Re: evolution of the hymen (was: Re: Male Virginity and Circumcision (was: Re: Origin of circumcisio

Gerold Firl ()
28 Nov 1995 13:11:29 -0800

In article <49d81d$> (Tim Benham) writes:

>Gerold Firl ( wrote:

>: In an H-G culture, where women are engaged in more independant activity
>: foraging away from camp, paternity becomes less certain; it could be argued
>: that this actually places a *greater* significance upon virginity than what
>: is found in more settled economies. If a man can infer a statistical
>: confidence that at least a woman's *first* child is his, then he will have
>: a greater stake in supporting her and that child. Hence, we get a more
>: cohesive society and a positive selection pressure for a physiological
>: guarantee of virginity.
>: Speculative, but plausible.

>This is a group selection argument and is therefore not plausible. It is
>much more likely that the hymen evolved for reasons connected with
>women's own reproductive problems, not for the sake of solving a male
>reproductive problem (assuring paternity) or creating a cohesive

That's what I always thought, but the lack of the hymen in other primates
does cast some doubt on it.

And it's only group-selectionist if we impute the selective advantage to
the resultant social cohesion; if males actively sought females with the
hymen-mutuation,and valued them sufficiently to give them a survival edge,
then we have a sociobiological selection pressure where the hymen-gene(s)
were valued simply because they did provide increased confidence that a
nubile female was not already gravid.

>Thus a woman's hymen's importance may be more as a guarantee of future
>fidelity than as proof that she isn't already pregnant to someone

True; virginity may have had other advantages to the groom-to-be. The lack
of sexual experience may have also decreased the probability of disease or
sterility from previous sexual contact.

>I don't know about anthropologists, bu the missionary position is not
>the best one for investigating the hymen.

Never underestimate the zeal of a Man of God. %^)

Whoops - attribution lost - Stephanie asked:

>: >And we have to consider the question of exactly when it began to occur --
>: >perhaps it was a trait that evolved for some reason in an extinct common
>: >ancestor for some unrelated reason that simply hasn't been fully bred out
>: >of the human line due to a (first) relatively minor emphasis on virginity
>: >and then later more of an emphasis?

>: dubious.


Occam's Razor; we're conflating two speculations, while we already know
that virginity has been valued in human societies precisely for the reason
that it is a guarantee of virginity. It obviously appeared _after_ the
divergance of ther hominids from the other apes, but I find it dubious that
it first appeared in the australopithecines (common ancestor to divergant
branches in our line).

The question is an interesting one, however, and may have some use for
dating the evolution of social structures: if the hymen is a product of
sociobiological selection, then it must post-date the development of a
social structure where reproductive activity was regulated by the group;
some form of marriage/bride price/ceremonial sanction.

>: One further point: I think the "purpose" (meaning, the reason the custom
>: exists) of female circumcision really is to increase confidence in
>: paternity. It doesn't have to work 100%; a 10% increase can be significant.
>: We see how evolution works with small variations in fitness, and magnifies
>: them over time into huge changes; culture evolves, too.

>This is confusing the transmission of ideas (cultural evolution) with
>the transmission of genes (biological evolution). If being an
>infibulator was an hereditary male characteristic then a 10% increase
>would do just fine; but it isn't. It is a cultural tradition and if
>its maintenance has anything to do with assuring paternity then all it
>has to do is give husbands a nice warm feeling that they are not being
>cuckolded. As long as they believe that then it doesn't matter whether
>it in fact increases or decreases (statistical) confidence in

What you're saying is that "confidence" in paternity may not have anything
to do with the actual *probability* of paternity. That is true, though men
will certainly make the effort to verify their conceptions (yuk yuk).

If societies which evolve some mechanism by which men assume greater
responsibility for the welfare of "their" children turn-out to be more
successful than neighboring societies then we would expect that meme to
spread. The analogy to biological evolution is very close, but I'm not
confusing the two.

I find it very likely that, all else being equal, a society where men are
deeply committed to the welfare of their children will be able to sustain a
higher population density than one where men are indifferent to them.
Throughout most of human history this has resulted in differential rates of
success, where denser cultures expand relative to sparser populations. This
results in the spread of cultural features as well; in fact, culture
generally spreads *at least* as fast as population, and sometimes much
faster. Successful ideas are copied.

Luckily, female genital mutilation is not generally viewed as a
"successful" innovation. It has not spread widely. More viable techniques
have been developed; the western cult of love being my favorite counter-

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf