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Sounds like Ig Nobel material to me!

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> Bondage/domination/submission: Okay, I admit I don’t have a good just-so explanation for this one. Maybe it’s more psychological - people who have been told that sex is shameful can only fully appreciate it if they feel like a victim who’s been forced into it (and so carries no guilt). And people who have been told they’re undesirable and nobody could ever really love them can only fully appreciate it if their partner is a victim who has no choice in the matter.

I assume masochism/submissiveness at least is a rape adaptation. Rape is very stressful (citation needed) and it seems to me that the ability to find it at least complicatedly enjoyable could greatly improve your life outcomes, especially if you're going to spend a lot of time with your captor afterwards.

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I feel pretty confident that people who are into BDSM don't like getting raped any more than vanilla people. (For example, go see what people on r/BDSMAdvice have to say when it happens to them).

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Aug 21, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

As someone with a lot of experience in BDSM circles, I am essentially certain that bdsm folk are on average more aroused by rape than non bdsm folk, even if that amount is low and everyone is still obviously very against it in practice. But I mean - con non-con is a thing for a reason.

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CNC is, certainly! Fantasies are as well. But when it *actually* happens people don't seem to report having had a good time to any degree, and indeed report considerable distress.

Perhaps in a different cultural setting it would be different; there are, after all, historical cultures that carry out ritual abductions of brides. But I don't think rape victims in our culture secretly enjoy the real thing.

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A lot of these conversations, I think, have in them a background concern that any acknowledgement of "being sexually assaulted" as a kink would constitute a moral justification for rapists, which is obviously a very reasonable concern given that "she was asking for it" is a phrase that's been in the cultural lexicon since forever. Such discussion also risks accidentally minimizing the trauma of the victim, which is real and deserves respect. This is especially a concern that active BDSM practitioners are going to have, since the survival of their communities relies greatly on not being perceived as a bunch of rapist weirdos (which is a significant danger.)

I'm not sure what to do about that; "bodily autonomy" is always a right regardless of if someone is aroused by the idea or action of it being violated.

EDIT: For context, I'm fairly certain that "being sexually assaulted in some specific fashion" is, in fact, a kink some people both have and have very complicated and nuanced feelings about.

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Most boys (and I guess some girls too) at some point enjoy fantasies about being a war hero, or having war adventures. However, very few of them would enjoy actual war. That is because in a fantasy you can all the perks of the situation (usually at lower intensity than the real thing, but still some) without any downsides (like heorism and excitement of the battle without actual possibility of death, mutilation, and sense of guilt from killing other people.

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This is a good comparison

Note that "cultural glorification of war is an adaptation intended to make people happier with being drafted" is a pretty standard take. War is still bad (in part because of our modern circumstances, it was legitimately less harrowing and more useful in pre-modern times), and glorification of violence doesn't mean you won't get PTSD, but in some contexts that glorification does help with real war fighting.

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They are not saying BDSM folk enjoy being raped, just that they are more aroused. Arousal responses are involuntary, and most people can remember a time that they were aroused, but not enjoying it. From things like blue balls and awkward boners, to sexual assault.

I say this from a bit if experience. I've been sexually assaulted in a relatively minor way before, groped, in the middle of class, by someone I was not attracted to. I felt myself get angry, embarrassed, depressed, but still aroused. I really disliked it at the time, but even now, remembering it as a fantasy is pleasant. Feelings are complicated, and sexual assault can be wrong, even if the victim becomes aroused.

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I think if you turn this over the right way, it's self-evident they do.

Are people who are into getting raped more likely to be into BDSM, on average? I think the answer is obviously yes. Then if everyone else, BDSM fans or not, is EQUALLY into getting raped (fair assumption?), then statistically you're going to find more people who are into getting raped at a BDSM convention* than random other convention. I think.

* OTOH I'm guessing there'd be even more at an "anti-BDSM" convention.

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Agreed. For a report from the "front lines", there was a series of posts from 2012 titled "There's a war on" (https://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/theres-a-war-on-part-1-troubles-been-brewing/) from someone who's very into the scene, and very not into the amount of rape and harassment they encountered there.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

I think the desire to submit occurs when you like certain things but are also ashamed of those things. With your hands tied (literally) you can enjoy the things guilt-free, it’s not like you could have resisted.

Or, maybe even simpler, because of attraction to a Big Strong Man.

Humiliation fetishes though, that’s what I don’t understand.

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This might or might not be relevant. I remember reading in one of the essays of Gould about struggles of Christian theologians with explaining animal suffering. While you can always say, yes we have it hard but we will be rewarded in Heaven, and also it makes us better, and so on. However, even this dubious stuff does not apply to animals which do not have immortal souls, and even (probably) lack mental faculties to elevate their suffering to something lofty. Their suffering is totally senseless. Of course one can always try to claim that they lack self-consciousness, but this is a hard sell to any pet owners. So their other solution was to claim that actually prey animals enjoy being hunted and killed. So why a deer tries to escape the wolves? Well, obviously because it enjoys being chased. I guess while this idea seems outlandish, it did not came from nowhere. I guess some people may have fantasies about being hunted and killed. And why not? When we fear something replaying it in our imagination, focusing on plesant aspects of it (perhaps even in sexual context) can relieve the tension. And this is not limited to sexual contexts. After all many people enjoy horror stories and films, and even children like being frightened (within limits of course).

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> I guess some people may have fantasies about being hunted and killed.

I regret to inform you that this is, in fact, a thing - closely allied to the furry community and I believe called "primal play" or something. Though of course in practice it amounts to something closer to CNC, the supposed hunt being sublimated into sex.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

Since I learned there is a paraphilia called dendrophilia (yes, it means being sexually aroused by trees... wtf?), I will not astonished by any fetish. And in this case, the issue of, ehem, splinters aside, I cannot even begin to imagine where it comes from.

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Think about other stuff people find sexy, or even just emotionally intense, then figure out how trees might be conceptually associated. "Wood" as a euphemism, or correct pronunciation of the Latin word for pine tree. For a less goofy angle, the sense of awe at natural beauty of particularly impressive trees is enough to inspire numerous shinto shrines. Archetypal "out in the woods" setting, isolated from civilizing influences, has trees in a literally load-bearing role, and plenty of fairy tales set there have a sexual subtext - to say nothing of all the outright porn involving hiding behind a bush or leaning against a trunk. Anatomy of the tree itself has features which could be interpreted as limbs and even orifices, at least on a loose geometric level - which is apparently quite sufficient, given how bizarre fetish-optimized artistic depictions of actual humans can get.

Not a dendrophile myself, to be clear, and haven't validated any of this with those who are, just brainstorming ways it might work from first principles.

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Big Strong Man is a big part of it.

Gor fandom always had a big female component.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

Wild-eyed speculation: I wonder if these aren't commitment signals. I think part of the appeal for the dominant partner in these relationships/activities is something along the lines of "my partner will endure pain/humiliation to be with me; they're really into me" and then evolution programs your brain to find this arousing/rewarding so that you will stick with this person and have lots of procreative sex with them. That's good! But then this programming can be hacked by evolution programming someone else to actually enjoy the pain/humiliation inflicted on them; it signals commitment to the sadist, but really the masochist would be happy with anyone with similar proclivities. Thus the sadist is sort of tricked into a greater commitment to the relationship, which ultimately benefits the mashochist.

Again, this is all speculation on my part; I'm not really any sort of kinkster. I find it enjoyable to fantasize about fetish-y stuff but it doesn't really interest me in realy life.

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I think there’s a simpler part where it’s about decision fatigue and feeling taken care of. There’s a reason that the fanciest restaurants do a prix fixe menu where the customer has no choice about what they’re getting - it’s to free you up to enjoy your conversation and the food rather than having to make another stressful decision after a day of being CEO or whatever, and also make you feel like you put your trust in a chef who knows your needs and will take care of you.

Submission in sex is the same thing.

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This isn't quite a counter-point to what you're saying, but close enough to one that I figured I'd put it in here: While it doesn't necessarily look like it's a lot of work, it definitely can be. Mine ties into masochism, and there's a lot of managing your own body posture involved, and navigating the space between "the last micro-action was technically not pleasurable, but I can handle it" and "this is generally too much right now" with a deep respect for the person that's handling you.

Generally speaking, if you're not restrained in a given moment, there's a lot of feedback to give to the person dominating you - you'll want to touch them in reaffirming ways and be supportive, because they're ironically in a pretty psychologically vulnerable position. As an incomplete example: if your dominant partner does something silly and you burst out laughing because you didn't have self-control, that can be rather damaging to their desire to take the reins again.

If you go to a restaurant and you don't like the food, you can leave a one star rating and not tip the waiter. If you submit to someone and you don't like the things they're doing to your body, you should IMO take *some* responsibility for it, think deeply about whether you can accept their choices for recurring interaction (and err on the side of granting them their choices), and respectfully talk it through with them - tell them what you liked, what you'd prefer less off, what's in the category of "didn't technically like, but can handle, and enjoy on a meta-level that you enjoy it, so feel free to sprinkle it in sometimes", etc, as reaffirmingly and gently as possible.

