Why do men even exist? Scientists take a closer look at sex

Attractive man

When it comes to reproducing, having sex seems pretty cut and dry. Males compete for females, the ladies choose who they want to mate with, and then sex happens. This results in new offspring, which pushes the species further.

But the whole setup, which is the reproductive model for many species (including humans), begs the question: why do men actually exist? Since males really only bring genetic material to the table, why don’t more species rely on asexual, all-female populations to reproduce more efficiently?

“Almost all multicellular species on earth reproduce using sex, but its existence isn’t easy to explain because sex carries big burdens, the most obvious of which is that only half of your offspring – daughters – will actually produce offspring,” lead researcher Matt Gage said in a press release put out by the University of East Anglia. “Why should any species waste all that effort on sons?”

In other words, why the big to-do over allowing females to select one mating partner over another? It turns out that the act (known as sexual selection, by the way) might play a vital evolutionary role. More specifically, researchers from the University of East Anglia say that giving females a wide variety of mates to choose from results in genetic benefits for the whole. In simpler terms, it allows them to weed out the partners with not-so-great genetics.

Scientists put it to the test with beetles. When females were exposed to lots of males that were vying for their attention, the colony on the whole was stronger and lived longer – even in the face of imposed inbreeding. However, females that were limited to only one partner and had no choice in who they mated with were much less resilient. In fact, the colony ultimately died off, going extinct much sooner than ones that utilized sexual selection.

“Our research shows that competition among males for reproduction provides a really important benefit, because it improves the genetic health of populations,” Gage said in the statement. “Sexual selection achieves this by acting as a filter to remove harmful genetic mutations, helping populations to flourish and avoid extinction in the long-term.”

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