Re: Lynch's Memetic Theories about Masturbation (Long)

Aaron Lynch (
Thu, 19 Jun 1997 12:33:27 -0500

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Date: Thu, 19 Jun 1997 12:33:27 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Lynch's Memetic Theories about Masturbation (Long)
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Aaron Lynch responding to Tim Perper and Martha Cornog:

[preamble snipped]

>------ Textual Analysis -------

>>From pages 90-91:

>"The masturbation taboo earlier illustrated quantity parental replicatio=
>Taboo adherents have fewer 'acceptable' erotic alternatives, pressuring
>them towards more frequent vaginal sex. For singles, the taboo heightens
>the incentive to mate."

>We're not sure what parental replication means -- it might mean the pare=
>have more children, or it might mean that the "meme" for the masturbatio=
>taboo is self-replicating in some unexplained way. The next few sentence=
>suggest that the topic is having children, so we'll adopt that reading.

It means the anti-masturbation meme spreads into new hosts by parent to
child transmission, in this case with a slight surplus of children causin=
a surplus or meme retransmission. See p. 1-2 of the book before reading p.

>It is not clear that "taboo adherents" have fewer erotic alternatives. =
>do not know if the taboo in reality translates into anti-masturbatory
>behavior or into masturbation plus post hoc guilt. It also may be that
>some people have a lower internal desire for sexual outlets, which reduc=
>both their masturbatory and coital frequencies. Such people might say -=
>and believe -- of themselves that they were following or obeying the tab=
>when in fact they are just not very interested in sex. So it is not
>obvious that the masturbation taboo drives individuals towards more
>frequent *vaginal* coitus than they might engage in otherwise. For
>example, if the taboo does hydraulically cause men to seek other forms o=
>sex, why not oral sex or some other type of erotic activity, e.g., sex w=
>prostitutes -- which has very low reproductive potential for a given mal=

Taboos against all those other behaviors also act to limit one's sexual
options to coital intercourse within marriage, which is exactly the setti=
in which morals causing an excess of children are passed down to those

>It is also not clear that for women whether the anti-masturbatory taboo
>will lead *towards* or *away* from vaginal coitus. Thus, if a woman hol=
>the taboo for generalized reasons of erotophobia, the taboo may be
>associated with a reduction in vaginal coitus.

Yes, erotophobia and consequent reproductive failure within marriage is
certainly one of the limiting factors to the evolution of such sex taboos=
especially now that women have the legal right to refuse sex with a
husband--even a new husband.=20

>For the taboo to operate as suggested, it must be completely independent=
>all other sexual beliefs and taboos. However, from the definitions of
>erotophobia of Fisher and Byrne, we find patterns of overall rejection o=
>sex, including masturbation, coitus, and oral sex among "erotophobic"
>individuals, whereas "erotophilic" individuals seek out many forms of
>sexual activity. Moreover, the erotphobic individual has an overall
>reduced frequency of sexual activity, including masturbation and vaginal

To the extent that erotophobia causes reproductive failure, it is indeed =
limiting factor to the evolution of ever more intense sex-taboo. When a
taboo evolves to such intensity that a high fraction of the host populati=
has such intense variants as lead to erotophobic reproduction losses, the=
subsequent generations will tend toward an average lower intensity taboo.
This is more an exploration of evolutionary details and ramifications tha=
of flaws to the basic model. I do agree with you that masturbation taboos
are neurotic in quality and effect, but this is hardly the first time in
history that a pathological idea was infectious or outpopulated the
healthier alternatives.

>Lynch seems here to adopt a "hydraulic" model of sexuality. This view
>holds that if sexual urges are suppressed in one area, then they will
>emerge elsewhere, as if sexuality was driven by an internal pressure.
>Although simple, the hydraulic model is not widely accepted today, in pa=
>because suppression of sexuality in one domain often leads to its
>suppression in other domains as well.

Sexually repressive religious populations such as Roman Catholics, Hassid=
Jews, fundamentalist Protestants, Muslims, Mormons, etc. still welcome se=
as the method of "trying" for children. And the large family sizes for su=
religions strongly suggest that their sexuality is not as pervasively
suppressed as your remarks imply.


>"Even those hosts [of the masturbation taboo meme] who continue
>masturbating still want to find their partners quickly in order to reduc=
>their guilt."

