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Friday, May 8, 2009

Redesigning Sex

#lenscraft ...

Following my piece Sex and Design on the complicated behaviour and evolutionary purpose of the human sex organs, Anders Jangbrand challenged me to a redesign project.

Would be interesting to re-design that system. Not the organs-but the full "sex" system. How would re-design proc look like?

Interesting yes: the thought of redesigning sex raises a number of interesting and important questions about redesigning things generally.

Firstly what would drive such a project? Who or what would be the beneficiaries of this redesign? What altered outcomes would be relevant? Are the current arrangements problematic, and if so for whom?

Secondly scope. The system of interest is far more complex than the shape and function of a couple of body organs and their fluid interactions; it produces various biological and social and aesthetic and spiritual outcomes.

Thirdly worldview or weltanschauung.
Do we (whoever "we" is) want sex to be more rational? Or does the magic of sex and the richness of its literature come from its complete lack of rationality? Is sex even necessary? Some ants have abandoned sex altogether (BBC News, 15 April 2009).

Fourthly variety. The biological variations of sexual practices among other species (see James Meek's piece in the London Review of Books,
Sex is Best when you lose your head) must be more than matched by the social and psychological variation of human sexual behaviour. (Whether that variety is a good thing depends on your worldview - see above.)

Radical design. It may not be enough to design one part of the system, leaving the rest of the system unchanged. If you leave the female parts unchanged, your scope for improving the male parts are quite limited and unoriginal and (if you believe all those junk emails) pretty well catered for already.

Trust. The very absurdity and embarrassment and vulnerability of sex means that there is a trust gradient involved. One of the effects of sex is the release of oxytocin, which reinforces trust. So there is a trust subsystem, and this helps to explain a lot of the emotional issues associated with sex.
There's a number of issues there. Is there a lens that would enable us to focus on all these issues? Probably not.

Checkland's CATWOE covers a decent few (e.g. Selfish Gene as Customer, Sex Organ as Actor, Fertilization as Transformation, Rationality versus Passion as Worldview, Human Race as Owner, Society as Environment)

Green & Bate's VPEC-T covers a few more (e.g. Passion as Value, Sexual Etiquette as Policy, Pleasure as Event, Fertilization as Content, Sexual Relationship as Trust)

In each case, I've identified one possible way of applying the lens to the task. Each lens can be used to view the task in many different ways. And it would be interesting to explore how each lens, each alternative view through each lens, would lead to a different redesign strategy.

If sex were a problem, it would be a wicked problem. But sex isn't a wicked problem - it is a wicked solution. And I mean wicked.

and here's xkcd's take on the subject ...


  1. Another "drive" for a project like this could be to move towards IFR (Ideal Final Result) for the system. There are lots of negative effects/aspects of current sex (and sexual) system. (e.g. diseases, rapes, molestations,...)

    These "negatives" should be removed in new design.

    Could TRIZ & Axiomatic Design be used in the process of creating a better sex system?

    Lots of lenses needed to cover all (if that is possible!) aspects (& consequences) of current sex system.

    Who would benefit? Our children.

  2. "If sex were a problem, it would be a wicked problem. But sex isn't a wicked problem - it is a wicked solution. And I mean wicked."

    Nice dodge Richard :-) But we all know that every solution is a problem as well -- especially wicked solutions. So sex is definitely a wicked problem.