dimanche 27 janvier 2008

It's the Major Histocompatibility Complex, stupid!

What determines if we like or dislike the smell of a potential mate, as well as how we like French kissing her / him - intimacy pillars? Both are linked to the Major Histocompatibility Complex, part of the genetic makeup of the immune system which help distinguish self from foreign. We usually like the MHC from our mates to differ from ours, providing less risk of miscarriage and better immune protection against infection to our offspring. Although these preferences are the result of natural selection, they seem to hold true for gay lovers... The original observation was made over a decade ago by Claus Wedekind, a researcher at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Reference to his work is made in the special issue of Time magazine on The Science of Love ("Humans do a lot of odd things, but the way we fall in love may be the hardest to explain. Scientists are looking for answers - and finding them.") It's a pity that the only picture of gays among thirteen pictures of celebrities in love is one of Elton John and David Funish! Fortunately a few pages later a very personal article addresses the topic of gay relationships. Are they Different? questions the title. John Cloud, one of the Time's star journalist, narrates how he and his partner separated in 2006, after living together for 7 1/2 years. After an initial period of "intense exercise and weight loss; fugue states punctuated by light psychotherapy, heavy drinking and moderate drug use; Italian classes; and marathon cooking" he "started reading the academic research on relationships, which is abundant and, surprisingly, often rigorous." He continues: "I wondered whether Michael and I could have done more to save our union. What impact had our homosexuality had on the longevity, arc and dissolution of our relationship? Had we given up on each other because we were men or because we were gay? Or neither? Friends offered clichés: Some people just aren't meant for each other. But our straight friends usually stayed married. Why not us?" Read the article if you are curious and want to get some interesting answers to these questions. Gay end relationships sooner than heterosexuals. They argue less belligerently that straight pairs. But are worse at making up after fights. Cloud has his own theory: "It's less important for their sex lives. Probably because they don't have women to restrain their evolutionarily male sexual appetites, gay men are more likely that straight and lesbian couples to agree to nonmonogamy, which decreases the stakes for not repairing. And according to a big study from Norway published in the The Journal of Sex Research in 2006, gay men also consume more porn that everyone else, making them more 'partner independent'."

Who's Been Sleeping in Your Head: The Secret World of Sexual Fantasy (Brett Kahr, Perseus Books, 2008) is an example of non rigorous so-called academic research. Just don't buy this book. Don't read it. It is a waste of time. Why did I buy it? The reference to Alfred Kinsey in the back cover, the fact that the book is claimed to be based on the survey of a very large sample representative of the British and US population, and the quick reading of the great questionaire which is included as an appendix. I expected that I would really learn something. Kahr, a British psychologist and Freudian analyst, provides almost no hard data. Yes, most of the people surveyed have sexual fantasies, the content of which varies greatly: from 'vanilla' plain stories of making love to one's own partner, to much more hardcore ones. But most of the book is filled with transcripts of the fantasies he collected, followed by tentative interpretations which draw on the most traditional psychoanalysis, i.e. on air. If you are interested in reading fantasies, read Sade.

In a recent national survey in the US, conducted by
Harris Interactive on 2,455 adults aged 18 and over, in conjunction with Witeck-Combs, a communication and PR firm specializing in the GLBT community, 6% (158) of the polled population self identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.