    I have to say, when I saw the title of this post, I couldn’t help thinking “Of course not. Sex wasn’t designed ‘for’ anything, because it wasn’t designed!”

    Once that is removed, the entire horizon of the sexual act changes. I think there could be no question that the pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation.

    This quote gets to the heart of it, I think. Guilt about sex is fundamental to some Christians. But when sex stops having consequences, an act that we once had reason to circumscribe by strict rules that were rigidly drummed into many people as children suddenly becomes much less serious. Rather than rearrange their worldview, some Protestants are trying to force the world to go back to the way it was. It’s an indirect consequence of having a morality that depends on the rules written in a book rather than on human happiness.

  • StaceyJW

    HI,
    If sexual activity was only for procreation, why do humans have “g-spots” in locations that have nothing to do with creating babies???? (Prostate/clitoris) Pregnancy can be avoided completely by focusing attention on those spots.
    It seems to me that humans were designed so that they could enjoy physical pleasure- why would “God” put such “fun zones” on people if they weren’t meant to use them? Just to torment them? Or to allow pleasure without consequences? I think that the existence of those g-spots is PROOF that people are suppose to have sexual enjoyment!

    StaceyJW

  • javaman

    Back in the early 1960s when the Pill hit the market and was being prescribed by doctors, only women who were married and who could produce a marriage certificate to the doctor were allowed to get it. Unmarried women were forbidden, due to their single status.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    javaman – I never knew that and that is incredible. Discrimination based on marital status, religious fanaticism, and sexism – all rolled up into a little slap in the face..

  • Karen

    While it’s true that it’s predominantly the Catholics who hold the view that birth control is a sin, it’s becoming increasingly common among Protestants, and not just devotees of the Quiverfull movement.

    You’re still talking about a small, far-right minority, though, that would limit contraception or give married couples guilt for using it or for enjoying sex without wanting to achieve pregnancy. That idea is not in the mainstream of evangelicalism today, nor do I think it will be any time soon, no matter what Mohler says. All the pastors I ever had were open about the joys of sex, though they were eager to add that it had to be within the context of heterosexual marriage.

    It’s like the dominionist movement. It’s scary to learn about, and we should be rightly concerned about squelching it, but it is not representative of what the majority of evangelicals believe or want. Most of them have never even heard of it and they’d reject it if they had.

    Believe me, most women in this country – even born again bible believers – aren’t giving up their birth control, nor are they irresponsible enough to want to bring dozens of children into the world if they don’t have the financial means to do so.

  • Karen

    javaman – I never knew that and that is incredible. Discrimination based on marital status, religious fanaticism, and sexism – all rolled up into a little slap in the face.

    Pick up Susan Jacoby’s fantastic book, “Freethinkers,” and read about the history of birth control. It’s completely fascinating to realize how zealously the religious establishment of the early 20th century fought against making any form of birth control legal. It was a federal offense to sell contraceptives through the mail for a very long time due to a series of laws passed by a fanatic religious conservative whose name escapes me at the moment. It’s a great book overall; very much an eye-opener.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    The fanatic in question was Anthony Comstock.

  • James B

    I heard about a Catholic woman who confessed each week to having used birth control. Apparently the priest got so fed up with hearing it he said, (to paraphrase) “I think we can take that one as read from now on.”

  • Steve Bowen

    Some sort of prohibition against sex, either absolute or under certain circumstances, seems to be a theme of most religions. Abstinence is an intrinsic part of Budhism, mandatory for Catholic priests, desirable for Hindu’s and expected (outside of hetero-sexual marriage)for almost everyone. Given such a universal theme it is tempting to suggest that religion(s) codified an evolved social aversion to sex outside of the context of child rearing and stable families, in the same way that “thou shalt not kill” is just the bible saying what we already knew. Given that for most of human evolution sex would have frequently (though not inevitably) led to children it makes a certain sense to evolve behaviours that would be conducive to their survival. Also sanctions against promiscuity reduce the chances of males being cuckolded. This does not deny the point that sexual pleasure for it’s own sake is probably part of the bonding process that keeps partners together.
    Of course contraception now means that the consequences we evolved with no longer need apply. For that reason there seems no moral imperative for two consenting adults to avoid sex for sex’s sake as there may have been even a few decades ago. However there is a lot of built in moral inertia in society and plenty of doctrinal inertia in religion so it may take a while for liberal sexual attitudes to become more universal.

  • Karen

    The fanatic in question was Anthony Comstock.

    Yes, thank you. I knew it started with a “C.” ;-)

    Of course contraception now means that the consequences we evolved with no longer need apply. For that reason there seems no moral imperative for two consenting adults to avoid sex for sex’s sake as there may have been even a few decades ago.

    I agree. I tend to wonder whether the lessening of ingrained prejudice against homosexuality has to do with the population being not only sufficient for human survival but booming. I can see where a natural aversion to homosexuality might have arisen amongst cultures when the survival of humanity hinged on making and rearing as many babies as possible. It’s interesting now that we don’t have that urgent need to populate, we’re finally seeing widespread acceptance of homosexuals.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Relevant to this post, I had an interesting thought the other day.

    If the primary purpose for sex is procreation, and if sex with the intent to exclude procreation is sinful (as many Catholics and some Protestants believe), then I’ve got a question: Why is it possible to experience the physiological response of orgasm in a situation where there’s no chance of procreation? The pleasure of sex is what leads so many people to pursue it in defiance of religious leaders’ edicts. If God doesn’t want us to use sex except for procreation, why not design human beings so that sex is not pleasurable unless you’re fertile, healthy and are having standard procreative intercourse with a fertile member of the opposite sex?

    I’ve raised on previous occasions the question of why God would design us with strong inbuilt desires to do things he does not want us to do, and then punish people who are swayed by those desires. This is a totally irrational scheme. Far more logical would simply be to create people whose desire is to do what God wants them to do (which is the topic of my latest post). Human sexuality is a perfect example of that.

  • OMGF

    I’ve raised on previous occasions the question of why God would design us with strong inbuilt desires to do things he does not want us to do, and then punish people who are swayed by those desires.

    Couple that with the fact that god knows what we will do when confronted by these desires and the only logical conclusion that I’ve been able to come to is that god simply wants to punish people; he’s a sadist.

  • Jim Baerg

    Far more logical would simply be to create people whose desire is to do what God wants them to do

    IIRC from my reading many years ago of _Out of the Silent Planet_ by C.S. Lewis, the various intelligent martian species in that story only felt sexual desire a few times in their lives, just sufficient to keep the population up.

    Cf: your essay The Theodicy of Narnia

  • Alex Weaver

    Given such a universal theme it is tempting to suggest that religion(s) codified an evolved social aversion to sex outside of the context of child rearing and stable families, in the same way that “thou shalt not kill” is just the bible saying what we already knew.

    Aside from there being little to no evidence that such an instinct exists and its evolution being somewhat implausible in light of the fact that natural selection has no foresight or planning capacity.

    (Not a bad hypothesis, though).

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    I decided to spin off my own post about this on my blog and I’d welcome any feedback from anyone who cares to read it :)

  • Steve Bowen

    Aside from there being little to no evidence that such an instinct exists and its evolution being somewhat implausible in light of the fact that natural selection has no foresight or planning capacity.

    Alex I agree it is difficult to pinpoint this instinct at an individual level. As always in populations there will be a spectrum of behaviours from outright promiscuity to downright prudishness and there may well be some stable strategy that encourages this mix to take on certain proportions.

    Correct, evolution has no foresight, also as a hypothesis it would require a level of group selection to work. This is probably not the place to start that debate, but there is a growing acceptance of group selection theories, especially around questions of human behaviour.

  • Steve Bowen

    I tend to wonder whether the lessening of ingrained prejudice against homosexuality has to do with the population being not only sufficient for human survival but booming.

    I’ve tried to find a definitive online source for this and failed but I have a recollection from my undergrad days that rabbits can be shown to exhibit homosexual behaviour when warrens become overcrowded. This article alludes to something similar, along with other examples of homosexuality in animals. It certainly seems to be the case that urban centres have a higher incidence and higher tolerance of gay culture, but that may of course just be a positive feedback rather than a correlation with population density.

  • Mrnaglfar

    One thing people here seem to be forgetting about sex; we understand the connection between having sex and having children. I don’t think we can be so sure that people thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years ago understood this connection.

