Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body - Sara Pascoe (2016)

LOVE

How We Fall

If you were an alien visiting Earth from outer space and you had to fill in a quick form about how different species procreate and rear their young, most animals would be easy. You’d whizz through them.

Salmon: Female lays eggs in riverbed and male sprays them with sperm. Female protects nest until she dies about a week later.

Giraffe: Males compete to court a female in oestrus. She raises calf with little involvement from father.

Cat: Female mates with local male, gestates for sixty-three days, has kittens. Feeds them for five or six months until they head out on their own. No male involvement in rearing.

Until you got to us.

Human: Female has a bath, puts on a nice dress and goes to All Bar One …

Hmmm, you’d think, chewing a pencil with one of your mouths, these human beings don’t seem to have predictable behaviours. They say they mate for life, except very few of them do. Most claim to be sexually faithful, yet many aren’t and all find it extremely difficult. They say that children are brought up by their two parents, except loads are adopted or brought up by one parent or a step-parent or a grandparent or, very occasionally, wolves … and then you think, ‘Sod it, it’s too complicated, I’ll leave that one blank,’ and so you get a C on your Visiting Planet Earth assignment and now you’ll never make the electronic egg that birthed you proud.

If all animals have a natural mating and bonding pattern, what is ours? I’m not even an alien and I’m confused. Are we supposed to be monogamous, but culture and modernity have made it very difficult? Or was monogamy foisted upon us by religions in the olden times, and that’s why we struggle with it now? What I’ve been TOLD by, you know, soap operas, cartoons, rom-coms, women’s magazines, novels, pop music, dating websites, sex education and every single episode of Friends is that the ideal relationship occurs between two people, is emotionally and sexually committed and should last for life. Anything shorter than ‘for life’ is a false start, any infidelity means things are ‘not right’.

Looking at species more closely related to us for answers, we find a wide range of sexual and social behaviours:

Gorilla: Several females live together accompanied by one male that they mate with. He gets overthrown when a younger fitter male comes along.

Chimpanzee: A group of males and females live together and practise lots of social mating. Females are most attracted to dominant males, and males are most attracted to older females who have already successfully reared offspring.

Orang-utan: Female lives alone on her territory and is visited periodically by a male. He may visit several females.

Gibbon: Both genders are social but exhibit very strong pair bonds and are often described as monogamous.

So here’s a question. WHY such a range? They’re all apes, shouldn’t they be more similar?

All animals procreate and cohabit in the way that’s most suitable for their environment, or rather, environment dictates the most profitable breeding patterns for all animals. Factors like food scarcity or predators will determine whether working as an extended family group is the best reproductive strategy, or whether daddy needs to stick around and help out. And remember this is not conscious. Gorillas don’t have AGMs where they sip tea and discuss the benefits of a maleled harem. They have evolved this behaviour over hundreds of thousands of years, because the genes of those who preferred such an arrangement were more likely to survive and be carried through subsequent generations. The best mating strategies proved themselves in numerous offspring and over generations this creates predictable behaviour.

Modern humans were shaped by exactly the same process, and so you, alive right now and riding a motorcycle, are physically equipped for life in the African savannah around forty thousand years ago. Your psychology, hobbies and dress sense will have changed in the meantime, but your instincts haven’t. Your culture has transformed but not your nature; you’re the same animal in different trousers. So in order to find out whether we should be staking out a territory or getting a gang together for a sex party, we need to investigate what our ancestors did relationship-wise.

CANCEL THE ORGY! The science books say we lived in social groups but with strongly bonded pairs raising their own children.

It is obviously very difficult to be absolutely sure about the behaviours of our long-dead ancestors. Until someone invents a time machine, working out what the sapiens of a hundred thousand years ago were up to is supposition. Some behaviours leave physical traces – we know when humans were using tools and cooking food because evidence has been found and dated – but we know little about the sex lives of those primitive people. There are no fossilised love letters demanding fidelity or cave paintings depicting nuclear families, so how have the scientists reached their conclusion?

The strongest evidence is ‘body dimorphism’. This is what they call the size difference between genders and it is indicative of alternative mating strategies. Throughout nature polygynous mating results in males that are bigger than females. (Polygynous = males having multiple female partners, but I am sure you knew that already.) When there is competition amongst males, being larger makes it much easier to dominate your opposition and anyone you’re trying to get off with. And if larger males are more successful at mating, more of their genes will be replicated in offspring. Here’s a human analogy: imagine that massive male wrestlers were each impregnating hundreds of women while preventing any weedy non-wrestlers from getting their leg over – what a sexy story! After several hundred generations the genes for smallness would be much rarer. So when mating is competitive, all males become larger. The females do not increase in size, as this does not have an impact on their ability to reproduce. In human terms, a lady wrestler does not insist that all males only have sex with her and prevent weedy non-wrestler ladies from ever getting any, although I have to say I would have to respect her position if she did.

SO, gorillas have a large body dimorphism, with males being 1.5 times bigger than the females, and orang-utans even more, with males being twice as big. Both these species are polygynous – it’s all adding up so far, well done science. With chimps, who are also polygynous, there is less dimorphism, with males being only 1.3 times larger than females. This is because chimpanzee females mate with a lot of males, so while being big is still an advantage for the males, it’s not as important. Basically, the females put out more so there’s a wider gene spread; keep it up, ladies. And then you have gibbons, who are monogamous and have genders almost exactly the same size, with a dimorphism of only 1.02. Which is what we were expecting from this theory, excellent.

We’re all excited to find out: what about humans? What is our dimorphism? My current boyfriend is much taller than me, but my ex-boyfriend was almost the same height. Should I take my shoes off before you measure me? Oh, they’ve already worked it out – PREPARE THE ANNOUNCEMENT TRUMPET:

Human males are ON AVERAGE 1.1 times larger than human females.

So that’s more dimorphism than gibbons, less than chimps. If we extrapolated purely from the evidence of gendered body size we’d believe that it’s in our nature to practise monogamy rather than polygyny. Our ancestors utilised a mating system where everyone gets paired up, even the skinny and tiny. We use this measurement to indicate that our male ancestors were not competing for females in a way that would make size an advantage. Perhaps a very slight advantage, or maybe females preferred slightly bigger men, hence this small disproportion.

There is another possibility to consider when it comes to explaining our dimorphism, but we need to understand something else first, something scientists can be sure about.

We bond. You’d agree with that? In whatever form it finally takes, however long it lasts, we have evolved to love the socks off each other. Hopefully you’ll have case studies in your own life to verify this. I certainly have; I loved my first person at sixteen and have been crazy for loving people off and on ever since. But let us stroke our beard thoughtfully and ask why? Why do some species of animal pair-bond and others don’t? Cats and giraffes and salmon aren’t bothering, so why are we?

Is the answer:

a) Boredom.

b) Guilt.

c) Fear of being alone.

d) Parental investment.

That’s correct! The amount of parental investment required in raising a baby human is the reason we love so deeply.

A salmon hatches and can swim and feed and go about her business without any need for her parents. A baby giraffe is born able to run around and fight and play, and can reach up and suckle from her mother without assistance. Kittens are physically restricted for the first few weeks of their lives. They are suckled by their mother, and when she goes out to hunt she leaves them well hidden. She is able to protect and feed them by herself until they are strong enough to do it for themselves.

Now let’s imagine a human baby, a few minutes old. She cannot swim off and live her life like a salmon; she needs looking after. She can’t nurse without assistance like a giraffe, so she needs an exceptionally nurturing and caring parent who does everything for her. Let us imagine her mother, a human woman: she can lactate to feed her baby but she has to hold the baby while she suckles. She can’t put her child down as it is exceptionally vulnerable. Babies know this. It’s why they cry so much, it’s like an alarm going off: ‘NO ONE’S HOLDING ME I’M ABOUT TO BE EATEN BY SNAKES AND FOXES.’ It is tricky for a mother to forage or hunt while carrying her baby and for a few days after birth she may find any movement difficult. How is she going to create a warm place to sleep? Or protect herself and her baby from wildebeests? Imagine you, an hour after childbirth in the African savannah … could you put up a tent? Could you run from a scary zombie vampire predator?

A cat is equipped to successfully raise her kittens alone, but a human woman isn’t. She needs help. And this brings us back to that big brain of ours.

Remember when I was complimenting that immense organ you keep under your hat? Well, its development radically adapted our bodies. As the human brain increased in size, the female frame had to accommodate producing it. Millions of years ago we evolved a much wider, flexible pelvis in order to birth the huge skulls of our babies, skulls that have to remain soft and flexible themselves in order not to kill mummy on the way out. At some point in the last million generations, the human brain became so big that it couldn’t complete its growth in utero. Human women give birth to part-baked, premature babies. It’s an evolutionary compromise. If human babies developed to the same point as newborn chimps, they’d need to gestate for two and a half years and all women would die giving birth. That means no children would have mothers, and they would be much less likely to survive into adulthood. Women who gave birth earlier, to smaller, less developed babies, were more likely to survive, and although their newborns needed more attention and nurturing, their children had better odds of becoming adults. Thus it was those ‘premature birth’ genes that were carried into future generations. As you’ll be aware, even with a gestation of only nine months, giving birth is still a precarious, critical undertaking. Over three hundred thousand women die in labour every year, even in countries with advanced maternity practices and western medicine. Making a baby is the most dangerous thing a woman can do, and that is the cost of our minds.

Human babies need more parental investment than any other animal on the planet; we require feeding, protecting and educating much, much longer than any other ape. We are born completely incapable and take years and years of growth before we can keep ourselves alive without assistance. A woman cannot raise a child all by herself. I’d be annoyed at that statement if I was reading this – I come from a single-parent family where my mum did everything. Perhaps you did too? My mum probably could put up a tent in the African savannah with a baby on her tit and placenta dangling between her legs, she’s that kind of lady. When I say that one parent isn’t enough, I’m talking about pre-civilised times in a hunter-gatherer society. We have stocked fridges now, and pizza delivery and hardly any wolves, so it’s easier – although, if my mum’s temper was anything to go by, still really really hard.

Being born so (comparatively) early means human babies spend all their early life lying about growing their brains. They make a MILLION new brain cells every twenty seconds and this can use up to four fifths of their body’s energy. If I was going to design baby clothes I’d put the slogan ‘Mind-growing is mind-blowing!’ on the front in neon, and then on the back a flashing LED screen showing the brain’s gradual expansion with a trail running underneath saying ‘Five times larger than expected for an animal our size!!!!!!’ People would say those clothes were unsafe for young children and prohibitively expensive, and they would be right. So I’d go out of business, having lost all the savings I’d invested. I’d have to go back to temp work, where I’d cry at my desk and eat yogurts. This sad story is just one example of the great things brains can come up with!

So human babies are rubbish at taking care of themselves. They can’t hold their own head up for about six months and they have a hole in their skull where the bones are growing together called the fontanelle. They require CONSTANT and INTENSE attention which is super-demanding. When a chimp gives birth, her baby can grip immediately, so she can chuck it on her back and swing away through the trees straight to the cocktail bar some other trees. Human mothers are encumbered by the care their offspring need, and in pre-civilised times would require the assistance of a family group. The families who helped each other and worked together in childrearing would have been much more likely to have their kids reach adulthood. Hence we’ve evolved to have strong, loyal feelings towards family members. The genes of the isolated were lost.

The greatest factor affecting whether a child survived her infancy was mothering, and so much mothering was needed – more than one mother could give. Human babies needed at least two mums, and thus our species evolved a new, second kind of mum, a boy one, sometimes referred to as a ‘dad’.

It works like this: a baby with two caregivers has a much higher chance of surviving. Just like a male’s large size being a strength in polygynous species, the ability to bond with sexual partners and their offspring is a strength in ours. And the more our ancestors bonded, the better they did. The more they loved each other, the harder they worked to provide and keep everyone alive and stop baby falling in the river and things like that. The genes for pair bonding have strengthened generation upon generation for millennia. The parents who wanted to be together with their partners were the evolutionary victors. And it’s a huge set of emotions and compulsions. It’s not a muted ‘Oh, I should probably help out, that’s the right thing to do’ but a bellowed ‘I WILL DIE WITHOUT THIS PERSON THEY ARE BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE THAT HAS EVER EXISTED I CAN WATCH THEM GOING TO THE TOILET AND STILL WANT TO KISS THEM OH GOD OH GOD MY BODY IS NOT BIG ENOUGH TO WITHSTAND THE FORCE OF MY FEELINGS.’

Love.

The difficulty of keeping human infants alive has necessitated the deep, terrible way we fall in love with each other; you have to really like someone not to run away into the forest when they’re holding a crying shitty baby. None of us would be here without love, our species would have diminished and disappeared. There is no fate, there are no souls or stars crossing or ‘The Ones’. Our powerful emotion is an inbuilt survival tactic. It’s a primordial glue, sticking us together to continue the species. You’re correct, I should design Valentine’s Day cards.

I know it’s more magical and less sciencey when you feel love, but that’s why it works. Reduce the power, turn the volume down and humanity would have died out. Imagine a world with no human beings: the planet would be unpolluted, there’d be no SeaWorld, no factory farming, no animal testing, thousands fewer extinctions and many more rainforests – who’d want that?

So we bond, we love each other, and now we know why, it is time to ask how.

Let’s talk about magnetic resonance imaging, often referred to as an MRI or sometimes as an MRI (the f stands for ‘functional’, I know that because I asked someone). If you’ve never had an MRI, you just get in a big tube and lie down at the hospital. They tell you they can see your brain and which parts of it you are using at certain times and the machine makes a lot of cranking noises and you feel claustrophobic and you want to move but you’re not allowed or your brain pictures will be blurry and you get quite frightened and think, ‘I wonder if this was a clever trick to kill me? Pretend to be an experiment on comedians’ brains and then zap me while I’m in here?’ Then you think, ‘OH SHIT, could they see me having that thought?’ and then ‘Could they see me having that one?’ and then you think, ‘I’d better not picture anything rude,’ and so you think about bottoms non-stop for twenty minutes until they let you out again and you’re not dead which is a relief and they show you pictures of your brain and it’s all there, which is another one.

Here is a picture of my brain thinking about bottoms. It is my favourite photo that has ever been taken of me:

Scientists have conducted experiments in MRIs to find out what parts of the brain are activated when we feel love. They showed participants pictures of their lovers and WHOA their brains lit up like a brain in an MRI. The two most active areas were found to be the caudate, which is involved with cravings, and the ventral tegmental, which produces dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter you should know about. It affects pleasure and motivation. Technically it is a chemical reward from your brain, but it just feels like happiness. Imagine natural highs: helping a frail old man across the road, finding £5 on the floor, flying a kite while a cute puppy kisses you – these things cause dopamine to be released and then you feel chilled and amazing. Drugs like cocaine also release dopamine, which is why some people like putting it up their nose so much and don’t realise how boring it makes them at parties.

The MRI experiments revealed that when people are in love, the interaction of dopamine becomes heightened; it gets greedy. The ventral tegmental floods the caudate with dopamine and the caudate signals the ventral tegmental to send it more dopamine please in a delightful cycle and the result is intense elation.

Roses are red,

Violets are blue

I get a big hit of dopamine

When I see you!

This all-encompassing, delicious, dopamine-fuelled romantic love is experienced as something you crave and can’t get enough of; you’ll never be full, you’ll never be sated and you’ll never feel more alive. It’s a cascade of chemicals that makes you need to be near your chosen person. It is the exact same brain process as addiction, and that’s how it’s experienced; consuming your attention, taking over your dreams and all your waking thoughts in between. Behaviour may verge on the obsessive and it can be physically painful to be separated from your love – bodily reactions don’t get stronger or more compelling than this. Such feelings may arise during a sexual relationship or inspire you to start one, and TA-DA, you’ve been paired up all nice and ready for childrearing.

‘Er, Miss Pascoe,’ says Laura with her hand in the air, ‘but I’m on the pill actually so my body doesn’t need to bond me to sex partners.’

This is the interesting thing: we have sex all the time that we know won’t result in children – because we’re using contraception, or we’re post-menopausal, or our boyfriend is a woman – but our body doesn’t recognise that. Our brain will produce neurotransmitters and hormones and all of the accompanying physiological cacophony because this is what evolution has programmed it to do. We have not evolved a ‘non-reproductive sex’ switch, because there would have been no genetic advantage in doing so.

‘What about unrequited love?’ asks Stephanie sadly, drawing a picture of Ronan Keating.

