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Evolution Can’t Explain Sexual Modesty; Why Not?

David Klinghoffer
Photo: An Arabian babbler, by Yoavd / Public domain.

Wesley Smith draws our attention to a profound question that evolution, clearly, is not up for addressing. Why do humans in cultures around the world insist on privacy in intimacy? You could broaden the question: Why do humans practice sexual modesty at all, in dress, speech, and other matters? Of course the latter is culturally contingent but if there’s a culture known to history that practiced universal nudism, I’m not aware of it.

Anthropologist Yitzchak Ben Mocha at Zürich University grappled with the intimacy question and came up with the answer that humans are almost unique. A bird species, the Arabian babbler (pictured above), alone joins us in seeking privacy for mating. Fascinating. Ben Mocha has a theory and spins a story:

Ben Mocha concludes his paper by introducing a theory of his own — he believes that the reason humans (and babblers) began looking for privacy during sex was because the male wanted to prevent other males from seeing his female partner in a state of arousal. Such a state, he suggests, would likely have encouraged other males to attempt to mate with her. Thus, privacy, or perhaps more accurately, seclusion, allowed the male to maintain control over a sexual partner — while also allowing for continued cooperation within a group.

But this overlooks why ONLY humans (and Arabian babblers) do this although from an evolutionary perspective “maintain[ing] control over a sexual partner” while at the same time “allowing for continued cooperation within a group” would not seem to be imperatives unique to humans. Other animal species thrive and do just fine, mating in public and giving no thought to covering up with clothing. It’s the human exception that needs explaining, so citing factors that are far from exceptional to humans as an explanation is not going to persuade me.

A Different Standard

Here’s a photo that represents one standard:

It’s something I stumbled on this week on the movie database IMDb, a scene from a 1914 tearjerker. The man on the left is my grandfather, who made a long list of convoluted melodramas in the silent film era. The woman on the right is his favorite leading lady. When I showed the photo to a friend, he was surprised by the lady’s décolletage. A bit daring for 1914? I pointed out that this was well before the Hays Code (1934-1968), which imposed strict morals on Hollywood, even limiting how long characters could be shown kissing on screen. You may remember Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s bedroom with its twin beds. Same reason.

To Take Down a Culture

Only humans would care about such things. Wesley raises the question of why attacks on a culture, like ours, often take the form of undermining standards of modesty in speech and behavior. You may have seen the photo, taken from the back, of the young woman in Portland. Amid the Antifa disorder, she posed in the middle of the street, before the befuddled police, seated naked in the most immodest pose that there could be. This was her “protest,” and for all that it shocks, it was eloquent in its way. The “protestors” are indeed trying to take down our culture.

It’s noteworthy that evolutionists can’t explain any of this, a failure that itself speaks loudly and eloquently to the limits of materialist science. Darwinism is supposed to be a universal theory about biological diversity advancing through reproduction. Could such a basic observation about sex be beyond its scope? Apparently.