drghirlanda

Neuroscience, evolution, and culture

Tag Archives: sexuality

New Website on Sexual Preferences

The Internet Sex Survey Initiative (ISSI) has a new website. ISSI, of which I have been part since its inception in 2006, uses the Internet as a data source to understand sexual preferences and sexual development. So far, we have published the results of three surveys on sexual preferences, finding evidence for a critical age window during which preferences appear to develop, as well as for the influence of mother and father on sexual preferences.

A Fine Example of Sexism in Italian Divorce Law

In italy, a woman cannot remarry until 300 days after a divorce. This norm intends to avoid paternity disputes by making sure that, upon remarrying, a woman is not expecting a child from her previous husband. Such intent is apparent from the provisions, stated in the same law, that allow to cut the 300 days short if:

  • The woman proves she is not pregnant.
  • The woman proves that she did not legally live with the former husband in the 300 days after divorce.
  • The previous marriage has been terminated because of the sterility of either partner.

How many flaws can you find in behind this norm? I have found the following:

  1. A divorcing man is not required to prove that his former wife is not pregnant, hence the norm is sexist.
  2. The law assumes that a woman has sex only with her husband.
  3. The law assumes that a woman has sex with a man only if they live together.

All this makes the norm ineffective in its intent, i.e., preventing paternity disputes. The law was written around 1980, mostly by men born in the 1920s and 1930s. Those aging, somewhat sexist, democratically elected lawmakers could not anticipate that paternity tests would obsolete their hard work in a few years. While point 1 above is, in theory, sufficient to make the law unconstitutional in Italy, the law itself has not, apparently, been challenged in court, and thus stands as of today, August 20th, 2009.

I have been able to find other similar cases: Puerto Rico, Lousiana before 1970 (remarriage laws in the U.S.). Do you know of other similar legislation elsewhere?

Animal and Hum(e)an homosexuality

A report that lesbian pairs are common in a Hawaiian Albatross colony (Young et al, Zuk & Bailey) is the latest finding on animal homosexuality to raise some media attention (Daily Telegraph, Wired, Times Online). Many people are afraid to find out that homosexuality exists in animals, and therefore is "natural," because what is natural is often deemed morally acceptable.

David Hume, making perhaps the most important point in the history of ethics, stated over 200 years ago that we should not argue about how the world ought to be based on how the world is. Yet research on animal homosexuality still brings people on the verge of this error, by triggering the question: is it "natural"?

Hume himself did not speak enthusiastically of the "shameful and unnatural lusts […] which, by our law, […] justly expose the offender to be punished by death" (Commentaries on the Law of Scotland). He excused, however, the "Greek loves" as arising "from a very innocent cause, the frequency of the gymnastic excercises" (An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Schmidt's summary of Hume's moral ideas).

Hume thus did not follow his own advice against confusing what is natural and what is moral, nor do many people today. The "unnaturalness" of homosexuality should not figure in discussions of homosexuality and human society. Lesbian Albatrossess are an interesting biological phenomenon, but should not burden us with moral dilemmas.

And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea
.