The evolution of Darwinian sexualities

A forthcoming special issue of the British Journal of the History of Science on Darwin’s Descent of Man may interest AHP readers, especially a piece on “The evolution of Darwinian sexualities” by Erika Lorraine Milam. Abstract:

Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man was suffused with questions of courtship, mating and sex. Following in his footsteps, biologists throughout the twentieth century interrogated the sexual behaviour of humans and animals. This paper charts the fate of evolutionary theories of sexuality to argue that – despite legal and social gains of the past century – when biologists used sexual selection as a tool for theorizing the evolution of homosexual behaviour (which happened only rarely), the effect of their theories was to continuously reinscribe normative heterosexuality. If, at the end of the nineteenth century, certain sex theorists viewed homosexuality as a marker of intermediate sex, by the late twentieth a new generation of evolutionary theorists idealized gay men as hyper-masculine biological males whose sexual behaviours were uncompromised by the necessity of accommodating women’s sexual preferences. In both cases, normative assumptions about gender were interwoven with those about sexuality. By the twenty-first century, animal exemplars were again mobilized alongside data gathered about human sexual practices in defence of gay rights, but this time by creating the opportunity for naturalization without recourse to biological determinism.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.