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Sexoids: better sex through genetic engineering?

The omnipresence of sex, as it is woven into the whole texture of our man's or woman's body, is the pattern of all the process of our life.

-Havelock Ellis,

English psychologist

Surgical sex changes. Oral contraception. RU-486 "morning-after" pills. Sperm banks. Test-tube babies. Medical technologies have created a "sexual revolution" in our half of the twentieth century. Some of us are inspired by these changes; others of us are frightened. However we may feel, the revolution is young. Geneticists are setting the stage for new sexual options in the twenty-first century.

Let's contemplate--in the spirit of science fiction--a unique addition to human sexual choice. My idea follows the spirit of Gene Roddenberry, the humanist hero who created "Star Trek" I call my invention the sexoid. I trust you will agree that sexoids are both entertaining and thought-provoking. First, we need a little historical background.

On April 16, 1987, the United States Patent and Trademark Office ruled that animals created in laboratories can be patented. This decision gave you and me the legal right to invent, manufacture, and sell genetically engineered fleas, frogs, or dogs. This ruling also implicitly sets the stage to engineer humans.

In April 1988, Harvard University patented a mouse that was predisposed to cancer. Scientists designed this mouse in order to hasten laboratory experiments involving cancer. This patent set off a firestorm of protests from animal-rights activists, environmentalists, and others, forcing Washington to adopt a moratorium on animal patents. That moratorium has since ended; today, more than 180 applications for animal patents await government action.

What kinds of animals? Genetics firms yearn to design superior farm animals: for example, a superchicken that lays more eggs from less feed. Engineers also want to invent animals that benefit human health. In 1991, DNX corporation, based in Princeton, New Jersey, designed a pig that produces human hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein matter in the red corpuscles of our blood. Other high-tech firms are eager to patent cows that produce the proteins found in human mothers' milk.

Geneticists are sketching even more ambitious animals. These new creatures are called xenografts--animals that might supply hearts, livers, or other organs for human transplants. DNX wants to breed pigs with altered genes that mask the immunological markers of "pigness." This technical innovation would enable surgeons to replace a human's diseased heart with a healthy pig's heart without an adverse reaction from the immune system. Edmund L. Andrews notes in the New York Times that DNX executives hope the first swine-to-human transplants could take place by the late 1990s.

Society, as a whole, is becoming more supportive of genetic engineering. AIDS is a major reason. Many people judge that genetic engineers have the best chance to defeat AIDS. Many scientists, religious leaders, and citizens applaud genetic experiments as long as altered genes might cure human diseases or "improve the human lot" High-tech firms in America, Europe, and Japan are working around the clock to supply genetic products.

When will experiments shift from designer animals--say rodents and poultry--to designer humans? Technology moves so quickly that I dare not predict a date. Today, the biotech industry downplays the direct genetic altering of chimps, apes, or humans. Such genetics remains a political hot potato. However, conditions will change sooner or later.

It is a safe bet that, someday, public pressure will welcome not only superchickens but designer babies. The baby hatcheries in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World sound almost inevitable. Our culture lives and dies for consumerism; will Americans--who demand to select from among 50 automobile models --reject the freedom to choose the hair color, skin tone, and sex of their children? Will homosexual parents rebuff the freedom to choose babies who are predisposed to share their own sexual tastes?

What will sex mean in a genetically altered world? How many sexes will we have? Sidney Smith noted in Lady Holland's Memoirs: "As the French say, there are three sexes--men, women, and clergymen' " Joel Elias Spingarn added in Creative Criticism and Other Essays: "The gibe of European scholars is that there are three sexes in America--men, women, and professors." Unisex. Two sexes. Three sexes. Transsexuals. Maybe we need a fourth sex.

This brings us to sexoids. We domesticate turkeys for food and terriers for friendship. In the wild, many animals are extremely specialized. Some butterflies exist only to pollinate one flower. The animal kingdom, though it is being extinguished at an alarming rate, is remarkably diverse. Should we swell the animal kingdom by one more specialized creature? Should we genetically engineer sexoids--primates that exist solely to satisfy human eros? Some people argue that sexual frustration is a "disease" as real as AIDS, crying out for a technological cure.