    Just think about it in terms of numbers; from the age girls first start having sex to the age they stop having sex, even if we figure they start from age 13 to 40 (if they lived that long) at a rate of 3 times a week, that’s 27 years, 52 weeks a year, 3 times a week; that’s 4212 different sexual encounters resulting in (with breast feeding factored in) maybe a maximum of about 10 children. Not to mention some women being less fertile, miscarriages, and an average of 9 month period over which pregnancy spans (the first several months of which the woman will likely not know she’s pregnant), that correlation between having sex and having a child is going to drop to almost 1 in 420, when a connection is not readily available.

    Even going back as recently as the victorian era, it was believed that women had no part in reproduction; that a man ejaculated basically miniature fully grown people that would grow inside the woman. I don’t think it’s particularly likely that early humans figured out sex ment children. I even remember hearing about a certian tribe that exists today that sees no connection between sex and pregnancy, beliving instead pregnancy is a gift from the spirits, or something along those lines.

    As for women not going into heat, that’s likely do to our up-right posture; experiencing a period of swollen gentials would likely leave women at a disadvantage for moving. Just a thought though.

  • Steve Bowen

    I don’t think we can be so sure that people thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years ago understood this connection.

    They did by biblical times apparently. Why for example the story of Abraham sleeping with Hagar in order to have children by her when his wife was unable to?

  • Karen

    They did by biblical times apparently. Why for example the story of Abraham sleeping with Hagar in order to have children by her when his wife was unable to?

    I would imagine that fairly quickly after humans domesticated animals, they figured out that mating male and female produced offspring. It’s not too big a leap from mating animals to mating humans.

    I’ve tried to find a definitive online source for this and failed but I have a recollection from my undergrad days that rabbits can be shown to exhibit homosexual behaviour when warrens become overcrowded. This article alludes to something similar, along with other examples of homosexuality in animals. It certainly seems to be the case that urban centres have a higher incidence and higher tolerance of gay culture, but that may of course just be a positive feedback rather than a correlation with population density.

    Interesting. Think about it if we turned things around, and some catastrophic event happened that greatly reduced the human population down to bare-survival levels. How quickly would homosexuals be censored or even shunned from the group once reproducing became of paramount importance and having children became a highly rewarded activity?

  • Jim Baerg

    Re: homosexuality & crowding hypothesis

    Were the ancient Greeks more crowded than the ancient Hebrews? Were they more crowded through all the many centuries in which Greek culture accepted homosexual behavior while Hebrew culture abhorred it? It seems unlikely to me.

    Re: catastrophe reducing human population

    I think that unless the catastrophe resulted in the loss of basic medical knowledge like the germ theory of disease, the population would recover quite quickly. Applying that one bit of knowledge drastically cuts death rates, particularly infant mortality.

  • Mrnaglfar

    They did by biblical times apparently. Why for example the story of Abraham sleeping with Hagar in order to have children by her when his wife was unable to?

    I was thinking more along the lines of an evolutionary time scale and a conscious understanding of their behavior in regards to the “sex strictly for children” point. From biblical times to now isn’t even a blink of the eye in terms of time periods of evolution.

  • Serafina

    The idea that sex is “for” anything besides what humans want it to be for is an inherently religious one. It depends on the idea of a creator who made everything for some specific purpose (and that this purpose is knowable to humans).

  • spaceman spif

    Q: Why do Southern Baptists frown on premarital sex?
    A: Because it might lead to dancing! (r-r-r-r-r-rimshot!)

    Like Karen, I grew up fundamentalist and also, like her, I never heard that sex was only for procreation. In fact, all the churches I attended admitted that God created sex as a pleasurable form of intimacy between a husband and wife, not just for procreation only.

    Ebonmuse’s earlier post (“I’ve raised on previous occasions the question of why God would design us with strong inbuilt desires to do things he does not want us to do, and then punish people who are swayed by those desires. This is a totally irrational scheme.”) echoes my thoughts exactly.

    I’m going to take the male perspective here, and say for example that a teenage guy sees a scantily clad, very attractive female walk by. What normally, and naturally, happens is he feels sexual urges in response to the “visual stimuli”. Your body is programmed to respond in that manner. So what happens when part of your mind tells your body that that response is “sinful” and needs to be turned off? Your mind and your body start going through a tug-of-war of sorts, with your mind saying “You can’t do that!” while your body is saying “I’m *supposed* to do that!” Sooner or later, something is going to give.

    It’s my personal belief that that shutting down of the natural sexual response is what has led to a history of sexual misconduct among so many church leaders throughout history.

  • spaceman spif

    Sorry…meant to say “that attempt at shutting down” in my last sentence.

  • Steve Bowen

    I was thinking more along the lines of an evolutionary time scale and a conscious understanding of their behavior in regards to the “sex strictly for children” point. From biblical times to now isn’t even a blink of the eye in terms of time periods of evolution.

    I take your point, however I am not sure that natural selection would require a population to know the connection between sex and childbirth in order for certain behaviours to develop. To use one of Dawkin’s favourite extended phenotype examples, does a beaver” know” that building a dam backs ups the river and improves it’s habitat? Probably not!
    In order for (what Alex generously called) my hypothesis to work, there would have to be some selective advantage to possessing a gene for aversion to promiscuity that tended to increase that gene’s frequency in a population. There is an obvious advantage to being procreatively promiscuous, so some kind of Evolutionary Stable Strategy would have to result. As I said you might have to invoke some element of group selection theory, so competing populations that tended to be more sexually conservative flourished at the expense of the liberal in order to arrive (eventually) at a moral consensus. Whatever, I still find the almost universal condemnation of non-procreative sex by religions difficult to understand unless there was some pre-existing social taboo.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Steven,

    I take your point, however I am not sure that natural selection would require a population to know the connection between sex and childbirth in order for certain behaviours to develop.

    Absolutely correct.

    Whatever, I still find the almost universal condemnation of non-procreative sex by religions difficult to understand unless there was some pre-existing social taboo.

    There are plenty of those. I was merely saying that in our early evolutionary history it’s not likely as far as I see that people understood sex was for children. They likely still felt the same things we do today; jealously, anger, love, protectiveness, and so on.

  • Jenyfer

    Saying sex is “for” anything presupposes that there was intention involved in the invention of the sex act–in short, it presupposes a creator.

  • stuart

    I agree with the comment made by StaceyJW on this page made on the 3rd February. If Catholics really believe that sex was just for procreation, then why do women possess a Clitoris? The Clitoris is TOTALLY UNREQUIRED FOR PROCREATION. If it was removed, then a female could still reproduce.If Catholics believe God created everything, then in their terms, why did he create this? Catholics should practice what they preach.Religious or not, I can not believe that God would be cruel enough to tease humanity in this way. Are we now suppose to believe that the Devil had a hand in creation now???? The arguement suggesting that possessing a Clitoris entices, from a religous point of view,people into bed to procreate is also nonsense. Because if Catholics believe that sex is for procreation and nothing else, then the thought of producing a child should be the only thing in their mind at that time. I would love to hear from any Catholic proposing a reason why women possess a Clitoris!!!

  • spaceman spif

    This is my rifle,
    this is my gun…

    Sorry! Had to!! :)

  • lpetrich

    Natural selection produces pseudo-teleology; that is why we describe adaptation in teleological terms.

    And even if some feature was designed, that does NOT show that some ancestral populations had been poofed into existence by some cosmic superbeing.

    It could have been time travelers or visitors from another planet doing genetic engineering, for all we know.

  • stuart

    this is my rifle
    this is my gun
    this is my clit
    so lets have some fun

    like it spaceman spif!!!

  • http://dubitoergo.blogspot.com Tom Foss

    A few years back, the Right to Life organization on my campus brought a couple of their wingnut speakers to campus to talk about the evils of contraception. One such speaker, a woman who worked for a Catholic natural family planning organization, ran through a fairly long list of reasons that the birth control pill was a bad thing. Among them, this gem: it’s the only thing we have that stops a natural bodily process.

    She had passed out cards for the (paltry) audience to write questions on at the beginning of the presentation. When she collected them and began to address them, she found my list of common treatments we have that stop natural bodily processes: immunosuppresants for transplant patients, anticoagulants, antihistamines, fever reducers, analgesics, and so forth. Her response was…well, it wasn’t words, so much as mumblings. Point conceded.

    Anyway, that seems to be where a lot of these “natural” arguments end up: sputtering non-responses, because there is no reasonable justification.

    StaceyJW:

    why do humans have “g-spots” in locations that have nothing to do with creating babies???? (Prostate/clitoris)

    To get a little pedantic, Stacey, the term you’re probably looking for is “erogenous zone.” The term “G-spot” refers to a bundle of nervous tissue located around the female urethra, which roughly corresponds to the male prostate in terms of composition and sensitivity.

    Steve Bowen:

    Some sort of prohibition against sex, either absolute or under certain circumstances, seems to be a theme of most religions.

    I think the reason for this is twofold:

    1. It’s a brainwashing tactic; like sleep deprivation and fasting, forced celibacy increases stress, making people think less critically and impairing their judgment.

    2. The primary method of transmission for religion is (and always has been) through birth. Religious organizations have a vested interest in ensuring that procreation occurs reliably and frequently (hence the need to outlaw non-procreative sex: sodomy, masturbation, homosexual relations) and that it does so within contexts that ensure the children will belong to that religion (so sex is confined to marriage, and marriage is confined to members of the church). The rules have lapsed somewhat (interfaith marriages are less strictly prohibited by most groups now), but I think this represents much of the original rationale.

    stuart:

    The Clitoris is TOTALLY UNREQUIRED FOR PROCREATION. If it was removed, then a female could still reproduce.If Catholics believe God created everything, then in their terms, why did he create this?

    Especially since, according to some saints and church fathers, sex is sinful if you enjoy it, even if you’re married. Why make sex pleasurable at all, in that case?

    Excellent post as usual, Ebonmuse.

  • http://www.neilmoffatt.co.uk Neil Moffatt

    This is a great new thought line – yet another area of the Religious indoctrination that neither theists nor atheists that I have encountered have questioned meaningfullly. It is very blinkered and simplistic to see sex for one purpose. There is also a fair amount of research indicating that homosexual tendencies are genetically influenced. Religions that condemn homosexual behaviour should be asked for their viewpoint on those with ambiguous genitalia Gender Activists Seek More Rights, Wider Acceptance. They are rare but do exist. Would religion deny them sex, oblige them to take one sex by default, or actually recognise that life is not so black and white as they want it to be?

  • andries

    I really think the issue of birth control is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath this issue is a monstrous chunk of human misery. Just imagine a world where couples first plan (and provide material support) before having children. In such a world poverty will almost be the exception not the rule. This will be a major upside for everybody except the major religions. Everybody knows that in societies in which most people experience material well being as rule will be less religious (or at least more moderate). Xians knows this. And this is the real reason why they will never ever support any law which curbs human breeding. This is in fact a double whammy: First we have to content with our own nature, and then we have to content with religion which suppresses our sexuality just enough that it can be twisted to create their world of “sin” from which we must be “saved”. Being gay or to plan for an offspring would disarm this mechanism.

    During the last decade or so, I’ve come to realize that human sexuality is the one area where religion does the most harm. The fact that there are very few (government) laws which governs what parents and society may impart and/or enforce on their offspring makes it a perfect tool to propagate the religious meme. Also the fact that sexuality is such a private matter also ensures that whatever gets passed around as “education” almost never gets scrutinized (at least not in a intelligent or scientific manner) in public. Things are slowly changing in this regard. More and more governments are enacting laws protecting young and old, not only from the more direct negative crimes such rape, but also the more subtle crimes such as discrimination based on sexuality: For example teens getting thrown out because they gay (this is may shock any person in his right mind). Male rape is another example. Apparently some persons believe only a woman can be raped.

    I firmly believe that wrestling control back of our sexuality will be one of the most liberating acts we as a species can perform. The knock-on effects would be huge: Less strain on our planets resources. Less crime. Protection of our young. Time to enjoy and contemplate the cosmos instead of living in misery and worry about the next meal.

  • Andrew

    I dont think most Christians, not even fundimentalists will say sex is ONLY for procreation(although I doubt anybody will dispute thats one its purposes).

    But regardless, I have to say I think telling children they’re SUPPOSED to have sex, is just as bad as telling them they cant. I’v been celibate for over 5 years now, partly for religious reasons, and partly because its something I’v never really considered that important. And contrary to some of the posts here, I dont feel any ‘tension’ or find it to be frusterating at all.

    Also, I must say that while there might be some negative health benefits associated with celibacy, excessive promescuity is by far worse. I suppose somebody here will say that we should strive for some middle ground, but honestly I think that unless somebody is harming others(ex. by knowingly passing along deadly virisis) it should be an indviduals decision as to whether or not he or she has sex, and how often.

  • Alex Weaver

    But regardless, I have to say I think telling children they’re SUPPOSED to have sex, is just as bad as telling them they cant

    Who, here or otherwise, is advocating this?

    but honestly I think that unless somebody is harming others(ex. by knowingly passing along deadly virisis) it should be an indviduals decision as to whether or not he or she has sex, and how often.

    Who, here or otherwise, is disputing this?

  • Streawei

    I’m an atheist, but I was raised Mormon. I was taught by my family and religious teachers that sex is a good thing and that a married couple should enjoy it even without procreation being the purpose. That god made sex enjoyable so enjoying it can’t be evil as long as you’re married to the person you’re doing it with. Even though there are so many things that I disagree with in the Mormon beliefs it was surprisingly refreshing to have something that I didn’t want to argue about at Sunday school.

  • Leum

    I dont think most Christians, not even fundimentalists will say sex is ONLY for procreation(although I doubt anybody will dispute thats one its purposes).

    My understanding is that the Catholic Church teaches that have sex that cannot–for any reason other than natural fertility and hormonal cycles unaffected by contraceptive, barriers, ejaculating anywhere but in the vagina, etc–is sinful. So while it acknowledges that sex can be used for emotional bonding, pleasure, and similar, it de facto holds that the most important part and purpose of sex is procreation.

  • Andrew

    I’m not certain on Catholic teaching, but Catholics are not all Christians.

  • Alex Weaver

    I’m not certain on Catholic teaching, but Catholics are not all Christians.

    What are the Catholics who aren’t?

  • Andrew

    What are the Catholics who aren’t?

    huh?

  • Todd

    I am a Christian, and agree that sex is for pleasure and not only procreation. However, this is not the reason we use to oppose homosexuality, and other forms of sexual immorality. The Bible expressly condemns homosexuality, wholly apart from the sex-for-procreation debate. The Bible never, at any point, so much as implies that sex is only for procreation. This is a view put forth by the Catholic church, which distorts a great deal of scripture to their own ends.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    However, this is not the reason we use to oppose homosexuality, and other forms of sexual immorality.

    Please define “sexual immorality” and please also tell me how two consenting adults of the same sex meets that definition. Appealing to “Well, the Bible says it’s wrong,” simply won’t cut it.

  • Ritchie

    Todd

    The Bible expressly condemns homosexuality

    Commonly believed, but not true. The Bible in fact never condemns homosexuality. Jesus says precisely nothing about it, nor is it in the ten commandments. All we have are a handful of rather vague and obscure passages which really don’t stand up to much scrutiny.

  • Danikajaye

    Closed minded hateful bigotry is also wrong… if you ask little old me.

  • Alex Weaver

    Closed minded hateful bigotry is also wrong… if you ask little old me.

    Much too coherent to be scripture. Try swearing at a tree or something.

  • Mike

    I’m an devout athiest. Was raised to be so, yet I firmly believe that sex IS only for for procreation. This is the only rational conclusion based on anatomy of the species. For the record, I’m married and am a parent. …and despite the bogus stat’s cited in the initial post regarding fertility as some lame justification for the author’s position, I’ve have two children that I’m the father of. The first took just one “try” to conceive, the other two tries. Oh, and my wife was 38 when the first one was born, 42 when the 2nd one was born. We have been happily married for 18 years. In those years, we have had sex just the three times.

  • other scott

    I wouldn’t mind some justification for your position that sex is only for procreation Mike. Our feet have evolved so that we can walk upright, but that doens’t mean we can’t run. Our genitalia have multiple erongenous zones that have evolved so that it feels good to have sex, it is enjoyable on so many levels.