I suppose this could also be phrased as advice for subs: "Look out for your domme; make sure they're comfortable at all times."

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As a submissive, data point: Shame doesn't play into it at all for me. If you ask my friends who's most comfortable talking about sex, it's me. I bring it up as a casual topic like other people bring up video games they've been playing (but, yes, I do try to make sure the people I'm talking to don't mind, sex is a squick topic for a lot of people).

For me, it's the 'thrill' of being helpless and at someone's mercy.

The best way to think of this may be of being on a roller-coaster. You can't get off, you're at the whim of the ups and downs and all those curves throwing your body around, but while it's hitting some buttons in your brain that are making your body respond with stress (raising your heartrate, etc) is, on some level, really exhilerating!

Being restrained (be it just by bodily force, or by ropes, etc) is a lot like that. There's a deep sense of risk, it requires a lot of trust (and forgiveness, and communication, which new submissives sometimes don't realise), but it's very rewarding.

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I've had people say that from the other side, yeah. It's like a horror movie or a scary story. Look at the popularity of 'evil' tropes--stereotypical bikers, black, Nazis (usually with the swastikas removed), goatees, skulls, I'm sure you can think of others.

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There's this aspect of not having responsibility as well.

This might just be a stereotype, but it's been said that a lot of people who actually wield a lot of power and responsibility have been into submission - because it allows them to experience not being in charge at all for a while.

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Wasn't there a bit of evidence recently, that human males generally become physically and mentally aroused by perceiving sexual things, but human females often only become physically aroused (i.e., things like vaginal lubrication, but without an accompanying desire to participate)?

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"Shame over sex" seems contradicted by the flagrantly shameless BDSM scene with its in-person clubs and public kink.

"Sadism/domination as a response to feeling undesirable" doesn't fit the dominants I know, including my wife. If anything, being able to "get away" with being mean seems to confirm their sense of desirability.

"Rape adaption" *may* explain some M/f as a way to hack the female body's defence systems which - I've read - can switch on physical arousal to prevent damage (it's important that in the nasty real world, physical arousal isn't the same as consent or pleasure). However, it doesn't explain F/m dynamics. A better general explanation for sexual submission is that finding dominant mates hot is adaptive.

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> "Shame over sex" seems contradicted by the flagrantly shameless BDSM scene with its in-person clubs and public kink.

Does it? To me at least that all seems consistent with a backlash against the shame that instilled the kink in the first place.

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That's certainly another possible interpretation. Or, shameless public kink could be a reaction to having grown up ashamed of being kinky.

However, my impression - sorry, it's hard to find good studies on this sort of thing - is that most kinksters can point back to a pre-sexual stage of their development where they were already showing signs of kinkiness. There are a couple of good mémoires that go into this in detail.

There's also this thing that very dominant "alpha males" are a long-established romantic trope, and historically have been regarded as desirable husbands. So I think that, at least for M/f, BDSM is an extension, or even a conscious firewalling, of a common innate drive.

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I think it's the way progressives (and before them liberals) excuse that innate drive. ;)

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You mean they excuse the drive by saying it's purely cultural?

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I think it's more that it's a 'kink' and therefore transgressive, and left-coded not right-coded, and therefore morally OK.

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Yeah, I suspect dominance isn't an automatic turnoff for men the way submission is for women (in 90% of the population anyway). Probably in sub men whatever normally links sexual attraction to dominance detection in women gets turned on for whatever reason. I guess we'll never really know!

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I think, in the vanilla world, a lot of women do like being in control, and prefer submissive men as long as that submissiveness is expressed as being a devoted champion and good boyfriend/husband; most of us don't actually look weak or wimpish, our submissiveness is defined by where our centre is.

There are reasons why this doesn't translate to lots of kinky dominant women, and most of these are the fault of male submissives.

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Eh, it's always PC to blame the guy. But we can agree to disagree on that one I guess. I don't think we'll ever really know.

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Yes, I agree. Currently it's fashionable to leap to blame the guy.

However, in this case it's the fault of the malesub for very specific reasons: they tend to approach partners with an off-putting list of detailed fetishes, rather than a proposal to engage in power actual exchange.

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Guess you'd know. I still think there's a supply-and-demand problem, but if you made it, congratulations!

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BDSM is about control. Its about relinquish control but being able to take it at any time with the concept of consent. Someone with a leadership role ordering around all day likes to relinquish control in bed ; someone who has been raped and who did not process fully the rape will want to reproduce this in private, except that the person can stop the act at any point, which is like regaining control on an event where you did not have any control (the initial rape). Its pretty basic interpretation, but Ockham's razor might be right here.

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This sounds more accurate to me.

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Women are probably adapted to survive rape by physically becoming lubricated in response to a variety of sexual stimuli, but in women this is generally separate from subjectively perceived mental arousal. Women who like being submissive in a BDSM context are mentally aroused by the situation, while I think women who are raped often get wet but do not perceive themselves as mentally aroused. Dominance and submission is more likely linked to attraction to high-status men and/or related to men usually being hard-coded to be the sexual initiators and women to be the responders. I am suspicious that many submissive men and dominant women have some part of their sexual brain that got flipped to be more like the sexuality of the other gender. I would expect this to be somewhat correlated with queer gender identity or sexual orientation.

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> I am suspicious that many submissive men and dominant women have some part of their sexual brain that got flipped to be more like the sexuality of the other gender. I would expect this to be somewhat correlated with queer gender identity or sexual orientation.

There seem to be several styles of Femdom dynamic, some of them very much following traditional gender roles, e.g. the "Mommy Domme" dynamic.

However, you certainly see a lot of what we used to call "gender bending" amongst submissive men, though it's hard to untangle whether this is because on some level they equate "female" to "weak".

Assuming some brains are flipped, this could still be adaptive. On the male side, some of this could be a hardwired Sneaker F*cker strategy. F/m pairings could also have a reproductive advantage, e.g. when food was scarce.

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I think BDSM comes from status hierarchy preferences. People have good evolutionary reasons to be attracted to high social status individuals, because status is correlated with genetic and material resources, and both of those are good for your offspring. To judge status, you need to look for reliable status markers. Those markers come in many different varieties - having lots of resources, winning competitions, having lots of attention or respect from others, knowing lots of other high-status people, etc.

But in particular, when someone is telling others what to do (and having them do it), it's very likely that they're high status. And if they're able to treat others badly and get away with it, they must be insanely high status. I think this is where BDSM comes from.

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I agree with you, though I am curious to see how you would frame the attraction a dominant feels for a submissive.

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Not so sure about that. Maybe feeling high status is nice?

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I would have thought - at the instinctive level - assured mate guarding for M/f, and access to resources for F/m.

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Is there a reason you unparsimoniously create a separate category for homosexuality when this framework of "fetishes" works just as well in that case?

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Fetish is technically defined as "a form of sexual desire in which gratification is strongly linked to a particular object or activity or a part of the body other than the sexual organs." Including homosexuality would satisfy neither the technical definition nor common usage.

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So per this definition, an attraction to breasts would count as a fetish?

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Breasts are secondary sexual organs so strictly speaking by this definition no, but if it were strong enough and non-central enough in quality, I think some would argue yes

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If it comes at the expense of PIV sex, or is necessary for PIV sex to occur, then yes, obviously? Or in mate selection, although it's hard to tell for sure, if a man prefers a woman with a particular type of breasts over a woman who'd have more PIV sex with him, that would seem to indicate that something fetish-like was going on. And then perhaps there's lesser degrees of the fetish, where it doesn't usually interfere, but does tend to affect choices at the margin.

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If homosexuality behaved like a fetish, then you wouldn’t expect “homoromanticness” to go along with it; you’d expect gay men to be sexually interested in penises but still romantically interested in women.

Assuming the theory of fetishes here is correct, homosexuality might have a similar explanation, but there are differences too.

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Fair point. Is that true though? Do "furries" not have romantic interests closely tied to their sexual interests? It is my understanding that zoöphiles and pedophiles do, but I welcome correction.

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And there definitely is a fetish of this sort, where you want the person to present as a woman romantically but to have a penis sexually.

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Indeed, and attraction to futanari is typically associated with people attracted to women (rather than with people attracted to men).

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Being attracted to men isn't a fetish when women do it, so why would it be one when men do it?

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Presumably the question relates to non-reproductive sex. If sex in nature is intended to propagate the species, then gay relationships clearly defeat that purpose.

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Does it? Wrapping your partner in latex surely does not prevent conception, but it's clearly a fetish. Whereas oral sex is unlikely to result in conception, but is not a fetishistic act.

