This is the second part of a series about the complex biological realities of sex. Though the posts build on one another, each can be understood alone.
When feminists get to talking about sexism, heterosexism, trans-antagonism, and the gender binary, people in the conversation like to bring up “biological facts” in order to oppress women and gender-variant people. These folks are awfully sure that “biological facts” justify misgendering trans women, violent behavior in men, even dressing women in pink. But the biological facts are stranger and more beautiful than any of us can imagine.
I’m writing this series of posts about the biology of sex not because I think it has that much to do with why women are oppressed or our lived experience as sexual beings, but rather because there is so much people take for granted about sex, and what science has to say about it, that I want to show what you think is simple might in fact be immensely complicated. I have written before about how “biological sex” in humans is socially constructed, and why we should take the red pill and learn the complex truth behind our simplified notions of sex, but that’s just a small part of the picture. Most people don’t even know what sex is.
What is sex?
If you see the word “sex” in a biology textbook or research article, it is almost certainly not referring to sex as humans usually define it. When an English speaker says the word “sex” in casual conversation she is either referring to what biologists would call “sexual reproduction” or “sexual behavior,” with the second more likely than the first. Sexual reproduction is the combination of genes from two individuals to create a new individual. That can be as impersonal as tree pollen being carried to a flower on the wind, or as sweet and awkward as Juno and Bleeker’s fateful first night of love.
Sexual behavior is related, but not the same. Sexual reproduction is critical to the survival of many (but not all) organisms, and some of them have evolved powerful physical and mental systems that direct behavior toward sexual reproduction. But just as a tongue evolved for tasting and eating is also used for grooming by cats, a system of erotic feeling evolved for sexual reproduction can also be used for other sexual behaviors that have little to do with reproduction, like what I do with all the items in my nightstand that go buzz.