If you love someone who doesn’t love you back or maybe someone you haven’t even met, the brain reacts in the same way. Think of it as motivational. You’ve picked someone to pair-bond with and you’re getting dopamine hits as an incentive to solidify the relationship. Although this brain function evolved to influence and strengthen pair bonding, it is often hijacked by non-reproductive loves. The caudate and ventral tegmental areas have been shown all lit up in the MRIs of very religious people talking about their god, and it facilitates the ‘relationships’ people have with animals or inanimate objects as well as adulation of celebrities. In such instances, the intense emotion and euphoria surrounding the object of love will be as real as for those in consensual relationships with actual humans who exist. Perhaps knowing this should make us more sympathetic to each other and our crazy non-rational love lives. For instance there is a Swedish woman who ‘married’ the Berlin Wall in 1979. Her name is Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer – that’s right, she took his name. She’s been interviewed talking about her ‘husband’, and it is easy to laugh at the things she says, like how sexy he was and how much fun they had together. But then I remember that her feelings are as real as anyone else’s and how strange it must have been on the day the Berlin Wall was torn down; everyone in the world celebrating her husband’s murder and the desecration of his corpse while she alone was—

‘Okay then,’ asks Poppy, pointedly getting us back on topic, ‘if this bonding thing is true, why didn’t I fall in love with all the guys I’ve had sex with?’

Everyone in the class laughs because it sounds like Poppy has done it with loads of people. ‘SHUT UP EVERYONE,’ I say strictly, ‘Poppy has asked a really, really important question.’

If our body thinks all sex could make us pregnant, shouldn’t all sex make us start pair-bonding? I’ve had it both ways – not an innuendo – I’ve had sexual experiences with boys I wasn’t really into, but afterwards I got a post-coital crush on them. A bit obsessed. And even years later, if I bump into them I’m very aware of needing their attention and wanting them to like me and I HATE it. It makes me feel vulnerable and rejected and see-through. I might not have wanted them to be my boyfriend, but I needed them to want to be my boyfriend, or at least to see me again, and I was a bit hurt when they didn’t. I would ideally list the full names of the boys who rejected me here and I’ll be honest, I thought the whole point of getting to write a book was REVENGE ON THOSE WHO HAVE WRONGED ME but apparently this has LEGAL RAMIFICATIONS and I’m not allowed. I’ll save it for my Oscars acceptance speech. If I happen to die before I win my award for Best Actor in a YouTube Video, there is a list of men hidden inside a spotted teapot in my kitchen. Find it, read it out at my funeral and ensure the whole event is televised. Please. Or I’ll haunt you.

I’ll tell you about one guy from ages ago. I worked with him at the Millennium Dome, which gives you a clue of exactly how ages ago it was. I hadn’t really noticed him but he asked me out on a date and I had never been on a proper date before so I said yes to be grown-up. We went to a bar and then for a long walk and I enjoyed myself fine and we went back to his flat because it was nearest. I was on my period but didn’t find a good time to mention it, one never wants to seem presumptuous –

ROB (casual)
Would you like to have another drink at my place?

SARA (smiling)
Yes please, and also, in unrelated information, my womb is currently shedding its lining.

Later in his bed, once it was clear that we were going to have sex, I was too embarrassed to say anything, because we were already having sex and he didn’t seem to notice, then we fell asleep. In the morning bright sun shot between the blinds and onto the murder scene. A bloody hand print on the wall. Streaks on his white covers and sheets. ‘Ha ha ha,’ I laughed encouragingly and alone. He asked me to leave so I asked if I could stay and he said no. And all of a sudden I really liked him, and I checked my phone constantly that day, and that night I sent him psychic messages to text me. But he didn’t and when I saw him at work he ignored me and a week later he started going out with someone else in our department. She once told me her boobs were getting bigger from all the sex she was having and I had jealousy about her breasts and her boyfriend. A few years ago I would still think about him occasionally so I friend-requested him on Facebook and he must still have been thinking about me too because he replied, ‘Where do I know you from?’ So I’m glad I ruined his bedsheets, good old bloody womb. And now I don’t care about him at all and can’t even remember him and what was I even talking about?

Oh yes, the point I am making is that I liked him so much more after sex than before. He felt really important and relevant and I suffered seeing him and being blanked by him and watching him kiss someone else. But I’ve had the same experience reversed as well. Make yourself comfortable as Old Sara P. reads you another tale from her Sexual Anecdotes (Volume One, 1998–2002).

I lived in a big shared house with nine other people, one of whom was Italian and couldn’t speak English. His name was Tomaso, and whenever I passed him in the corridor he would giggle because he was stoned and say ‘Ciao bambina,’ which was super-hot. We started holding hands when we watched television, and we wrote each other letters that we translated sat side by side with an Italian–English dictionary. One evening Tomaso sat on my bed and drew pictures of Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons and they were so good that I kissed him. He then mounted me straight away and started pulling my trousers down. I wanted him to use a condom but was struggling to find the word in Italian, and he laughed and kept repeating ‘protezione’, which, if there had been a mood, would have killed it. And then we had sex while my inner monologue congratulated me: ‘Isn’t it amazing that he seems so into this while you feel absolutely nothing?’ He came and went. And the next morning he was back and I was saying ‘non’ and he was miming and trying to tell me something. I can’t be sure what it was, my best guesses are that he used to be a food reviewer for a magazine or he’d given fellatio for money. I avoided him for days as he put letters and Sideshow Bob pictures under my door and when he knocked I pretended to be asleep. Then I arranged to move out, and did; bin bags of belongings in a taxi cab while Tomaso was at work one day.

With Tomaso I liked him a lot less after sex than before – I more than disliked him: he repelled me, I wished he didn’t exist. And it wasn’t just because the sex was of poor quality, I’ve had rubbish lays that I still fancied madly afterwards. I’ve had loads of those. #bragging

Why do we get attached to some sex partners and not others? Is it:

a) Astrology.

b) God decides.

c) Parental investment.

d) For compatibility take letters of both surnames, give numerical worth from alphabet position then add, divide and show as a %.

Yep, the answer is still parental investment. Having a child with someone is such a monumental drain of time and energy, such a precious and precarious expenditure, that we are very fussy about who we undertake it with, which translates into ‘who we are willing to bond with’. Remember you have evolved to have these feelings because sex can make babies, not because you are literally having them or planning to.

To simplify this using my examples, with Rob my body decided ‘Game on, baby daddy, he be a keeper,’ and with Tomaso my body yelled, ‘Close it down, nothing doing, beep beep beep, this vehicle is reversing.’

There are trillions of factors that influence these unspoken, unconscious decisions and they occur every time we sleep with a new person. We evaluate what our sex partner is worth in a measured equation of resources, traits and genetics – in your face, romance! There are some obvious things that might put you off somebody – ill health, bad hygiene, terrible temper. And there are some very shallow things that you can’t help finding attractive – money, the nice things bought with money, and expensive trousers that he got with some of his loads of money. You’re not a bitch, this is evolution’s fault, it is babies having massive brains’ fault. If, after the internal sums of your mate’s possible contributions to childcare, your body decides you can do better … off you run. Not literally, unless this is a Julia Roberts movie,* but you will be uninterested in bonding with them any further or having sex with them again.

There are tons of qualities (aside from money) that make people attractive for dating past mating – kindness, generosity, strong arms, wittiness, being great at crosswords; your body will respond positively to many traits. Apparently you’ll also be judging your partner/lover/guy asleep on you on the night bus via his pheromones – I say ‘apparently’ because while some books talk very confidently about pheromones and how they influence our behaviours, other people are equally confident that they are unproven. Not their existence – pheromones are airborne hormones so we’ll definitely have them – the doubt is over whether we are able to smell them … I know, I’m not a science guy so I can’t tell you the truth. And the science guys all disagree, so they can’t help us either. Let us be interested but reserved in our enthusiasm while we consider what evidence there seems to be.

In pheromone studies they get people to sniff sweaty T-shirts and then rate the accompanying photographs for attractiveness and they’ve found that participants are often most attracted to people whose immune system is different from their own. It’s not conscious, but the smell of certain people makes your loins go schwing and it’s claimed that this allure is caused by your body knowing that sex with that partner would produce healthier children with a more varied and effective auto-immune system. It’s real-life sci-fi: we might be able to smell whether we’d have strong, fit children with someone. Personally, I love the idea of pheromones because it makes sense of the non-rational lust that some people provoke in me. Also I really enjoy the smell of my boyfriend’s armpits and I’d rather be a great pheromone reader than super-gross. Dear Scientists, more experiments and human§ study in this area please, Love Sara.

