Friday, June 27, 2008

"The Score"

Faye Flam has been covering science for The Philadelphia Inquirer since 1995. In June 2005, she started writing “Carnal Knowledge,” a weekly column about the science of sex. She has also written for New Scientist, Science, and The Economist. A graduate of California Institute of Technology, Flam was recently a Knight-Wallace journalism fellow at the University of Michigan.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Score: How The Quest For Sex Has Shaped The Modern Man, and reported the following:
I’m hoping the choice of 69 as a special page number reflects a lack of prudishness on the part of this blog’s readers, because my book, while not in any way pornographic, does contain “penis,” “vagina,” and “anal sex” all on page 69. I swear this is not something I planned. This page reflects one of the more important themes running through the book, and that’s the subversive nature of Darwinian evolution and the way sexual freedom and evolution link together in our current culture war.

The page in question falls near the beginning of my chapter on the penis – something one can’t really skip in a book that promises a natural history of the male sex. Man’s favorite organ beautifully exemplifies the concept of convergent evolution. Biologists who’ve studied penises say they evolved independently in perhaps four or five different animal lineages, just as wings emerged separately in birds, insects and bats. And evolution came up with a dazzling number of engineering feats to erect them, detailed earlier in the chapter.

My page 69 starts midway through my thoughts on why the penis led Leonardo da Vinci to one of his few notable errors. He drew the penis with two urethras – perhaps unable to fathom how God could design the thing with one tube for waste disposal and creation of new life. But most of page 69 is devoted to James Holsinger, a Kentucky physician who had been George Bush’s choice for surgeon general.

Almost immediately after his nomination, a quasi-scientific paper surfaced that Dr. Holsinger had written in 1991 for the United Methodist Church. Called “The psychopathology of male homosexuality,” its main point seemed to be that gay men shouldn’t have anal sex (he waffled about its advisability for straights).

In the paper, Holsinger justified his case with the following, “anatomically the vagina is designed to receive the penis.” Designed? By doing away with the need for a designer, evolution collapses the house of cards on which this type of moralistic thinking rests. In light of evolution, it’s harder to argue that you shouldn’t do this or that with your penis because God only intended it for procreation and urination. Darwinian thinking doesn’t necessarily give the owners of penises complete moral freedom to use them any which way, but it forces us to think more in terms of consent and avoidance of harm, rather than the dictates of those who think they know the mind of God.
Read an excerpt from The Score, and learn more about the book and author at Faye Flam's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue