Skip the Dating--for a Good Time, Clone Yourself : Biology: Are men on the way out? One researcher says females are better off avoiding mutation-prone males in creating their offspring. But then, she's talking about amoebas.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It ranks up there with the world's other great unanswerable questions: Will Madonna's career ever get back on track? Are Roseanne and Tom going to reunite? When will Susan Lucci ever get her Emmy?

And now we have (drum roll, please): Why bother with sex?

OK, we guys know why.

But Rosemary Redfield, a Canadian evolutionary biologist, wants the females of the species to know that when their hormones are in hysterics, when their libido is wired, when they've got "making whoopee" on their brain cells, they should think twice about having sex.

Redfield, a researcher in the Department of Zoology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, wrote in the journal Nature that a female would be more likely to have genetically healthier offspring by not mixing her genes with those of a male, whose sperm are more likely to carry mutations than are eggs.

She was talking not about people but rather about hypothetical, computer-modeled species--lonely, dateless amoeba to you and me. Because we know of no single-cell spokescreatures available to comment, however, we interviewed humans.

"This is male-bashing at the molecular and biological level," Dennis Palumbo, a psychotherapist in private practice in Sherman Oaks, said of Redfield's findings.

Redfield, who was unavailable for comment, told the Washington Post that her ideas on sexual reproduction "do not apply to the vast majority of human males, who make many very important non-genetic contributions to their offspring."

Still, Palumbo asked: "Are we, as men, basically on the way out? It sounds like that.

"But on the other hand, male scientists have sort of been the voices of record for so many years that some part of me now thinks that this is an attempt by female researchers to balance the voices out there."

Helen E. Fisher, research associate in the department of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the author of "Anatomy of Love" (Ballantine, 1992), said the study by Redfield "is providing balance to the subject and pointing out that there are some maladaptive consequences to sex as well."

"It's more adaptive to clone yourself than it is to reproduce with a male partner who may introduce mutations and produce a more shoddy offspring," she added.

Too bad people can't be more like strawberries, Fisher said.

"Strawberries clone themselves when they are in the middle of a nice good patch. But when they get to the edge of the patch and they have to branch out into dangerous frontier, they reproduce sexually instead.

"And that is useful to them because they've got mutant and new kinds of strawberries that may survive in very unpredictable circumstances," she said.

"The same could be said of human beings. It has long been said that there is variety in offspring."

As far back as Darwin, scientists have argued that reproduction is possible through parthenogenesis, or virgin birth. Ellen Kriedman says Darwin be damned.

The author of "How Can We Light a Fire When the Kids Are Driving Us Crazy: A Guide for Parents to Be Lovers" (Villard, 1994) said any woman who has ever had an orgasm wouldn't want to put the kibosh on sex.

"There's nothing like it. It's the closet act you can engage in. It's intimacy. It's loving. It fulfills your need to be held and to be touched and to be connected with another human being," she said.

"Aside from the biological, it is psychologically and emotionally satisfying to be engaged in the sexual act."

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Palumbo said he doesn't like the notion of eliminating the "middleman"--or the sexual act--from procreation.

"There's already a growing body of literature delegitimizing the need for males. Our culture already suffers from the lack of fathers, a crucial aspect of the dysfunction in families. I know if I were a woman, I would be frustrated by how many men abrogate their responsibility as fathers."

Maybe, Palumbo said, Redfield's work "will be a clarion call for men to hang around," even though the biologist "was studying amoeba who missed out on intimate dinner dates, going to the movies and holding hands."

Christine Martin, a former erotic film actress and exotic dancer, said Redfield's sexual reproduction theory reeks of "female supremacy." Martin, who resides in New York, teaches a class in "How to Drive Your Woman Wild in Bed" at the Learning Annex in Los Angeles.

"Men have been battered by feminists and are confused by courtship and how to please women," she said, adding that Redfield's conclusions "are anti-male to me. And the fact that it is anti-sex is pretty anti-human because sex is not only for reproduction, it is for pleasure, relaxation and intimacy."

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Judith Krain, a graphic designer who through computer chats with men has found love and sex on the information superhighway, agreed.

"I think the theory is silly. If you have a child with a man who comes from a healthy gene pool and who is going to stick around, then certainly that is the optimal way to have children," said Krain, who is single and without children.

She has a proposal for women interested in sex without men: Plug into cyberspace.

"Some of the chats get very steamy," she said. "They're rated triple X. But they're also a very healthy and safe outlet for sexual release. I've heard that people even have cyborgasms--sexual release without physical sex.

"Forget biological studies," she said. "I'm having a wonderful time."

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