So after sex with someone you might be infatuated with them or you might never want to see them again, yes Laura, your hand’s up again—

LAURA 
If, in pre-civilised, pre-contraceptive times—

SARA
Yes dear, get to the point.

LAURA 
– if all sex could result in pregnancy, wouldn’t women have evolved to try and hold on to any man they’d had sex with, even if he was rubbish, just in case?

SARA
Not necessarily, not if there were other men around to have sex with.

LAURA looks disapproving.

SARA 
You can tell your facial expression to shut up, mate. Human beings are mammals, yes? And we gestate our young internally, which means sperm swim in, and nine months later, baby comes out.

Nobody SEES the egg becoming fertilised, which means that if the mother has mated with a few men in a short time-frame, even she won’t know who the biological father is. Nowadays you could get a DNA test and go on Jeremy Kyle for a good shout, but we’re still thinking African savannah 40,000 years BC, and exploitative television hasn’t been invented yet.

It’s called ‘paternity certainty’, it’s a wonderful phrase to sing or rap and it’s vitally important to the evolution of our species. Or rather, paternity uncertainty is. It means that a woman might have sex with one man, reject him due to low mate potential, then later (could be minutes, could be weeks) have sex with some other dude. And she likes the second guy cos he has a cool nest and is good at peeling mangoes and they become involved and bonded and then bring up a baby together, which, genetically, could belong to the first man. But mum has made an excellent evolutionary choice, as no matter who it is related to, this baby will have a greater chance of survival with the father who has higher mate potential. Paternity uncertainty means that, evolutionarily, a woman might do well to have a few fellows around her wondering ‘Is it mine?’ She ensures more resources for herself that way and is better protected, she—

YOU AGAIN 
Excuse me, Mrs Contradictions, but earlier you were going on about how body dimorphism proves we’re a monogamous species and now you’re saying women do it all over the place and then attempt to sucker some guy with a better flat into bringing up baby—

Well I don’t think that’s exactly what I said, but to go back to dimorphism: the 1.1 difference between human genders suggests that male size wasn’t very important for mate selection, BUT there is a complication to this evidence and it involves our colossal brain. Some scientists argue that any body dimorphism that might have existed in humans would have been balanced out when the brain began its exponential growth. Huge male babies would have been impossible to birth, mother and baby would have died, those genes were lost and the sizes of the two genders became more similar as a result. It’s very interesting to consider, and either way, it’s important to remember that this 1.1 does not guarantee fidelity. It places us somewhere between the complete polyamory of chimpanzees and the definite monogamy of gibbons; human pair bonds are not the end of our mating life, nor are they as sexually exclusive as we might like – which the next chapter will explore.

‘But please,’ you beg me, with a thirst for summary and conclusion, ‘tell us, Sara, what is LOVE?’

It’s so complicated and obviously we all experience it differently, but here you are – for your quote book:

‘Love is a compulsive motivation towards a certain person ruled by evolutionary selection bias and a neurochemical reward system’ (Pascoe 2016).

Let me know if you want that printed up on a baseball cap.

* I’m worried this reference is too old. You see, Julia Roberts once made a movie called The Runaway Bride. It reunited her with Richard Gere after that successful film they made about how fun and sexy it is to be a prostitute. It was different in the olden days, you wouldn’t remember, anyway, just insert a film reference from your generation in here – perhaps ‘Miley Cyrus’ has been in a film?

 I will of course be trademarking that. For my baby clothing line.

 Or appropriate word for arousal from your generation. Do One Direction have patter? I don’t know why I’m so sure you’re younger than me. Do young people even read books now? Aren’t they all Wii-ing on their Segways and taking Meow Meow?

§ I say human because quite often scientists do animal studies which are 1) cruel and 2) non-transferable. If we want to find out about humans, knowing about rabbits, cats and mice is virtually irrelevant. ‘Oh I wonder what effect caffeine has on the human brain?’ ‘Well, we just gave one hundred cups of coffee to this beagle and now it’s dead.’ ‘GREAT, will you write this up for the New Scientist or shall I?’ That was a short excerpt from my new theatre piece Stop the Inanity (and the Torture). It stars me and Brian May.