Close your eyes and imagine your ideal sexual partner. Be utterly honest with yourself. Sexoids could be manufactured in sundry shapes, sizes, and shades. Customers might order from the Whole Sexoid Catalog published by Orgasmaplus Biotech in Gene Gulch, California. Orgasmaplus might sell or rent sexoids that resemble various humans. You might favor a Woody Allen look-alike. Your neighbor might fancy a Madonna model. Each sexoid could come in low-, medium-, and high-energy versions. Perhaps we could select models with keen or scant senses of vision, smell, or taste. Some sexoids might have vocal chords; others might not. All sexoids would share one trait: a strong appetite to give and receive erotic pleasure. This passion would be built into their nerves, muscles, and organs.

What about intelligence? Mark Twain noted that the gap between the brightest and dullest humans is far greater than the gulf between some humans and apes. Should sexoids possess a minimal I.Q? If so, would sexoids be, in effect, sexually enslaved humans? Should sexoids possess a high I.Q? If so, would they refuse sex with most human companions?

Many options could be tried and tested. Perhaps the Advocate, Cosmopolitan, Playboy, and Popular Science would run ads for the latest models. In short, the sexoid could be whatever men and women carnally crave in private but chastely condemn in public. Could the sexoid be a unique animal, one that lessens human hypocrisy?

Reflective persons could debate how society might cope with sexoids. Where would sexoids eat and sleep? What would they do while humans earn a living or rest from pleasure? How would sexoids alter our families and workplaces? Would they have civil liberties? These questions co to reexamine our entire lives.

Is the sexoid merely a fun, quixotic dream? Perhaps it is. However, is the healthy urge to erase sexual misery wilder than the humanitarian quest to wipe out war, racism, or poverty? When we reflect upon sexoids, we see our, selves in a mirror.

If we use our imagination and our good humor, we can foresee sexoids improving the human lot in many ways: * High-quality erotic pleasure could be made available to every adult. Sexoids would be equal-opportunity companions unable to discriminate against humans based upon race, religion, or sexual orientation. * The rage that leads many people to engage in war, rape, and violence could be undercut. Sexoids could provide a safe physical release for people around the clock. * Sexual envy and jealousy, which poison many social relations, could evaporate. If someone resented you because of your sexoid, he or she could purchase a duplicate. * Population-growth control could be given a tremendous boost by sterile sexoids. * Sexually transmitted diseases could become history. Sexoids could be manufactured disease-free and incapable of catching human maladies. * People could be more productive on the job, in their hobbies, and with their social lives. Sexoids could save our species the enormous energy--mostly squandered--that we channel into sexual pursuit. * Forced prostitution, child abduction, and assorted sex crimes could be abolished. * Mean-spirited games--for example, harassing employees for sexual favors or pitting romantic suitors against each other--could be curtailed. Sexoids could make sex as available as air. There would be no need to fight for a limited resource. * Humans could feel better about themselves. Many people suffer from low self-esteem, partially because they do not entice the sexual partners of their choice. Sexoids could let everyone sexually unite with a pleasing companion.

Sexoids, it is safe to bet, would upset certain groups of people: * Men and women who use sex as a weapon to control others. * Religionists and prudes who hate the human body and sex, which they judge as sinful or filthy. (Ironically, these people probably need sexoids the most.) * People who think that society must repress sex in order to enforce a work ethic. * Advertisers who would find it difficult to force-feed consumer items to a relatively satisfied public. (I suspect they have a legitimate fear.)

Other people might object to sexoids for more humane reasons: they may insist that humans have no right to genetically alter humans or other animals, or they may feel that spiritual, romantic love and sex should be inseparable.

Sexoids, though science fiction today, force us to ponder tough questions. What is a human? What is sex? Do we truly want to fulfill our fantasies, or do we fear that our fantasies might come true? Will sexoids become a pro-choice issue? How should we use the awesome powers that genetics will give us? Where does genetic engineering end and social engineering begin? How far do we want new technologies to rewrite our ancient social codes?

Over the centuries, humanists have wrestled with emotionally charged sexual issues. We must struggle to make genetic engineering our servant, not our master!
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Title Annotation:genetic engineering of humans
Author:Bacard, Andre
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:1575
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