Anth 173 The Evolution of Human Sexuality

image001Anth 173 Evolution of Human Sexuality is taught in the Winter term on campus by Dr. Frances White ( and every term (including the summer) online. It satisfies the Gen Ed Science requirement and IP Mutlicultural requirement.

Course syllabus and statement of course policies:

This course examines the behavior, physiology, and anatomy of human sexuality as traits that have evolved from our primate and mammal ancestors. By first understanding the theory of evolution and then the advantages of sexual reproduction, we can then go on to look at our primate relatives and see how much of our own sexuality has a biological basis and how much (or how little) is truly unique to humans.

Although this is a science course, I do not assume that you have a rigorous scientific background: in fact, I will be assuming the opposite. My aim is to present the scientific foundations of this course in a way that will give you an intuitive understanding of evolution and sociobiology that will help you look critically at human sexuality from an evolutionary perspective. We will all need, however, a common language and some scientific terminology and definitions will be essential, but it is most important that you understand and see how to apply the concepts.

This course is divided into three sections:

  • Section 1 runs from the start of the course to first midterm and will examine the theory of evolution, especially how it is applied to behavior. During this time, discussion sections will work on the scientific method and how to generate and test hypotheses.
  • Section 2 begins after the first midterm and runs to the second midterm exam. This section will examine the diversity of sexuality in our primate cousins and look for the evolutionary threads that we can use to understand and interpret human sexuality.
  • Section 3 starts after the second midterm and goes to the end of the class. During this time, we will look at sexual traits often considered unique to humans and see how much we can now understand based on the evolution of these traits in primates or on their evolutionary benefits in a variety of human populations.

Specific goals: My goal here is to teach you to understand and critically evaluate arguments proposed for the evolution of human sexual behavior. As part of this course we will be watching a series of videos including some by Dr. Desmond Morris that present one view on why humans behave sexually in the ways they do. My hope is that you will not just sit back and enjoy these videos, but instead critically evaluate the presentation of evolutionary theory and its application to the information at hand. Wherever possible, classes based on videos will include a lecture on the hypotheses presented in the video and an examination of whether these hypotheses were addressed. By the end of this class, I think you will look at your own behavior and the behavior of those around you in a very different light.

Student Learning Outcomes: By the end of this course, students will

  1. be able to identify the main tenets of the theory of evolution,
  2. distinguish between scientific and non-scientific hypotheses on the evolution of human sexuality,
  3. apply evolutionary thinking to observations of human behavior
  4. evaluate the usefulness of the evolutionary approach in examining the origin of human behaviors

Full syllabus: Syllabus Winter 2015