>Again, this assumes a hydraulic model of sexuality and assumes that
>acceptance of the masturbation taboo does *not* reduce other forms of
>sexual activity.

I only assume that it does not reduce procreational sex in married couple=
If it reduces homosexual activity, that would be yet another replication
advantage to the taboo.

>In traditional moral systems, such as magisterial Roman Catholic moral
>teaching, there are broad condemnations of all forms of sexual activity
>except those connected with marital procreative penis-in-vagina
>ejaculation. Here, the idea is to reduce *all* forms of non-procreative
>sexuality, not merely masturbation. However, it is not obvious that peo=
>accepting such moral teachings in fact try to reduce guilt by marrying
>earlier or having more frequent marital intercourse. We think this
>statement needs careful documentation from the literature.

If you read Rodney Stark=92s book THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, you will find
further evidence that large family sizes connected to sexual morality had
much to do with spreading this kind of faith.

>Is it also the case, from known data, that people who reduce their
>masturbatory guilt do NOT seek partners as quickly?

The question merits empirical investigation.


>"For couples, the taboo may reduce both solitary and mutual masturbation=
>including any done for birth control."

>Birth control has been documented to Ancient Egypt and has taken many fo=
>throughout history, including the extremes of abortion and infanticide.
>Less extreme but equally ancient forms have included vaginal tampons and
>sponges, linen penis sheaths, and the infamous "coitus interuptus," know=
>as "withdrawal." In actual fact, "onanism," widely used as a synonym fo=
>masturbation, was actually withdrawal and ejaculation outside the vagina=

I fully agree about the widespread use of birth control in the ancient
world. As for the wide misreading of the story of Onan, I consider this t=
be just another specific anti-masturbation meme which has outpopulated th=
more accurate readings of scripture.

>If masturbation is done for contraceptive purposes (and the taboo is
>therefore pro-conceptive) then we might expect that masturbation
>frequencies would decline as the availability of other forms of
>contraception increase. =20

>As we all know, the efficacy and frequency of use
>of contraception and abortion have increased over the centuries rather t=
>being extinguished. =20

This sentence is flagrantly false in the case of ancient Rome. Read Stark=
book for evidence of how contraception and abortion rates declined over t=
last several centuries of imperial Rome.

>However, it is not clear that masturbation rates have
>changed at all. So we need to ask for evidence suporting the reciprocal
>relationship postulated here between masturbation and contraception.
>Indeed, we speculate that, if anything, the availabilty of contraception
>increases sexual activity of all types, as sexuality in general emerges =
>shadows of wider taboos.

>Taking another view of the matter, if the anti-masturbation taboo spread=
>because it is pro-conceptive, as Lynch seems to believe, then contracept=
>and masturbation both should dwindle as carriers of pro-conceptive,
>anti-masturbatory memes outreproduce those without these memes. But
>masturbation has not vanished, and contraceptive use has grown. It is
>vacuous to say that masturbation and contraception memes have
>"out-reproduced" their alternatives, because that statement merely
>rephrases the observation without offering an explanation.

Why do pro-contraception memes spread even anti-contraception memes have
spread? It's discussed in my book. But the above paragraph suggests that =
never even thought of the subject! But I guess part of the problem arises
from this instantaneous medium, which favors responding quickly and often
instead of reading a whole book, or even a chapter first, or even looking
up "birth control" in the index. Why are you trying to comment on memetic=
without reading a serious book on the subject? I hope you aren't just
trying to waste my time.


>"Male hosts [of the masturbation taboo] can also produce higher sperm
>counts during intercourse by reducing their nonvaginal orgasms."

>By "orgasms" we assume you mean "ejaculations." (As the word is used in
>sex research, orgasm refers to the psychological experience.)

>In the following "IPC" means "in-pair copulation." Baker and Bellis (19=
>write "On average, therefore, males suffer no disadvantage from
>masturbation in terms of the number of sperm retained by the female at
>their next IPC, despite inseminating fewer [sperm]. ... In fact, the
>non-significant trend is for more sperm to be retained when the male
>masturbates between copulations. ... Our analyses of the dynamics and
>consequences of masturbation clearly supports the view that the behaviou=
>is a functional strategy. The function, however, appears to be more to
>increase the 'fitness' of sperm retained by the female at the next IPC t=
>to increase the number retained." (page 216)

>The biology of this process is extremely complex, and does not seem to
>offer a simple functionalist explanation for the masturbation taboo.