    “I firmly believe that sex IS only for for procreation. This is the only rational conclusion based on anatomy of the species”

    What a bogus statement. Any examination of our anatomy reveals the exact opposite of your ‘conclusion’. The clitoris has over 8000 nerve endings in it, more than any other part of a persons body, touching the clitoris is meant to feel good!! Orgasms feel good because we evolved so that they do.

    “despite the bogus stat’s cited in the initial post regarding fertility as some lame justification for the author’s position”

    Utterly ridiculous once again. These are real statistics. Statistically it is improbable to win the lottery and yet somebody always wins. If you are the lucky fucker who manages to win the lottery you don’t look at the statics and call them bogus just because you won. And yes, the the ‘bogus stats’ cited were to provide justification for the OP’s claim. That is what statistics are supposed to do, provde evidence for an hypothosis. How about you provide some before your next crazy claim.

  • Alex Weaver

    We have been happily married for 18 years. In those years, we have had sex just the three times.

    I call bullshit, and not just because one act of intercourse per pregnancy is a statistical absurdity given average human fertility.

  • Leum

    Mike and/or his wife could be asexual.

  • Alex Weaver

    Perverts. ;/

  • Chris

    Well, listen to this. I have a friend, married, 2 beautiful children, wife is Catholic and after 10 years of marriage she wants a devorice. Main down fall in the marraige, she was taught that sex is only to make babies. My friend believes it is part of normal marriage unity. What does Catholic church say about the % of devorices because of women not giving themselves to husbands? Sucks if you ask me.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    What’s a devout atheist anyway? I’m thinking sock.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    And which kind of devout atheist? The absolutist “there are no gods” kind, or the mushy heresy of “I believe in no gods” kind?
    And sex three times in eighteen years? Sheesh. Pro. Phyl. Act. Ic. And break open a bottle of wine and put Bolero on the hi-fi. Turn the lights down low. Slow dance. Kiss her neck. Oh, yeah. There’s love in the air tonight.

  • maru

    Sex is dirty and it is vile. There is only one reason to do this vile thing and that is to bring life into the world. I have to live through this disgusting act to have my wonderful children – who I love more than life itself. However, I have 3 children and I am done having sex because I am done having children. Also, I am old. I am 35 and I think sex is a young persons thing anyway. It shouldn’t be done by an “older” couple such as those over 35.

  • http://M Mark

    Hello guys, i am not a Christian or even religious. But there were comments earlier made: “why would there be a G spot” and “why is there is a clitoris if sex is only for procreation” Well that is a bad argument because the G spot and the clitoris ARE for procreation. The reasoning of the purpose of the g spot and clitoris was explained by my endocrinology professor. The g spot and clitoris are sensitive spots to produce an orgasm, in an orgasm the sympathetic nervous system is aroused and causes uterine muscles to contract rapidly, and causes the egg to move down the uterine tube further because of these orgasmic contractions. Similarly in a male our parasympathetic nerves give us and maintain the erection, but until an orgasm our parasympathetics contract our penile muscle shoot the sperm with a higher velocity.

    I am deist, and I like conversating with atheist because they can bring science into religious discussions like the one. I myself am debating wether I should have sex only for procreation because of the mood swings sex can cause unto someone or a couple. These swings may feel good at first but may also break apart a marriage, that is why I am concerned.

    Does anyone have science or experience of why not have sex for pleasure. Please do not post ignorance like the posters who could not find a reason for the g spot or clitoris being used for procreation.

  • coatswg

    Adam, I can’t believe this and I’m not even close to being Catholic: you lied about the Catholic church teaches that sexual pleasure is “unnatural and harmful.” You took 2 sentences from 2 paragraphs, spliced them together to say what you wanted your less-than-intelligent readers to believe. The link above points to:

    “The pleasure that sexual intercourse provides is an additional blessing from God, intended to offer the possibility of new life while strengthening the bond of intimacy, respect, and love between husband and wife. The loving environment this bond creates is the perfect setting for nurturing children.

    But sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation. God’s gift of the sex act, along with its pleasure and intimacy, must not be abused by deliberately frustrating its natural end—procreation.”

    Amazing.


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