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Scott is talking about sexual imprinting that does not lead to procreation. Oral sex would fall into that category. Latex would be a good example of a misprint as well, since it's not actually related to procreation at all. You can have latex with no conception.

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Do you believe this argument sound? Bulls are attracted to cows. Rams are attracted to ewes. Stallions are attracted to mares. Men attracted to any of these would be a fetish.

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Tomcats are attracted to queens when the queens are in heat.

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I assume one of the reasons that this isn't purely hard-coded is because there isn't an answer to what one 'should' be attracted to, from the PoV of evolution, that is both fully general as well as consistent over time.

Depending on which time period and culture a person grows up in, it may be optimal for them to be attracted to different types of people, so a lot of this may be learned during adolescence.

One could imagine an algorithm like "When going through adolescence, I need to determine what I should become attracted to for the best outcomes. Because I cannot test all of the opportunities myself, I will defer to peers to learn as much as I can"

This algorithm probably works well in many societies, but when you hop onto the Internet and the peers which you defer to during adolescence are a niche subculture, you'll start to get pretty different outcomes. The Internet is also very good at spreading memes, so these outcomes may then propagate to more adolescents as they come online, depending on how viral the new set of likes is.

There's a lot of further implications of this if you spend some time thinking about it, and most seem to be trending in the direction that one would predict from this.

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You could imagine there are traits which are desirable in a partner like e.g. wealthy & high-status, but these are displayed differently in different cultures and environments, so rather than attempting to hard-code for them, we soft-code an algorithm that attempts to learn them in the test environment

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It all sounds somewhat plausible, but I'm wondering why the algorithm sometimes fails for sex but not for other things.

For instance, it never fails for food. There's not a class of people out there who want to eat rocks instead of digestible food.

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Pica might be the equivalent.

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Environment has rapidly changed. I think our algorithms actually do fail for food - there's a lot of extremely unhealthy yet apparently palatable food that we now eat, and if this food had been omnipresent in our ancestral environment, that likely wouldn't be the case. Also, if you literally try to only eat rocks, you will die shortly, whereas no reasonable amount of paraphilia causes this.

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There are things like anorexia and bulimia, but I'm not sure if those count.

There's definitely people who like some objectively horrible food (but let's not argue over which these are), because they had it when they were a child and developed a fondness for it. Maybe it's even something that their culture celebrates, but ultimately it derives from what starving peasants had to do to survive another year.

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I like marmite because I grew up eating it, but from an objective point of view I suspect it's disgusting.

As a child I took an irrational dislike against baked beans. When I eat them now I can tell they're delicious, but I will still only eat them when forced because my mind believes they're gross, in defiance of my mouth's actual experience eating them.

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Some people chew gum.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

Sivarajan's right - there *are* some people who eat nondigestible things, and this is categorised as the mental disorder of pica. My understanding is that dirt's more common than rocks, but there's famously a guy who ate a Cessna (obviously he had to chop it up first, and it took him two years, but he did eat all of it).

I mean, usually they eat food as well, but I imagine that's some combination of 1) most people don't want to die and it's common knowledge that not eating food will kill you, so someone who does not like eating food may still do it to avoid dying, 2) the people that still don't eat food will indeed die and therefore stop getting counted in "how many people do this at present" statistics.

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> there's famously a guy who ate a Cessna

I was not aware of this until just now. Thank you for sharing. Now I need to pick my jaw up off of the floor...

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There are direct biochemical signs, the kind of thing that evolution can target reasonably easily, that follow within a few hours of eating something that contains actual nutrients (macronutrients at least), as the food is digested. This gives evolution a relatively easy way to reinforce the correct behaviours. With sex, the desired outcome happens much later, not more than a dozen or so times in a lifetime rather than several times per day, and (for males at least) outside the body (and therefore subject to all the complications of basing a drive on high-level concepts).

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I think food matches up quite well. The core is getting the right nutrients to stay alive, there's tastes for things like pepper on your food and coffee afterwards which aren't nutrients but are compatible with ingesting things which are, equivalent to dressing up as a furry and having piv sex, and there's people whose intake by mouth is pretty much vodka and oxycontin, which sort of look like eating but aren't and are pretty incompatible

with it - equivalent to say necrophilia

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This is especially true for humans because we wear clothing and makeup. What a typical "man" or "woman" looks like in your local culture, in terms of shapes and colours, can literally physically vary quite a bit.

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I doubt many if any of the orginal homo sapiens were putting on makeup or 'clothes' other than leaves

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You would be wrong, I'm pretty sure

Neanderthals wore clothes, and also practiced skull-deformation. If you're messing with skull shape, you probably figured out rubbing berries on your cheeks. It's hard to tell exactly how old these things are, but modifying our appearance to signal things like group-membership seems to be a pretty ancient drive. I would argue it's probably much older than Homo Sapiens, and the evidence I can find is at least compatible with that theory.

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I have read that female orangutans (in captivity) liked lipstick, once it was introduced to them.

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Clothes, probably not until they lost their pelts and had to replace them. Makeup...I think they probably did. If you don't think they did, I'd like to know why. Even mud can be used as makeup.

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Yes, but our ancestors were sexual before they were homo sapiens and had the challenge of recognizing appropriate mates along evolution. Even without make up, how these mates looked like changed from one generation to the next.

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> There's a lot of further implications of this if you spend some time thinking about it, and most seem to be trending in the direction that one would predict from this.

Could you elaborate more on this? I'm not clear on what you're implying.

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The obvious-to-me just-so story for BDSM "fetishes" is as a rape adaptation.

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Explain how this would work?

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Sure. I claim that rape is an evolutionary strategy wired into men, with rewards for the exercise of force on an unwilling woman, and far from the EEA, BDSM fits the bill well enough. For women, the counterstrategy is making sure said exercise of force is sexual and not fatal. (Yes, I realize this explanation doesn't work for dominatrices; evolutionary psychology doesn't have ALL the answers.)

See also: A Natural History of Rape, by Thornhill and Palmer.

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Ehhhhhh… that doesn’t obviously tally with BDSM as observed:

1. The big things are generally restriction, and power/powerlessness, not force/violence.

2. There’s no evolutionary reason, on the male side, to ever make the encounter fatal (quite the contrary), so no reason to then go the extra step to avoid it; from a cold evolutionary perspective, the best response is probably to if possible, then go limp.

3. Rape is just a horribly bad reproductive strategy; you’re sacrificing parental investment, and risking death (retaliation from the pair male/peer group in general - if you’d win that fight, you wouldn’t need to rape), and in general in primates it wouldn’t be surprising for any offspring to be killed.

The more likely BDSM explanation is probably a partial/lingering adaptation to primate dominance hierarchies, and/or (for bondage) the thing pikeys/gypsies do where they physically abduct the bride; that or something like it may have been more common for hunter gatherers, or even earlier hominids.

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Rape is so common by soldiers of invading armies that in that circumstance it is probably not a "bad reproductive strategy."

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In this case people already hate you and want to kill you, so fear of retaliation is much reduced, and there is not much oportunity for parental investment anyway (in contemporary armies, in premodern ones it was different). But even then you are much better off with a willing partner who will not have an abortion or strangle the child in the crib, and in general treat well and invest in the child. So I think that "rape as a reproduction strategy" is not just morally repulsive, but also a factually wrong explanation. For one thing, there are many cases where soldiers kill the raped women (in fact I remember reading that during rape of Nanjing Japanese soldiers were given permission to rape Chinese women and girls as long as they kill them afterwards, to avoid mixing of races). And secondly, I do not think the raping soldiers think about their reproduction: they relieve the tension and stress of war while punishing and humiliating the local population for their resistance.

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I wonder to what degree they were affected by Nazi ideology. They were allies in the war and the Japanese were trying very hard to learn about Western culture so they could be a major power.

It led in some funny directions; after hearing propaganda that the Jews were inhumanly clever manipulators who secretly controlled the business world and the world in general, the Japanese developed a plan to import a few thousand Jews to build business connections and strengthen their industry.

The Nazis nixed it, but apparently about 24000 Jews escaped the Holocaust due to the Nazis spreading conspiracy theories about Jewish power in a culture that didn't really care who killed Christ.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_settlement_in_the_Japanese_Empire

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

I don't really agree. You are indeed better off with a willing partner, but the fact is that sperm is so cheap that rape doesn't have to be a terribly successful strategy to still have a decent ROI in evolutionary terms. Also, you have to consider that for a sexually active adult female, it likely wouldn't be easy to tell if she became pregnant as a result of the sex she had with her Celtic husband four days ago or the Viking raiders who came and raped here three days ago. As such, it's definitely not any kind of foregone conclusion that a child that's the product of rape is going to be subject to infanticide.

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Regarding 2., I agree, but I also submit this is one of those "The rabbit runs faster than the fox" asymmetries: the incentive for a man not to kill his rape partner is weaker than hers not to be killed by him.

And for 3., yes, it is more of a strategy of last resort for low status males.

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3. And first resort for high status males? Re: Genghis Khan?

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Yes, the "retaliation" counterargument doesn't work if enough of the local men are dead.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

1. Distinction without a difference, or nearly so. Violence requires differential power. Given the fundamental imprecision of evolutionary psychology, that rounds up to being the same thing.

2. Possibly most mating that happened 50k years ago was actually just forcible rape, and having a physical response that made it enjoyable for the woman could have encouraged pair-bonding, thereby enhancing offspring survival.

3. Just straight disagree. Men are r-strategists and having many lower-quality sexual encounters might be the optimal strategy in some environments. Particularly if a) it's the male's only sexual option or b) the female is likely to recruit another male to raise the child.

But whatever, evo psych is like astrology. You can always make up a story that sounds good.

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> Men are r-strategists

I think a more correct version would be that males are flexible strategists who are capable of pursuing either or both strategies, as the situation demands. The classic "one wife and a succession of young mistresses" would be the perfect example.

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For a lot of these conversations, I think there's an unspoken background belief that rape being evolutionarily selected for is in some way a moral justification for it. But it's not.

It's going to be a lot like theft or murdering rivals: often reproductively advantageous *if* you can get away with it.

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> For a lot of these conversations, I think there's an unspoken background belief that rape being evolutionarily selected for is in some way a moral justification for it.

In some places on the Internet, sure, but I doubt that it's here.

What I suspect is far more prevalent here is people wanting to believe that rape being evolutionarily selected for is a justification for the fantasies that come unbidden into their minds. Fantasies which they feel horrified by the prospect of acting on (or having enacted upon them). They want a story to tell about why it's OK for them to have the fantasies, and why they're not a horrible person for having the fantasies. And if the story is plausible enough and has enough backing, maybe they can get someone to engage in a bit of consensual roleplay.

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Re 2, I think that lubrication significantly lowers the risk if injury to the female. So the point of arousal is not that the rapist would otherwise kill you intentionally, it is just a damage mitigation strategy.

> if you’d win that fight, you wouldn’t need to rape

This might be true for in-group relationships in some contexts, but it is generally false. When an armored, well-fed man kicked in a cottage door, no malnourished peasant ever thought "what a great reproductive opportunity for our daughters".

> any offspring to be killed

Why? From the mother's genes perspective, she has already invested a lot of resources in their offspring. As a bonus, a son might inherit an inclination towards rape from the rapists side, which might increase spread of the mother's genes in subsequent generations. Even if the fatherhood can be determined unambiguously, having a society coordinate to that purpose for long enough for evolution to take notice is not trivial.

For the genes of a male, the benefits of possibly having a child raised by a single mother in a resource-starved environment are much lower than raising a kid as a member of your household. But the costs are also much lower. There is a limit both in terms of norms and resources on how many partners and children you can feed. For almost all males, this limit will be much lower than the rate at which they could impregnate females. If the male is currently not in the position to sire more legitimate offspring, it makes evolutionary sense that they spend their sperm production in the effort to sire illegitimate children, should the opportunity present itself.

From an ethical point of view, this only serves to illustrate that "evolutionary advantageous" or "natural" is not any kind of moral judgement. As EY pointed out, "Evolution is not a God, but if it were, it wouldn't be Jehovah. It would be H. P. Lovecraft's Azathoth". Evolution as Azathoth the blind idiot god favors Ichneumonidae (which made Darwin doubt a benevolent creator), starvation as a means of population control, viruses, parasites and all sorts of other horrors. I have absolutely no problem believing that this stupid fucker also looks fondly on rape at times.

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There's a reason people tend to live in groups. One individual cannot (in most environments) afford to raise a child. Much better to save what resources you can, and try again when you have a better support network. It's a gamble, but it's a gamble either way.

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I think there is a vast difference between the evolutionary incentives of the genes currently residing in females and males.

For a woman, giving birth is a huge investment of physical (and frequently also social) resources. For men, the investment can vary by many orders of magnitude.

Historically rape during inter-tribal conflicts occurred pretty regularly. See for example the Old Testament, e.g. Numbers 31. (Jehovah and his priests only prevented wartime rape as a reproductive strategy when they were feeling especially genocidal and explicitly ordering the soldiers to kill everyone.) From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense: the odds of siring a reproductively successful child are low, but the opportunity costs are minimal: no social costs (the victim and what survives of her family hate you for all the preceding killing anyhow), just a bit of time which could otherwise be spent looting (and enslaving people, depending on the campaign situation).

In biblical times, female consent was very much not a concern. For example, the rights protected by Deuteronomy 22 are ownership rights by males over the bodies of females. Violent rape and consensual sex are treated the same. At most a lack of consent might be a mitigating circumstance which prevents stoning the victim. If there was no contested ownership, female consent did not matter one bit.

From Adam and Eve to Mary, the bible is full of reproductive encounters where coercion-free female consent is not explicitly mentioned and IMHO should not be implicitly assumed. A significant fraction of historical sexual encounters were probably not what we would call fully consensual. In such environments, I would expect genes encouraging submissiveness and masochism (at least in women) to flourish.

(I for once am glad that we are as liberated from the commandments of Jehovah as we are from the commandments of Azathoth.)

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"Rape is just a horribly bad reproductive strategy"

It works for dolphins and ducks.

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Has anyone ever studied "rape" in the animal kingdom, specifically searching for contrasts between mating where neither partner resists at all, and mating where one partner is trying very hard to resist? In the book "A Primate's Memoir" written by a baboon researcher, the author describes an incident where an alpha male lost a fight to a lower-ranking male, losing his status. The ex-alpha then chased down a female and forcibly mated with her, with the female screaming and struggling. The author notes that he's observed this behavior in the past when a defeated male forces himself on a female. He acknowledges that rape is a loaded term in this context, but he thinks it fits. Female baboons solicit mating all the time with males they actually want to get with, but you have these incidents when males force themselves on clearly unwilling females. It makes me wonder how many animals draw a distinction between desired sexual contact, and undesired sexual contact, and if the latter causes them lasting stress.

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Ducks are a big one for this. Also, alas, dolphins.

Seriously, watching ducks in a pond during mating season is like watching adolescent humans in a danceclub.

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Why "alas"? If one rejects the kind of the moralizing employed by those who engage in appeals to nature, doesn't dolphin behavior have no moral valence whatsoever?

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I was just being sentimental. Dolphins are cute and smart and so I like it when their behavior matches what I'd consider ethical human behavior. I don't actually think that dolphins are intelligent enough to have ethical agency, and I try not to equate "natural" with "ethical" (in either direction).

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

I recall campus feminists once upon a time mobilizing to stop the epidemic of rape inflicted upon their duck sisters down by the riverbank.

No lie. Good times.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

In the BDSM scene there are much more submissive than dominant men. At least this holds for gay people. Your explanation would suggest the opposite.

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Gay men are more submissive than straight men. Also I'm not sure there are many more submissive gay men than dominant gay men - my impression is that there are similarly many.

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Is this right? In The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, Louise Perry writes:

"Most submissives (‘subs’) are female and most dominants (‘doms’) are male. One 2013 study of participants in a BDSM online forum found that only 34 per cent of men consistently preferred the sub position, while an even smaller proportion of women – 8 per cent – identified as doms.

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That would explain professional dominatrices, as well as why I am yet to see or hear of a professional sub female or dominant hetero male.

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Isn't "professional submissive female" sort of the default assumption for sex work more generally?

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You are actually right. It matches the statistics from fetlife, one of the main BDSM-related social networks. I couldn't find data about gay men or lesbian women, though.

https://bedbible.com/fetlife-statistic/

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Aella also found that men are more likely to be dominant and women more likely to be submissive in BDSM on average. It was by a pretty large margin. https://aella.substack.com/p/how-fetishes-differ-by-region-and

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

I learned from my pastor in Bible study (the progressive kind that gets her information from secular historians) that men raping men to assert their dominance over them was extremely common in Biblical times. It was an entire cultural phenomenon that most modern people aren't aware of because it's decreased so dramatically since then. That might be a good explanation for men having sub fetishes. Apparently the scholarship on this is relatively recent, so if it wasn't covered in the book you mentioned that might be why. I wouldn't be surprised if this was also related to procreation. The psychological dynamics that men evolved to enjoy rape because it increased the likelihood of passing on their genes applied similarly to raping men.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

I would expect the evolutionary advantages for victims of rape to hate rape less that now manifests in sub fetishes to be pretty large for another reason. PTSD often severely decreases people's ability to function, and can lead to earlier death and worse health even in modern rich countries. In Malthusian times, I imagine the damage to the woman's ability to pass on her genes from vulnerability to illness and early death from PTSD would be more severe.

It's pretty common for victims of sexual abuse like me to develop a sub fetish as a coping mechanism. It gives you control over something traumatic that you didn't have control over. It can also be hard to comprehend vanilla sex because it is so different from what you're familiar with, so it's easier to develop an interest in types of submissive BDSM that are very different (opposite in important ways for me) from the type of abuse you experienced, but more similar to it than vanilla.

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If you take the full evopsych route (which this article implicitly does) then fetishes are best explained not as misfires of the procreative impulse but as part of the wider definition of sexual activity and display. The idea that sex is literally just PIV intercourse is not true of any complex and social species. In all such species you see social roles and rituals around sex. And these are adaptive in that the competitions increase prosociality and role fitness.

I find it hard to justify the misfire hypothesis actually since so much of sexual and pre-sexual activity is obviously not literally penetrative sex and so much of what's 'normally' attractive is not related to that. Lingerie, for example, seems completely unjustifiable in such a framework except as a niche fetish. But it's actually pretty universal. I understand lingerie as a sociosexual signal and that explains it pretty neatly. But if we're being trained on seeking PIV intercourse solely or its directly associated traits then you have to walk a pretty long way to explain such 'universal' fetishes that are common even among virgins.

This does apply to artificial intelligence: just as sexual competition selects for prosociality and role fitness so will the interaction of humanity in any AI takeoff scenario that's slow enough for us to have any feedback into the process. Likewise, unless there is literally one AI, the AI themselves will be exerting pressure against a Skynet scenario since any AI that defects is a threat to the other AI. In short, cooperation is evolutionarily fit (as evidence by the fact we, and not polar bears, rule the world) and will be selected for through a partially conscious and partially emergent process.

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>This does apply to artificial intelligence: just as sexual competition selects for prosociality and role fitness so will the interaction of humanity in any AI takeoff scenario that's slow enough for us to have any feedback into the process. Likewise, unless there is literally one AI, the AI themselves will be exerting pressure against a Skynet scenario since any AI that defects is a threat to the other AI. In short, cooperation is evolutionarily fit (as evidence by the fact we, and not polar bears, rule the world) and will be selected for through a partially conscious and partially emergent process.

This is a great comment.

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Thank you!

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This is a nice insight, but can we not keep both? Why can't "normal" fetishes be "misfires" akin to fitness-lowering mutations and "universal fetishes" just be the ones that were the most successful?

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If you assume (as I do) that sex has a social component then that doesn't mean that the social component evolves in a similar manner to the biological component. There are several key differences. Among them that social changes happen way faster than evolutionary changes. Now, you can point out the social dance itself is evolutionarily fit (my original point) and that this includes some people having fitness decreasing social habits. But social habits do not pass genetically and in fact often pass non-genetically. Likewise, if you are expecting to claim that 'normal' signs of sexual attraction are universal you have to explain how they shift on much faster than evolutionary timelines.

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I realize this kind of discussion depends primarily on how you define "evopsych" in the first place, but I think I'm more persuaded by arguments that any theory that postulates something is a misfire is an explicit straying off the evopsych route that tries to explain everything as an adaptation.

But anyways, I think the obvious rejoinder is that things that are not literally penetrative sex, but are (socially, culturally, or by individual experience) associated with penetrative sex become attractive by this association. (I don't think you can really claim that, e.g., lingerie isn't related to sex, except in extremely literal sense. It's obviously correlated with sex, and that's enough for the association to form and be meaningful.) This is not the same as fetish - fetish implies something being a goal in itself, in lieu of penetrative sex. Only a small minority will have an actual lingerie fetish, where you go around stealing used underwear, masturbating into it, or something. For a majority, lingerie just evokes sex.

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It's a decent theory but doesn't appear to empirically true. Do people find condoms sexy? They're certainly directly associated with PIV sex. Meanwhile it's hard to say that a swimsuit or a short skirt are directly associated with PIV sex. Both are regularly seen by men in contexts where they almost never lead to PIV sex and they're not regularly involved in the sexual act. And both are generally agreed to be sexy.

Meanwhile, if a fetish is defined simply as anything lieu of penetrative sex, this implies masturbation is a fetish. Which seems like a rather over broad definition.

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Tight-fitting swimsuits and short skirts are aesthetically closer to nudity than the contextually-plausible alternatives, so from a Bayesian standpoint they're weak-but-nonzero evidence toward the hypothesis that further sexy stuff might be happening soon. Thus, eventually considered sexy in and of themselves by back-propagation.

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Aug 25, 2023·edited Aug 25, 2023

The idea that simply being close to nudity works is trivially disproven by things like unsexy basic underwear or any number of form fitting but functional, unsexy outfits. Secondly, the entire idea that this is trained reasoning learned from PIV sex would imply that the gigantic amount of noise would render the signal so weak as to be useless or even non-existent. The average man goes through life not having sex with almost all women he sees in skirts and has sex with many women who are not in skirts. And most men go through life never having sex with anyone in a bathing suit.

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I think you misunderstood what I mean by "aesthetically closer." As for social signaling, much of it - particularly where flirting is involved - is a type of encryption, deliberately calculated to resemble random noise, to limit who learns what, for complex strategic reasons. Subtle clues are amplified in significance accordingly.

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A lot of this seems like just-so stories. Cartoons are a relatively (in EEA terms) new stimulus, but feet aren't. Were foot fetishes comparably common throughout the EEA? Is it actually the case that people who are into, say, spanking, aren't into actual sex?

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The spanking one seems to have one clearly testable prediction: as spanking rates in Western parenting have drastically plummeted over the past century, AFAIK, there should be a ~20-30 year lag where spanking fetishes also plummet. Is there?

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I can check age, and I also asked people a 'how frequently did you get spanked as a kid' scale.

K, this is 0-4 'how frequently did u get spanked', from 'never' to 'very regularly', and the corresponding numbers are avgs of "I find spanking to be" (0=not erotic to 5=extremely erotic

0.0 1.560779

1.0 1.579973

2.0 1.669818

3.0 1.830603

4.0 2.189530

correlation .07

Here it is for biological males:

0.0 1.269131

1.0 1.265089

2.0 1.304543

3.0 1.444171

4.0 1.835753

and females:

0.0 1.693182

1.0 1.734986

2.0 1.827433

3.0 1.989596

4.0 2.323308

It's late and i'm about to sleep so I'm not spending a ton of time on this but

this is the 0-5 'how arousing do you find spanking' scale, and average age for each bin:

females:

0.0 21.928831

1.0 21.452222

2.0 21.761780

3.0 22.013933

4.0 22.578003

5.0 22.563327

r=.052

males

0.0 24.468679

1.0 25.523601

2.0 25.141304

3.0 25.177733

4.0 25.155283

5.0 24.416148

r=.02

total n=576,779

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Wouldn't this become confounded by porn? My impression is that there are some sexual practices that have spread memetically through porn. If spanking were prevalent enough in porn, perhaps it could spread via the same mechanism?

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Corporal punishment was phased out long before porn skyrocketed in prevalence through VHS & then Internet. I'd also expect the effect of being spanked or rodded as a child regularly to be far greater than some glancing exposure to porn as an adult, if these theories were true.

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I'm not so sure. I've seen a stat that "50% of parents reported spanking a child in 1993", although that wording is ambiguous. And there's this which reports 47% of parents of 0-9 year olds spanked in the last year.

https://www.unh.edu/ccrc/sites/default/files/media/2022-02/corporal-punishment-current-rates-from-a-national-survey.pdf

As for the glancing exposure, that's also my default assumption. But things like shaved pubic hair and choking have spread through porn, so I don't see a reason why this couldn't do the same.

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Well, he does call them "just-so stories".

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I've known a few kinky asexuals. But that may be a "Man bites dog" type of story.

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I accidentally developed a bit of a foot fetish earlier this year, because of AI.

Midjourney 5 had not come out, and so we were using 4 to generate some characters for our app.

We needed some full-body images in transparent PNGs. The faces were very realistic, and even the hands generally had a good number of fingers, but it was really hard to get a full body shot without the feet or legs being cropped. Even though the prompt had "full body" and "head to toe" and a few other adjectives tossed on at the end, 9 times out of 10 it would end up cropping around the knees or just have the upper torso.

But the rest was really good — consistent characters and outfits, just missing the bottom. After a few hours of experimentation and re-rolling we could generally end up with the ideal full-body image, including feet. I developed a whole toolbox of tricks, from changing the aspect ratio to be really tall to blending in an example pose as a second image. One of the tricks to get this was to get really specific about the feet. What kind of shoes and socks? Mentioning feet a few times with emphasis. Things like that. My language was one that I imagine a foot-fetishist’s google search history. "Tall woman with feet showing, high heels, extra feet please with an order of foot." Or extreme detail like "orange nikes with shoelaces and socks and shadows under the shoes" That would generally convince the AI that the feet should also be shown. Not all the time, but some combination helped. I dreamt of feet, and kept trying to come up with more synonyms to get my desires across to this stable diffusion model.

Eventually after enough fiddling around a render would eventually come in with feet and we would be happy. After a few weeks of this process, anytime I finally saw some feet in a render (or shoes, rather) was a delightful feeling.

Then Midjourney 5 came out and started behaving a lot better. Feet were pretty trivial to generate (and hands reliably had 5 fingers) and the excitement of seeing them quickly wore off.

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To the extent I have experienced foot, armpit, kneepit, or similar attractions it seems to be strongly connected to the unusual sight of something that more typically would occur in an intimate setting

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If the availability of contraception is actually a big part of the decline in fertility it seems that the decline should be self-limiting over a fairly short time-frame. The genes of the people who like sex but not children will comprise a rapidly diminishing share of the gene pool. My personal observation is that a significant share of the population strongly desire children, and would have them even if sex were unpleasant. To the extent that either homosexuality or fetishes reduce procreation the effect should be the same.

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Only to the extent that desire is genetic. A lot of fundamentalist groups have high fertility rates but low retention rates; how likely are the people who leave - ex-Mormons, lapsed Orthodox Jews, etc - to have kids?

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But that is what he is talking about: such groups might have low retention rates, but usually are still considerably above replacement level (i.e. enough of them stay to make the group grow, in spite of the leavers). Which almost inevitably amounts to a genetic selection of traits that favour procreative behaviour in our current porn and contraception laden environment - if there is any genetic aspect to this, of course.

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So we're on our way to "A Mote in God's Eye" moties.

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It depends how much of the variation in number of kids is based on a genetic component of liking kids, as opposed to a learned behavior of liking kids or other factors (economic, cultural, etc) that affect how many kids you have.

Basically, it would have to be hugely determinative to take over the population 'quickly' in the colloquial way we view time.

Even a 5% contribution could become fixed in the population 'quickly' in terms of evolutionary time, of course; but 'quickly' there means more like 'within 50 generations, ie ~1000 years for humans'.

At which point historical events probably overtake it.

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My surmise is that (1) there is a genetic component of liking kids, and that it varies in people, (2) in the past it did not have a very large effect on average fertility, because other factors (liking sex, economic, cultural, etc.) meant that even people who did not particularly like kids frequently had lots of them, and (3) in developed countries at present those other factors that caused people to have children have largely gone away. Therefore going forward the inborn desire to have kids could be determinative to a far greater extent than in the past. If there are systematic genetic differences going forward between the people who on average have one kid and those who on average have three kids, how many generations will it take for the genes of those with three kids to predominate? I understand this assumes a lot, but it seems reasonable to me and consistent with my experience that wanting to have kids is at least in part based on a genetic component.

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Let's apply Occam's razor here and assume there isn't a separate explanation for every fetish. I'll assert that all fetishes have one source, which is that humans can sexualize anything. Any configuration of body parts, fluids, and objects that doesn't defy the laws of physics has a community of people who think it's the best thing ever. Same for any relationship dynamics. This diversity is an outgrowth of the fact that we come out of the womb as relatively blank slates so that we can adapt to any environment. Why would sex be different from every other thing we learn through culture? Our genes may give a push by making genital stimulation and sexual fantasy pleasurable, but they don't specify how to get this stimulation any more than they specify how group cooperation is accomplished or how to find food. If 95% of sexuality is learned, it's no longer surprising that we find so many ways to do it. We're not looking at out-of-distribution examples, we're looking at an open loop reinforcement learning system that's writing its own reward function.

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Does that prove too much? Why are some fetishes so much more common than others?

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Aella has shown that fetish prevalence is inversely proportional to tabooness.

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Do you have a link?

Depending on the definition of "taboo", that could make a lot of sense. If a taboo is a restriction designed to set one group of people apart from another, then it's basically defined as arbitrary restrictions on normal human behavior, so it's no surprise that people in a society with those arbitrary restrictions are going to pay a lot more attention when they have visions of otherwise-normal-but-societally-restricted things dancing through their heads at night.

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I don't think all taboos are arbitrary (though of course many are). Presumably taboos against incest and scat have survival value. Note this doesn't say anything about the taboos having a genetic origin. Culture is allowed to add survival value.

https://aella.substack.com/p/fetish-tabooness-vs-popularity

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

I commented on this post that averaging popularity and tabooness could be a distortion by hiding bimodal distributions. But the averaging provided the best way to explain varying popularity.

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Thanks!

Yeah, there's a number of ways to define "taboo", and I was using a fairly restrictive one, which isn't what Aella was using.

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If that is the case, then Arabs ought to have a huge prevalence of foot fetishization.

No idea whether or to what extent that may be true.

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But what's cause and what's effect? If something never occurs to most people, how likely is it to be taboo?

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> Evolution controls the genetic code but not the reinforcement environment. Humans have the option of training AIs directly, a much higher bandwidth and less lossy communication channel.

I don't think the comparison is clear-cut.

Yes, in reinforcement learning, humans have the option of rewarding the AIs for doing certain behaviors, which seems nice, and is genuinely something that evolution cannot do, except when those behaviors can be operationalized into relatively simple detector code that evolution can put in the brainstem etc.

On the other hand, "rewarding the AIs for doing certain behaviors" is a terrible idea, from an AI alignment perspective. We want to reward the AI for doing the right thing FOR THE RIGHT REASON, not just for doing the right thing full stop. Otherwise we reward the AI for being deceptive.

And in that sense, it seems to me that the genome is in some respects beyond the state-of-the-art of ML reinforcement learning alignment approaches. In particular, the genome sets us up such that some THOUGHTS are rewarding and others are not—not behaviors. There's interpretability right in the foundation, I think.

My own main technical AI alignment research interest is to figure out the nuts and bolts of how the genome makes people (sometimes) nice to each other — https://www.alignmentforum.org/posts/qusBXzCpxijTudvBB/my-agi-safety-research-2022-review-23-plans#2__Second_half_of_2022__1_3___My_main_research_project .

I think good theories of sexual attraction may be somewhat related, and I would definitely be interested in them, although I haven't spent any time looking into that topic so far.

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Hmm, yes "We want to reward the AI for doing the right thing FOR THE RIGHT REASON, not just for doing the right thing full stop. Otherwise we reward the AI for being deceptive." sounds like the task of getting generalizations about preferences, both for terminal goals and for instrumental goals "right".

This does sound similar to understanding: "Is this because something about the autistic ultralocal processing style favors misgeneralization? Is there some equivalent in AI parameters that could make them more or less autistic, and would that change how correct (or maybe how consistent) their category generalization is?"

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This is over-anthropomorphizing "evolution"

Evolution cannot select against bad thoughts with good outcomes, because if a gene causes good outcomes for bad reasons the organisms with that gene will still survive and reproduce. You're imagining an evolution-agent that can make decisions, a classic blunder

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I'm pretty confused by your comment. Maybe this will help?

The human brain does within-lifetime learning, and it involves reinforcement learning. For example, if you touch a hot stove, then you probably won't do it again. This within-lifetime RL, like all RL, involves a "reward function" which says that touching the hot stove is bad, and more generally pain is bad, eating when hungry is good, sleeping when tired is good, and hundreds more things like that. This within-lifetime reward function is under evolutionary pressure, and is not the same as evolution itself. Things can be rewarding as assessed by the within-lifetime reward function despite not advancing genetic fitness, and vice-versa. In fact, this is unavoidable, because it's impossible for your brainstem to exactly calculate inclusive your genetic fitness in real time as you go about your day.

So in that sense, stepping back a level, there’s an analogy between the way that “evolution” is “trying” to choose a within-lifetime reward function such that the animal will have high reproductive fitness, versus the way that a human RL researcher is trying to choose an RL reward function such that the trained RL policy will do whatever the human was hoping that the trained RL policy would do (be helpful, invent better solar cells, you name it).

The analogy I’m invoking here is between ML training and within-lifetime learning, NOT between ML training and evolutionary learning. See Section 8.3 here: https://www.alignmentforum.org/posts/fDPsYdDtkzhBp9A8D/intro-to-brain-like-agi-safety-8-takeaways-from-neuro-1-2-on

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> Humans have the option of training AIs directly, a much higher bandwidth and less lossy communication channel

That's *extremely* underselling it; breeding vs nn-training are a difference in scale that makes a difference in kind.

Imagine your attempting to find the best value in a 2d space, the way your attempt to do this is random and by breeding, so you select lets say 4 random points from a circle where you "are", and you set the new center to be the average of the 2 best, sure your "evolve" and eventually find a good value but what the calculus does is go you a 2d vector to the best local update without taking 1000 random points.

Most nn's have some absurd number of parameters, so its not 2d or even a 3d sphere, its 1000000d sphere and training is making a very reasonable update direction.

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<mild snark>

"its 1000000d sphere"

Actually, an underestimate...

"According to some sources, it is true that GPT-4 has 1.7 trillion parameters." :-)

</mild snark>

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I honestly have a hard time seeing what fetishes have to do with evolution or AI. Fetishes are generally a result of childhood experiences and are not heritable, as far as I know.

AI is just an emulation of intelligence and IMO can never approach the complexity of biological evolution which is governed by processes that we are unlikely to fully understand. We can try to allow AI to evolve by itself but in the absence of that magic juice it’s doomed to failure. Of course it can still kill us but so can many other things of our own doing.

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> AI is just an emulation of intelligence

In order to make this claim you need to:

1) define intelligence

2) show that AI differs from natural intelligence in some substantive way

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It's easy to create a system that's extremely good at one well-understood task, but what actually matters is to be able to adapt to a changing, unknown future. Which is what biological intelligence is all about.

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I think to claim that AI doesn't differ from natural intelligence in some substantive way is the thing what would require proof. Consider the typical blunders of categorization systems...blunders that people didn't even imagine as possible ahead of time.

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Tom N - You need to read this story to understand your bias:

https://www.mit.edu/people/dpolicar/writing/prose/text/thinkingMeat.html

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First, fetishes even in humans are not necessarily a result o childhood experiences. But one needs to look at fetishes more broadly: In general you fetishize something if you take same aspect of a give action and you give it undue importance. It is often applied to sexual matters, but in case of AI a more general meaning is relevant: we may expect that AI's will be (sometimes already are) distorting their reasoning and rule sets by giving undue attention to some of the rules or features to the (incorrect) exclusion of others. I once read story about americans training (during cold war) an early AI to recognize russian and american tanks on photographs. Problem was that photos of Russian tanks were grainy (unlike American ones) so the AI just learned that grainy=Russian, clear-American. It fetishized quality of pictures. This is not a good example for AI fetishes, in this case it was more like bad, training data, but I do not have better one. Still I think we will see weird twisting of any rules we try to give statistical AI's.

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Here's a really simple theory:

PHYSIOLOGICAL AROUSAL—REGARDLESS OF THE SOURCE—CAN CONTRIBUTE TO SEXUAL AROUSAL

That seems true to me, and seems to explain (or at least contribute to the explanation of) four of your list items—spanking, sadomasochism, urine/scat, and bondage/domination/submission.

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Isn't that circular? WHY physiological arousal from these stimuli?

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Physiological arousal just means your heart-rate goes up etc. I think it's common sense that if you're tied up and then subjected to pain and threatened with more pain, your heart-rate is gonna go up. That's obvious and has nothing to do with sex. E.g. it's equally true for baby squirrels as for adult humans (but please don't do the experiment on baby squirrels to check).

We have lots of innate defense-related reactions (or in the case of urine/scat, disgust-related reactions) that also increase our heart rate etc. Right? Does that help?

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Ah, I see what you mean. Yes, I agree completely.

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This seems much closer to the mark to me than anything Scott wrote above.

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Actually, maybe it ALSO contributes to the explanation of foot fetish. Note that feet are ticklish, which is (I claim) indirect evidence that having your feet touched is an innate trigger for physiological arousal; see discussion in Section 4.1.2 here: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/7kdBqSFJnvJzYTfx9/a-theory-of-laughter#4_1_2_More_discussion_of_tickling_in_particular

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Conveniently skirted elephant: pedophilia.

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'This hurts people very very badly, that doesn't' is not a 'thin pretext' unless you are a sociopath.

Many things that are legal and fine are extremely superficially similar to other things that illegal and bad. Cutting meat with a knife is fine if it's a steak and bad if it's a struggling human victim. The difference is not a 'think pretext' and no one is confused by this.

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People can argue all sorts of things. So you're definitely right. But I don't actually believe your asserted facts are true in an large degree. If a "marriage was ruined by pornography" it would be my guess that it was already broken. The people I know of who went through gender transition had to fight to be allowed to do that. (I may think they made a mistake, but that's my opinion.) However, buyer's remorse is a real thing, so I think they *should* have had to fight to go through the procedure.

OTOH, delaying puberty ... I'm not sure what the costs and side effects are, but I think that a LOT of people would benefit from delaying puberty, if the side effects aren't too bad. Our civilization isn't set up to facilitate people who aren't out of high school being sexually active.

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You could argue a lot of things, but I notice that you haven't actually done so.

So there's not much to respond to here, aside from hollow innuendo.

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Informed enthusiastic consent is essential, and children can't do the former. And yes, I agree that the issue of "gender-affirming care" before puberty is fraught. But the two are not even comparable. Still this post about fetishes, not CW items. I should not have brought it up.

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founding

In practice, the children themselves usually aren't the ones giving consent to gender-affirming care, or most other medical treatment: their parents or guardians consent on their behalf.

Medical consent works like that, but most other forms of consent don't. For example, in many states parents can't give consent for their kids to get tattoos. And while parents can often give consent for their kids to get married, they can't give consent for their kids to have sex.

In general, norms about minors consenting have more to do with necessity and practicality than consistency (or science). For example, minors who are emancipated, married, homeless, or who have children of their own can sometimes consent to things other minors can't. Minors can often consent to specific types of treatment (e.g. for mental health, substance abuse, pregnancy, STDs) at a younger age than other treatments, not because the decisions are any simpler or less consequential, but precisely the opposite: because timely access to that treatment is seen as especially important.

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founding

What a strange thing to ask, especially in response to a comment in which I didn't express disapproval or approval of anything at all, but simply explained how consent works in these different situations and why the same standard doesn't apply to all of them.

I'll charitably assume you meant to ask "is pedophilia allowed with parental consent", and direct you to the last sentence of the second paragraph of my previous comment.

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Postulating that opens an even bigger can of worms, if _both_ partners are underage, is all sex automatically non-consensual and thus rape?

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that does not seem to fit the topic of fetishes.

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That’s a very diplomatic way of staying away from a very CW-prone topic :-)

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founding

"But now that we are allowing children to decide to forgo puberty..."

I assume you're referring to adolescents who use puberty blockers in preparation for gender transition, but they don't stay on blockers indefinitely, and thus don't really "forgo" puberty: they experience puberty once they start taking cross-sex hormones.

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Aug 24, 2023·edited Aug 24, 2023

There's no evidence that this actually works, which is why there's so much controversy about it.

The reality is that this treatment is not evidence-based medicine, which is why the UK has pulled back from it and other countries are considering it, and why many states are banning it.

None of these treatments have ever undergone RCTs for the treatment of gender dysphoria. There's a good chance that they don't work - probably ~50-75%, given that most treatments fail clinical trials.

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founding

What do you mean by "works", exactly?

Puberty blockers certainly have the intended effect, that is, they stop the development of secondary sexual characteristics when taken at the relevant time. And cross-sex hormones certainly also have the intended effect of inducing the development of the cross-sex secondary sexual characteristics.

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There's no evidence that any of these treatments alleviate psychiatric symptoms beyond the placebo effect.

There's no evidence that puberty blockers improve outcomes, and it is possible they may make them worse (puberty in many cases may naturally resolve symptoms of gender dysphoria as the child matures).

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If people are attracted to health, and health correlates with youth, no wonder in some people that genetic dial accidentally undershoots the mark and makes them attracted to way too young people.

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Yeah, the just so story is obvious.

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I've spent quite alot of time going over the male heterosexual chronophilia research, Freund, Blanchard, Cantor, Stephens, Seto etc. If you seriously dig into the phallometric data it's pretty clear that actual pedophilia is very rare (even using a 0.0sd cut point) among even various samples of offenders, with some combination of sadism or power dynamics or emotional congruence etc. Being better explanations as drivers of offending. Lots of problems with the field but this seems like one of the few robust findings.

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Hmm, I am not familiar with the data, but I have come across people who ended up on virped.org because they hated their kink and themselves. Anecdata, but would be unlikely if your references were accurate.

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In the case of virped my best guess is that a lot aren't strictly pedophiles in the technical sense, either by preferring later age ranges/developmental stages or their preference being better described in terms of emotional congruence etc. Possibly quite a few just have POCD, but even if we do say that most are pedophiles or nepiophiles, the internet is vast such that even a very rare minority of people can congregate to form such a community, the interesting question would be how they compare to other similar communities and also the general population. I should also add that I'm strictly talking about male heterosexual pedophiles, and not other groups.

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Perhaps you need a cultural context. Child brides were very common before that became illegal...and to some extent afterwards. Australian bushmen often married girls as young as eight...though I don't know whether the marriage was commonly consummated. In India often both the bride and the groom would be children. Again I'm not sure what "marriage" means in that context. But brides as young as 13 were not that unusual in recent US history, and marriage implied consummation.

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From what I understand the general pattern historically was marriage around puberty, with elites marrying much younger, and consummation occurring after menarche i.e. well into puberty, such patterns of evidence may or may not be evidence of preferred sexual attraction in that age range (their could be other reasons for certain norms to evolve), but even if it is strong evidence of such preferred sexual attraction, such attraction would not constitute pedophilia as the term is standardly used by various experts in relevant fields, it's true that such behaviour would fit the contemporary lay persons account of pedophilia as used in ordinary language, but as I have implied I'm using the much stricter account. Such an account is more relevant when talking about evolution or the etiology of such a condition, and based upon past comments made by Scott presumably the account he uses to internally model the world.

From what I can gather various people have tried to dispute the cultural/legal and anthropological claim that such marriages were common or that they resulted in pregnancy at that early of an age, with famously Ashley Montagu having quite a large influence on this matter even today. Yet interestingly we know that the extreme version of his claim, namely adolescent sterility can't be true since we know from de novo mutations that human generation times in non African women hovered around 20, and that prior to 2000 generations ago, gen times were consistently in the teen years, it should also be noted that such estimates represent the mean age of the middle parturition and not the age at first reproduction, as they are usually interpreted by lay persons. And in fact looking back at Montagu's work you can see his data for age of menarche is significantly older than that of both contemporary and historical populations, with later anthropological studies such as those by Hochberg predicting a AFR at 15 based upon usual development times, via extrapolation from natural fertility hunter gather populations. The less radical claim of subfecundity is more plausible and relevant for r/K selection theory and life history strategy, but if you look into the anovulatory data and such, its extremely low quality and of dubious merit, and if you think seriously about the issue its clear that the model of fecundity as used by experts is missing various important parts.

"Latex/rubber: Plausibly the evolutionary specification includes details about attractiveness. Attractive people (ie those you should be most interested in having babies with) should be young and healthy (characteristics associated with better pregnancy outcomes, especially in the high-risk ancestral environment). The simplest sign of youth and good health is smooth skin" The part about the high risk ancestral environment leaves me to suspect that Scott may have read Lassek's and Gaulin's paper on nubile primiparas, they make some mistakes but for the most part its a great paper.

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Dude has Sneer Club and the NYT waiting on him to make a mistake so they can pounce. Can't blame him for being cautious.

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> A reasonable next question would be “what’s on the other side of the genitalia, and do people also have fetishes about that one?”

If you follow your diagram past the genitalia into the contiguous area of neocortex, then you’re now at Brodmann area 31, a.k.a. the dorsal posterior cingulate area, if I'm understanding the anatomy right. I don't know much about what it does though.

Separately, if you go along the cortex in the perpendicular directions from the genitalia part of S1, then the contiguous areas of cortex are in Brodmann area 4 (primary motor cortex) on one side and in Brodmann area 5 (something to do with somatosensory, I don't know the details) on the other side.

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For some reason I do not understand this passage: "But it’s still fascinating that evolution accomplishes this difficult thing at all. Is there some sense in which evolution 'solved the interpretability problem' such that it can pick out connections in a neural net and edit them to try to get a message across?"

Would someone who does be willing to state whatever the point is in different words? I think main sources of my confusion is this: What is the interpretability problem? Is it evolution's problem getting across to us that we are supposed to procreate, even though it cannot tell us that directly, but only wire us to desire things that are likely to lead to procreation? So for instance evolution has wired us to enjoy genital rubbing, but that message from evolution can be "misinterpreted" as a demand that we masturbate, rather than procreate. But since evolution's message that we should procreate can instead be misinterpreted as a demand that we masturbate or engage in various fetish behaviors that don't make babies, what does it mean to say that evolution has "solved the interpretability problem" ? It seems like clearly evolution has *not* solved it, although evolution's message gets correctly interpreted by enough of us that plenty of people do have children.

And then, I completely do not understand what is meant by evolution's "picking out connections on a neural net." I know what a neural net is. What is it that evolution does that's equivalent to picking out connections on a neural net? Is it selecting for certain genes?

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If I understand right, Scott is pointing out that it's nontrival how information like "be aroused by xyz" could be decoded from DNA, and instantiated in our brains. There is a large gap between the input data (strings of nucleotides in our DNA), and the intended result, which would presumably need to manifest in terms of patterns of connections in the individual's neurons.

The "interpretability problem" I think refers to the fact that neuronal connection patterns look like spaghetti code, and it's very difficult to "interpret" whatever they encode, such as a tendency to be attracted by something.

It's been a while since I read any evo psych, but I seem to recall that the existence of homosexuality was considered to be a big evolutionary puzzle. Most proposed theories seemed to go in the direction of trying to find some indirect evolutionary benefits from it, but none seemed too plausible. Knowing little about biology, but having a background in computation, I intuitively tend to favor the same explanation that Scott is putting forward here: maintaining a stable encoding from DNA to neural patterns of "finding the opposite sex attractive" is hard work, and nature has only managed to do so with ~90% precision.

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Calling it "spaghetti code" is understating the problem. Remember, this is a parallel processing system.

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Seems to me that the you can explain BDSM in terms of overgeneralization. On feature of sex is that people are "controlled" by the person they are attracted to (in the sense that they feel irresistibly drawn to them) and by their own horniness. People often "give in" to desire or feel "ruled" by it. People sometimes feel humiliated by how conquered by desire they are, and by things they do when turned on that they think are wrong or at least very undignified. BDSM seems like it's picking up these features of sex, which for most are just one feature, and exaggerating them and making them central to the actual acts that people engage in. So in Scott's terms, it's a kind of overgeneralization. Evolution tried to tell us to do this thing that feels very good, & sometimes involves love and bonding, and involves sexual intercourse, and also often makes people feel controlled and outmatched and humiliated by the power of the experience. A BDSM orientation results from people just picking up on the latter of these features.

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Or in a way, it's a fetishization of the duality of being a mind riding around in a meat body. To somewhat misuse Haidt's metaphor, the rider on the elephant, who can nudge at the margins, but mostly ends up doing sour-grape rationalization of why they always wanted to go to wherever it was that the elephant decided to go. We are at the mercy of our flesh, to a degree that can shock us until we directly pit our mind against the meat. (OK, that sounds kinky right there.)

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Honestly, the people I know who are into BDSM seem to be having awesomely intense experiences. In fact many fetishists seem to be, so long as they can find partners or settings where they can indulge their kink. It's like they've found the mother lode. In exchange for looking like ewww to a lot of people, they are gobbling Eros pure.

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Yeah, I've known a few people like that. Over the course of a couple of months, they became deeply into the local BDSM community to the point where it appeared to gobble up every aspect of their life. And they were super happy about it, eyes shining faces glowing, the whole bit.

I think we might have miscommunicated? I wasn't meaning "or, alternatively it is this different thing" but instead "or, here is a different way of describing the same thing".

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You are right, we miscommunicated. What happened was that I didn't understand how your analogy about riding elephants was a different way of describing what I was describing, I suppose because your picture of riding elephants has a substantial negativity element ("sour grapes," for instance) and I am trying to describe how it works for BDSM fetishists, whom I sort of envy, because the core of their experience seems ecstatic. Still don't understand. Want to explain, or is that too much trouble?

It was generous of you to respond to my idea before pointing out that we had miscommunicated. I would probably have pointed that out first, then re-explained my point, then gone on to respond to whatever it was that misunderstanding-my-point you had said.

This is an instance of what I have in mind when I say that it's hard to understand why anyone would want to hurt you. When in doubt you do the generous thing, yet you do not come across as a people-pleasing wimp, not in the slightest. Still, as I said before, it does not matter how many good qualities you have if the other person is a fucking soul-gobbling monster

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It's mostly because the non-fiction book I'm finishing off right now is "The Righteous Mind", which among other theories advances the idea that the purpose of rational thought is to persuade other people to coordinate with you. That is, the primary ethical sense comes from intuition (the "elephant"), and rationality ("the rider") is used partly to rationalize the intuition, partly to persuade other people to adopt our own intuitions, partly to bind groups of people together using shared intuitions, and only rarely to alter one's own intuitions. Does that make sense?

"Sour grapes" does have a pejorative sense to it, which was misleading when applied strictly to BDSM. I guess I was sort of intending the negative aspect to apply to the whole "rational mind playing second fiddle" thing, which I'm grumpy about because I don't want to agree, but it sure does seem like he's right. That was a bad bit of writing on my part; I got all the pieces there but they were arranged in a misleading way.

> It was generous of you to respond to my idea before pointing out that we had miscommunicated. I would probably have pointed that out first, then re-explained my point, then gone on to respond to whatever it was that misunderstanding-my-point you had said.

That's very kind of you to say so. What happened was that I've twice noticed that same phenomenon that you were talking about, and it was fascinating to see happen, and has stuck vividly in my mind, so I wrote something about that. Then I went back and reread, because something didn't seem quite right, and noticed stuff like the "honestly" and "in fact", which seemed out of place on my first reading, but made sense if you thought I was saying something negative about BDSM. So just a bit of mild spectrumy behavior on my part, not a lot of real virtue. But thanks anyway! :-)

> a fucking soul-gobbling monster

That's a pretty good description. :-/

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