>Baker, R. Robin and Mark A. Bellis 1995 Human Sperm Competition:
>Copulation, Masturbation, and Infidelity. London: Chatman & Hall.


>"All these effects tend to increase fertility rates for those holding th=

>Data are absolutely essential for supporting this claim. As a generalit=
>human fertility is determined by a series of factors primarily involving
>the female. The most significant is the use of contraception by the wom=
>followed by duration of post-birth lactation. Next come female health a=
>nutritional status. However, by contrast, male masturbation probably pl=
>virtually no role at all in influencing overall realized fertility. For
>example, Wood's (1994) authoritative and comprehensive survey of human
>fertility and demography does not even have an index entry for
>masturbation. We really need data to support this point, rather than
>"proof by assertion."

This is not a "proof by assertion." It is a hypothezed mechanism of belie=
proliferation which does indeed require new surveys for confirmation or
falsification. As yet, I don't know of any such anti-masturbation/fertili=
survey, and I doubt that one would have been conducted without a hypothes=
under test. A small reproductive advantage of 5% per generation gives a 1=
billion fold increase over 480 generations, so the survey should be
sensitive to fertility differentials much smaller than those caused by or=

>Wood, James W. 1994 Dynamics of Human Reproduction: Biology, Biometry=
>Deomgraphy. NY: de Gruyter.


>"Once the masturbation taboo outpopulates more permissive ideas,
>proselytism boosts the taboo further. Hosts become eager to 'prove' the=
>conformity to the taboo, especially if they suspect that other hosts are
>listening. Yet they can't prove their conformity to the taboo directly,=
>they often 'demonstrate' an ideological incapacity to violate it. That
>usually means expressing the taboo in the fiercest language possible or
>implying strict conformity by referring to masturbation in the context o=
>insults. Such proselytism resembles what happens for advanced transmiss=
>antigay memes."

>It really is not clear what "proselytism" means here. Is the idea that
>medieval preachers thundered denunciations of self-abuse from the pulpit=
>>From Brundage's thorough and scholarly study of the history of religion=
>sexuality in Europe, it is known that Roman Catholic penitentials condem=
>masturbation, especially among clerics, but these exercises in morality
>appear to have been private and limited to the confessional. It seems t=
>only with the publication of "Onania" in the 1600s (first American editi=
>1724) was there truly *public* discourse on masturbation. However, the
>readership of this treatise was likely limited to those few who could
>afford to buy books. It was not until Tissot, in the 1700s, that a
>medicalized and public discourse on the horrors of self-abuse became
>possible, and even then did not reach a large public until the 19th
>century. However, that discourse was centered not on *moral* taboos
>(masturbation =3D sin) but on alleged *medical* dangers. That idea was
>actively promulgated by a variety of "sexual purity" adherents, includin=
>some physicians. With time and other factors, this sort of propaganda
>diminished. (See Money, 1985; Bullough and Bullough, 1995.)

>Now a question in memetics arises. One can simply reformulate these
>historical processes, using the language of memes and meme replication
>(which this passage from Lynch's book does not do), but it is not clear
>that doing so buys us anything unavailable in accounts written by
>historically sophisticated scholars (e.g., Money and the Bulloughs). To=
>sure, Lynch's paragraph is very brief, and is not, we assume, supposed t=
>represent a thorough historical analysis, but it does not distinguish am=
>a variety of anti-masturbatory ideologies nor discuss how or why they
>changed. To speak of "memetic mutation" -- as one might do, although Ly=
>does not -- seems merely to attach an opaque name to these changes witho=
>explaining anything.

>Bullough, Vern and Bonnie Bullough 1995 Sexual Attitudes: Myths and
>Realities. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. See Chapter 4, "Masturbatio=

>Money, John 1985 The Destroying Angel: Sex, Fitness & Food in the Leg=
>of Degeneracy Theory, Graham Crackers, Kellogg's Corn Flakes & American
>Health History. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.


>"On the other hand, most people who accept masturbation see few reasons =
>proselytize, especially for solitary masturbation. Discussing the subje=
>can suggest sexual frustration, implying low status to listeners. Besid=
>those accepting solitary masturbation feel little or even negative sex
>motive to persuade others, since converts might become less available fo=
>partnered sex. That leaves few advocates for autoeroticism outside its
>modern considerations in sex research and disease control."

>Actually, the amount written about the pleasures of masturbation is quit=
>large, especially in the last few years, and a number of writers and
>organizations promote masturbatory sex for its pleasures. To list only =
>few: [list snipped]

[snip] "Celebrate the Self Newsletter, the
>Newsletter for the Solo Sex Enthusiast," [snip]

Do you have the circulation figures for this newsletter? I was unable to
locate it on my local news stand.

>A good many scholars have written about masturbation from various
>viewpoints, and the literature is NOT small.

My own forays into this literature failed to turn up the kind of survey
data I would have considered useful in verifying or falsifying my
hypothesis of the memetics of masturbation taboos.

>***The question is whether memetics offers anything uniquely insightful
>into this literature. One could say that the terms "jack off" and "jill
>off" represent "memes," but if so, then those who hold that people do no=
>actively alter memes will have difficulty explaining the origin of the t=

>"Masturbation taboos have declined somewhat in recent years, with much o=
>the change inspired by mass media."

>To prove this assertion, one needs detailed analyses of the mass media -=
>meaning television, radio, newsmagazines, and newspapers. Mere impressi=
>are not enough. Reduction of anti-masturbation beliefs is more than lik=
>to be part of general reduction of anti-sexual beliefs since the 1960s.
>Since the AIDS crisis, and since the introduction of Safe and Safer Sex
>education, it has become paradoxically clear that masturbation and mutua=
>masturbation may actually be adaptive.

See the sections on these topics in my book.

>We now need to raise another issue. What, exactly, IS the
>anti-masturbation taboo Lynch is discussing? It is clear from historica=
>and survey sources that masturbation has always been common as a behavio=
>so the taboo seems not reflect itself in actual sexual activity. Male
>youngsters -- children and adolescents -- quickly learn that masturbatio=
>exists and that many words and terms describe it. They simultaneously
>learn not to say such words in "polite company," meaning in the presence=
>women or in "proper" social settings, but they nonetheless learn and use
>the terms. As the medicalized discourse started by the anonymous "Onani=
>and by Simon Tissot gained ground, especially in the 19th century, there
>was extensive discourse about masturbation, usually under names like
>"self-abuse" and "the solitary sin," and such language provided a way to
>talk about masturbation publicly.

>It is our impression that mastrubation, like much of sexuality, is set i=
>a system of cultural rules governing behavior and discourse. It seems
>subject to a common enough dichotomy -- sexual language and references a=
>acceptable in some social settings (all male groups, for example) but no=
>in others. We are not sure how memetics offers an advantage for analyzi=
>these complex ethnographic facts.

For an introductory treatment of the quantitative methods, see closing
sections of Taboos against talki=
to peers would affect some of the parameters but not others, but proceedi=
with the analysis requires the gathering of data about this.

>"Indeed, the very status as taboo makes masturbation and other sex topic=
>prime material for commercial use: mention over the airwaves can make
>people pay attention long enough to hear a commercial, and then improve
>recall by 'downloading' it to an aroused audience."

>We will deal only with masturbation, and not the widespread use of sexy
>images in advertising. It is not our impression at all that *masturbati=
>is widely used in advertising, although sexy pictures of women in
>advertisements might be used by men for masturbatory purposes. We need
>some specific examples of ads that use masturbation per se before accept=
>this view.

By "commercial use," I refer not to the messages of a show's sponsors, bu=
to the content of shows such as the frequently sexual "Jenny Jones" show
here in the US. When Jenny Jones discusses a topic that most Americans fi=
titillating or shocking, her show and her sponsors benefit from people
gaping at the tube long enough and intently enough to forget where they
left the remote control by the time the commercial comes on. And their ra=
attention means more effectiveness for the commercial, which the advertis=
discovers not just from ratings but also from sales results.

>"The process incidentally conveys the idea that masturbation is normal a=

>You need to provide examples where masturbation is used deliberately by =
>advertiser to prove this idea. Note that we said "deliberately" -- a se=
>picture of a woman might stimulate masturbatory urges, but that is a far
>cry from saying that such an advertisement "conveys the idea" that
>masturbation is acceptable. We suspect that most advertisers would
>staunchly deny such an attribution to them.

This paragraph only continues with objections based on a misreading of my
words. I find it rather amusing that you think I am claiming that
masturbation is now used by the advertisers themselves in TV commercials!
(Even if my wording was ambiguous.) Do I hear a jingle... "Masturbation!
How do you do what ya do?!"

>"Although the taboo remains widely entrenched, media exposure over a few
>decades has caused a prevalence drop that would previously have taken

>This presumably means a drop in the prevalence of the taboo, and not the
>prevalence of masturbation.


>This sentence seems to suggest that the media -- which need to be define=
>-- have been spreading "anti-anti-masturbation" or "pro-masturbation"
>memes. Possibly so, but we need examples -- with references, not
>impressions -- that the media has promoted masturbation. We *think* Lyn=
>may mean that the media has increasingly used sexual images, and that th=
>are increasingly explicit, but such a "sex sells" strategy is NOT the sa=
>as saying that the mass media *promotes* masturbation.

I used the term "media exposure," meaning that the subject is discussed b=
such media as TV and radio. Mere exposure to this discussion can have an
effect on young people who have been lead to think that they were the onl=
ones they knew who ever masturbated. The media need not launch a
pro-masturbation promotion to have such an effect. Mere mention probably
suffices for many (but not all) individuals in heavily repressed populati=

>In fact, two facts suggest otherwise. One was the forced resignation of
>Dr. Jocelyn Elders as Surgeon-General of the United States after she
>recommended that public schools actually teach what masturbation is. Sh=
>did not recommend masturbation per se, but her critics believed that she
>was promoting sin and corruption.

>The other example is the October 26, 1992 episode of the "Seinfeld"
>television show entiled "The Contest." The plot, which is rather thin,
>centers on a contest among the characters as to who can avoid masturbati=
>the longest. However, the show *never* uses the word "masturbation" at
>all. This show has become famous, because it so sharply broke the taboo=
>discussing masturbation -- without naming it! -- during prime time
>television entertainment.

>David, Larry 1992 Seinfeld: "The Contest"=20

Interesting citations. They indirectly confirm the overall strength of
masturbation taboos in the US. But they do not prove that I ever said tha=
TV or other media are trying to PROMOTE masturbation.=20

>>From pages 3-4 of "Thought Contagion":

>AL, page 3:
> "Far more prevalent in North America is the taboo against
>masturbation. Its vast influence shows up clearly in the recent 'Sex in
>America Survey,' and vividly in events that brought down a recent surgeo=
> "The Census Bureau does not track fertility rates for this taboo's
>hosts, so its quantity parental effect is less demonstrable than that of
>the Amish faith. Yet educated guesswork suggests that the masturbation
>taboo raises its adherents' reproduction rate above average levels."

>As we mentioned before, we rather doubt this suggestion. For example, i=
>the Laumann et al. (1994) survey of US sexual behavior, only 36.7% of al=
>men are reported "not at all" to masturbate (page 82, Table 3.1). This
>means that 63.3% of men *do* masturbate, meaning that about 1/3 of all m=
>must have a higher reproductive rate than the remainder.

You forget about those whose masturbation has been lowered by the taboo
from what it would be otherwise, but not to zero. It would have been nice
to have such survey data from more repressive times in US history, as wel=

>This seems unlikely to us. Thus, when the the Laumann et al. masturbati=
>data for men are broken into age categories, the frequency-by-age data
>shows an upside down "U" shape, with 58.8% of men aged 18-24 reporting t=
>they masturbate, RISING to 71-72% for the ages 25-34, dropping to 61.5%
>masturbating for 35-39 year olds, and dropping still further to the 50%
>range among older men (page 82, Table 3.1). If Lynch's suggestion is
>correct, then these very young and much older men must have HIGHER
>reproductive rates than men in their late 20s and 30s.

This is a statistical fallacy. Developmental biology causes both lower
reproductive rates and lower sexual behavior rates in the youngest and
oldest males. Useful data in this matter would be those that compare
reproductive rates of people with anti-masturbation ideas to those with
positive masturbation ideas within the same age cohort. More exactly, we
want to see R1(a) and R2(a), the reproduction versus age profiles for bot=
taboo and non-taboo carriers, along with other such propagation profiles
defined at Laumann et al do not
provide such data.

>We may examine pregnancy rates expressed by age of FATHER from a variety=
>data sources. Thus, Wood (1994) gives data for New York State (excludin=
>New York City) between 1959-1967. Men younger than 25 fathered 23.0% of
>all births; men between 25 and 34 fathered 52.1% of all births, men age=
>35-39 fathered 36.7%, and men older than 40 fathered only 9.3%. (Wood,
>1994, Table 11.7, page 494; the total N is 1,472,846 pregnancies arrange=
>by age of father; see also pages 483-498, and Figure 11.6, page 502 for
>similar data.)

