Re: Faye Fransella's comments on biological determinism

Tim A. Connor (
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 22:53:46 -0800 (PST)

Some thoughts that have been triggered by this discussion:

It seems that humans have an innate tendency to prefer sweet flavors to
bitter ones. This for very good evolutionary reasons--most vegetable
toxins are bitter alkaloids, so if the purple berries taste sweet they
probably won't kill you. Nevertheless, some of us come to appreciate
bitter flavors, and even to dislike extremely sweet ones. How does this

Similarly, there is probably an innate tendency to enjoy body contact,
since a primate infant that stays close to its mother and is cuddly and
easy to hold is less likely to be caught by a predator. Nevertheless, we
come to discriminate between those we like being touched by and those we
don't, and some of us acquire a general distaste for body contact.

To say that some constructs (bitter/sweet, touching/not touching,
aroused/not aroused) are innate, in the sense that human beings are born
with anticipations of certain kinds of events (like having a nipple stuck
in your mouth), is not to be a biological determinist. It is part of the
biological nature of human beings to need to make events meaningful in
order to anticipate them (and so to survive). Sexual pleasure is
hard-wired; the meaning of sexual pleasure is not. Clinicians who have
worked with victims of sexual abuse have seen that the innate pleasure of
friction applied to erogenous zones is often a source of great distress to
those who experienced such pleasure unwillingly, and are unable to
construe it except by blaming themselves for their abuse.

The male/female construct is probably unavoidable, and probably
necessarily a superordinate construct in the interpersonal domain (and the
strict dichotomy is as much a construction as any other--there is
something of a continuum there). But the meaning of male/female is a
cultural construction with much variability. I don't think sexual
performance as such is a superordinate construct; rather, it has moved up
in the hierarchy of subordinate constructs under gender during the last 40
years in American culture. A couple of generations ago, "good provider"
probably ranked higher than "good lover" in delineating the construct pole
"man". Maybe it still does for some--or even many--people. But it is a
cultural construct, not just a personal one--gender constructs are
acquired by most people long before they do their own experiments, and
they tend to be fairly impermeable for most of us.


Tim Connor, M.S. "Psychotherapy is not
Pacific University an applied science, it
School of Professional Psychology is a basic science in
2004 Pacific Avenue which the scientists
Forest Grove, OR 97116 USA are the client and his
<> therapist"
--George Kelly