Hi – can someone get the door? Thanks.

Welcome to Human Sexuality 301.  It wasn’t an easy decision for the department to offer this class once more, after the events of last semester. It probably wasn’t easy for any of you to decide to sign up for it.

The things is, this course is going to be the real deal. It’s not some watered-down version just to be able to say we were able to keep it going.

Obviously there will be more of a safety net this time. There will be counsellors assigned to each of you and they aren’t going to wait for you to ask for help. They’re going to be in your face, probing how you are doing. It’s up to your counsellor to decide if and when you need help. If you don’t like that, now is the time to get out of the class. You have three days to get out without penalty. If you don’t like the counsellor assigned to you, you have three days to request a change.

Just because there’s a safety net doesn’t mean this course is any less challenging than it has ever been. Make sure you are ready, or get out now. To state the obvious, the course is offered this time in English only, and if you just scraped by in English before now, you really don’t want to try to do that here. Same thing goes for the chemistry of life on Earth. You had better know your way around DNA and proteins. And the fact you just barely passed human physiology doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be here. Be realistic about whether you’re ready to handle the experience you’re signing up for. Things are going to move fast.

You’ll be expected to appear only in your human avatar, and to undertake all assignments for the course in that body. There will be absolutely no exceptions.

Why is human sexuality interesting? The reason is that humans are not only unusual, but unusual in a particular way that helps scientists study how life evolves everywhere.

Earth is unusually isolated. The nearest civilization is more than 40 light years away. Humans remain an uncontacted species. They are not aware of the larger life of their galaxy. All observation of humans that we know of has been shrouded. This is likely to change soon, so science has only a small window of time left for gathering data before humans are influenced. Given the nature of humans, it is quite possible that the consequences of contact will be catastrophic for them. One small consolation – I won’t say it makes up for what happened last semester – well, anyway, we at least know a little now about what might happen whenever contact occurs.

The human organism combines a set of qualities in a way that has never been seen before. On the one hand, they have a fairly typical system for specifying combinations of traits. This is, of course, the system of DNA-based genes, which you should be very familiar with. But what is strange is the way their life cycle incorporates the selection of genes.

They create new combinations of genes only at the same moment that they initiate a new human. This is called conception. It almost always involves a mostly random combination of genes from two donors, each of a different kind – the famous “two sexes” of the humans. Meanwhile, each combination of genes that is created only appears once, in a single instance of a human, and disappears when that individual simply stops living, which is called death.

This much is probably familiar to you. It is often said that it is remarkable that evolution can take place at all among humans, given the bizarre nature of this system. It’s true that the process of sex throws away a lot of information. A successful individual is never copied, and makes only a randomized contribution to descendants. But this is where human sexuality gets interesting, and why so many of you chose to take the risk of experiencing it for yourselves.

One thing that’s a little sad is that humans are just starting to experiment with biotechnology, which would allow them to try different ways of creating new humans, but contact will probably overwhelm whatever course they might have set on. We’ll never know how that would have gone for them, because they’ll undoubtedly just become modernized like any other species.

But in a way, we can know a lot from studying what’s already happened on Earth. Humans already have a purely behavioural form of biotechnology, one that is actually amazingly sophisticated. This is what they call romance, or seduction. (The terminology can be confusing, and often represents the differing perspectives of the female and male humans.)

Consider the human female. She doesn’t have the option of selecting a few genes here and few genes there from the various males she might encounter, as is typical for non-Earth species. She has to not only accept the genes of a single man when she reproduces, but a random sample of his genes. Then remember that neoteny is extraordinarily high in humans. That means that baby humans are helpless and completely dependent on their parents for moment-to-moment survival.

They gain self-sufficiency only with agonizing slowness. Even adult humans often remain dependent on parents long into their lives. And of course humans are monumentally mortal – each human dies, and progressively loses functionality for a long period before that, a mirror of neoteny. So a female can expect to create baby humans only a limited number of times, and to find each experience quite depleting.

So she is approximately in the position of a gambler who can make only a few bets in her whole career. There is no boundary to the effort she’ll put into those bets, and the fact that the outcomes are somewhat random despite all her effort only drives her to push the small amount of influence she can have as far as possible.

This is where that thing you were all murmuring about, “passion,” comes in. Just because you’re in a female avatar, don’t expect to feel passion on your first day in class. There’s no guarantee you’ll feel it at all, and if you do, there’s no way to know in advance if you can handle it.

If you were assigned a male avatar, I really don’t want to hear your complaints. Humans don’t get to decide their own sex, so neither do you. If you don’t like it, you are welcome to leave the class, now. Male competition for females is part of the human experience, so your loss is our gain.

Men of course, seek sex. They are like one-person intelligence agencies constantly compiling theories about where sex might be available, based on any little hint. Or at least that’s what we used to think. It turns out that men are actually far more discriminating than we initially thought, and present a vastly more subtle behaviour pattern that we haven’t fully deciphered as yet.

For instance, men often use an audible signaling system called music that is distinct from language to attract women. Those of you in male avatars will be required to take music lessons this semester, as part of a departmental initiative to study this subsystem of human sexuality. I recommend electric guitar or saxophone.

One thing you hear a lot is that women are the genetic strategists, and men the genetic tacticians among humans. There’s almost certainly some truth in that, and it gives us one of our first clues as to how the whole strange machine that is human sexuality can work at all. It’s a system that just barely records enough information, in the form of gene combinations with selected qualities, to keep going, but that information is scrutinized in so many ways that the result is better than it ought to be, at first glance.

Women do two things very well, in ways that delight, sustain, infuriate and pain men. They are attractive and they are selective. But that doesn’t even begin to capture the depths of what it is to be a human female. Those of you in female avatars might, if you are lucky, get the slightest taste of the phenomenon by the end of this semester. If you do, you will probably change forever, as I am sure you are aware. That is why you worked so hard to get into this class.

Sexual attraction in humans is one of the more complex signaling systems ever studied. We only have rough understandings of it, and I’m sure some of you in this class will go on to distinguished research careers studying it. You will recall that for a while there was a popular theory that a woman would always modulate indications of easily available sex with indications of sexual rejection, so as to force men to become attentive in order to seize an opportunity that might or might not come up. In our tests we have discovered that it isn’t so simple. Men will actually become uninterested if the game is made too simple. Therefore more complex mathematical models are currently being tested.

I see that some of you are initiating sexual contact in the back rows. This might seem like a good idea, a way to get an early start on your assignments, but really you are missing the point. If all humans had sex all the time, easily, with anyone, the machine would lose all its information. The resulting gene combinations would be too random. Humans only think they want sex all the time, but we now know that what they actually want is more complicated, even though we don’t yet know how to describe it. You might even be able to make a contribution to an original paper on the topic as part of your coursework, but only if you refrain for the moment and pay attention to the lecture. Hey, I’m talking to you. Do you want to get credit for this course or not?