>Thus, young men masturbate less often and father fewer children; men
>between ages 25-34 masturbate more and father more children; men aged
>35-39 have lower masturbatory and fathering rates, and men still older
>masturbate even less and have even fewer children. This pattern is the
>OPPOSITE of what Lynch's argument predicts.

This only continues a line of statistically confused thinking on the
matter. Reproductive biology is OF COURSE highly age correlated. We want =
see is either the LIFETIME reproduction of those who held masturbation
taboos versus those who remained free of masturbation taboos, or else
comparisons of taboo and non-taboo individuals of equal ages. You don't
impress me by saying that middle age men masturbate more and have more
children than do male infants, and that therefore frequent masturbation m=
cause reproduction.

>Note that the denominator in the data Wood cites is *pregnancies* and no=
>men. Thus, the data are telling us the age of the men who actually were
>the fathers in some 1,470,000 pregancies

>Furthermore, Laumann et al (1994) write:

>"The obvious hypothesis to be culled from Kinsey's theory is that the
>frequency of masturbation decreases in the context of a stable sexual
>relationship with an available partner. This appears to be the case amo=
>the married, more dramatically for men than women, although both genders
>show the same effects. More people do not masturbate, and fewer people
>masturbate one or more times per week. However, this is not the entire
>story since a large portion of the reduced incidence of masturbation amo=
>the married is a result of being older. Note that many of the men among
>those never married but living with a partner, a rather youthful group, =
>masturbating frequently. ... Cohabiting individuals, then (and probably
>younger married respondents as well), are characterized by comparatively
>high rates of both masturbation and coupled sexual activity. The point =
>not to argue that Kinsey's observations are incorrect but rather to sugg=
>that the frequency of masturbation has no set quantitative relation to
>other partnered sexual activities." (Laumann, et al. 1994, page 83.)

This only further argues for gathering taboo/non-taboo figures within
various age cohorts.

>Laumann, Edward O., John H. Gagnon, Robert T. Michael, and Stuart Michae=
>1994 The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the Uni=
>States. Chicago: University of Chicago.

>Wood, James W. 1994 Dynamics of Human Reproduction: Biology, Biometry=
>Deomgraphy. NY: de Gruyter. [In giving the data from Table 3.1, we hav=
>inverted the percentages to show frequencies of men who do masturbate
>rather than those who do not.]


>"Taboo hosts generally have fewer acceptable options for reacting to sex
>drives. They must either mate more often, abstain more often, or do bot=
>The resulting behavioral mix should contribute more children to the tabo=
>host population. Even hosts whose masturbation remains unabated would
>still experience guilt as a motive to seek entirely partnered sex. This
>group's greater effort toward mating would presumably yield more childre=
>to inculcuate with the taboo."

>By "entirely partnered sex," we assume Lynch means coital sex only, rath=
>than masturbation. It is a nice-sounding theory, but the data just
>presented suggest the opposite.

It was the way you misused and presented statistical data, not the data
themselves which suggested the opposite theory, namely, that frequent
masturbation causes more children. If you CONTROL for the confounding
variable of age, I suspect you will find a positive correlation between
holding the taboo and reproductive rates, once the surveys are done.
Instead, all you have done is substituted bad statistical inference for t=
falsification data you seem to wish you had.=20

>"The number of extra children per generation need not be great to explai=
>the masturbation taboo's widespread propagation. The secret lies in the
>taboo's very great age. Even a 5 percent per generation increase amount=
>to a 132-fold increase when compounded over 100 generations. A
>reproductive effect imperceptible to any one generation can gently eleva=
>the idea from fringe group status to mainstream proportions. Such moder=
>influences as publicized sex research have reversed some of the taboo's
>gains, though the subject of masturbation still troubles many."

>It turns out that times of greatest masturbation are those of greatest
>realized fertility for men. In the face of such evidence, Lynch's
>hypothesis cannot be accepted without data that positively support it.
>"Educated guesswork" is not enough. Moreover, as we pointed out above,
>linking anti-masturbation beliefs to pro-conceptive effects makes it
>difficult to explain the existence and spread of contraception.

Again, the statistical confounding. As for "educated guesswork," see my
next segment below.

>Now a few general comments.

>Lynch was not writing a treatise on sexuality nor on masturbation.
>However, he did use masturbation as an example, and in his posting invit=
>the participants in this list to examine the topic in relation to claims=
>made in his book. Our commments have focused *solely* on that one topic.

>The "no masturbation means more kids" hypothesis appears not to hold up.
>In fact, the opposite seems to be true, at least as one can judge by
>looking at the age of men who masturbate and who have children. Support =
>the Lynch hypothesis will require large sample databases, and not
>"guesswork," educated or not.

I don't say "no masturbation means more kids." But my proposition "less
masturbation than the uninhibited rate means more children" is to be take=
within age cohorts, not between. You deliberately introduce a confounding
variable, namely age, which affects both masturbatory and non-masturbator=
behaviors. And much as you may hate "guesswork," I will point out that
Darwin did not have any quantitative data on reproduction and survival
rates of populations of finches with different traits either. His educate=
guesswork, however, inspired later researchers to measure the actual
parameters in the field. So yes, let's get the data-gathering funded and
done. In the meantime, don't demand new theories to spring fully
substantiated from the head of Demeter. Darwin considered THE ORIGIN OF
SPECIES to be a mere abstract of how he wanted to see his subject treated=
and I must say I feel the same way about THOUGHT CONTAGION vis a vis the
theory of memetic evolution. And I'm sure that Dawkins felt the same only
more so about his earliest treatment of the subject. But bear in mind tha=
if publishers and readers had dismissed Darwin for his lack of 20th centu=
data sets and statistics, then the data sets and statistics might never
have been gathered as soon as they were and still are!

Having said that, I will point out that some memetic topics actually have
propagation parameters already measured by people who were not even askin=
memetic questions. Look at the Amish and Mormon examples in Chapter 1.

>The notion of a single, unitary "anti-masturbation" meme seems historica=
>unwarranted. Ideologies about masturbation have ranged from invoking
>procreation-only religious themes, through notions of medical dangers of
>masturbation, to social regimes in which talk about masturbation is limi=
>only to certain places and times (e.g., not to be mentioned in polite
>company), to veiled references on the Seinfeld show, to activist promoti=
>of masturbation as a positive sexual good and birth-right. No single
>"anti-masturbation" meme appears to exist.

Although I discuss "anti-masturbation" memes as if there were just one
kind, I agree that many variants and combinations of variants have evolve=
and propagated. Perhaps with enough funding for all the separate surveys,
we will one day see a definitive book focusing on just the memetics of
masturbation ideologies.=20

>A recent role for mass media in promoting masturbation seems
>unsubstantiated, and requires detailed examples to be acceptable.

Yes, I would like to see studies done on the public opinion changes in
populations who watched various talk shows, etc. The subject has gone on
the air much more in the US beginning in the 1980's, and some of this eve=
came up as discussion of AIDS prevention. I failed to record the dates an=
times and programs on which I saw and heard such material, however.=20

>It is not clear that memetics is central to Lynch's discussion. In fact=
>he only rarely refers to memes in his sections on masturbation, except w=
>he uses the word "host" to refer to people who hold one or another
>anti-masturbation belief. Hence, we are not sure that discussing the
>"anti-masturbation meme" enlightens us about memetics in the ways Lynch
>seems to believe.

The whole discussion is about memes, regardless of whether I use informal
synonyms such as "belief," or "taboo," "idea," etc. to avoid redundant wo=

>We would like to point out positive aspects of these sections of Lynch'=
>In particular, they bring sexuality, particularly masturbation, to the
>attention of memeticists. The discussion contains testable hypotheses a=
>can generate more work, especially if memeticists choose to draw on the
>large databases now available about sexual behavior and attitudes.

>Although this example -- masturbation -- does not prove or disprove the
>utility of memetics, it does suggest that memeticists need to engage
>themselves in the details of history and culture before memetics will be
>more than a theoretical parlor game.

The work that lies ahead in fleshing out memetic evolution theory is trul=
vast, much as it was for biological evolution theory 138 years ago. But
neither theory was so frivolous or divorced from reality at its inception
to warrant the term "parlor game."=20

--Aaron Lynch

How Belief Spreads Through Society
The New Science of Memes
Basic Books. Info and free sample:


--Aaron Lynch

How Belief Spreads Through Society
The New Science of Memes
Basic Books. Info and free sample:

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