Features, Sex, Social Science

Keeping it Casual

Excerpted, with minor changes, from The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve, by Steve Stewart-Williams (2018. Cambridge University Press).

Consider the following joke – a favorite of the evolutionary psychologist Donald Symons.

An Irishman, an Italian, and an Iowan are arguing about which bar is the world’s best. “The best bar in the world is Paddy’s Pub in County Cork,” says the Irishman. “After you’ve bought two drinks at Paddy’s, the house stands you to a third.” “That’s a good bar,” says the Italian, “but not as good as Antonio’s in Old Napoli. At Antonio’s, for every drink you buy the bartender buys you another.” “Now, those sound like mighty fine bars,” says the Iowan, “but the best bar in the world is Bob’s Bar and Grill in Des Moines. When you go into Bob’s you get three free drinks and then you get to go in the back room and get laid.” The Irishman and the Italian are astonished to hear this, but they are forced to admit that Bob’s Bar and Grill must indeed be the best bar in the world. Suddenly, however, the Italian gets suspicious. “Wait a minute,” he says to the Iowan. “Did that actually happen to you personally?” “Well, no, not to me personally,” admits the Iowan. “But it actually happened to my sister.”

It’s a straightforward joke, but a gender-neutral alien scientist would struggle to get it. We only do because we’re familiar with certain stereotypes of the sexes: stereotypes about how much they value no-strings attached sex, how easily they can get it if they want it, and the extent to which they perceive it as a favor granted vs. a favor received. The joke therefore raises two questions. First, is there any truth in the stereotypes? And second, if there is, why?

The answer to the first question, in my view, is an unequivocal yes: A mountain of evidence suggests that the sexes do differ – on average – in their interest in casual sex and sexual variety. This evidence, which I explore in some depth in my new book The Ape That Understood the Universe, includes self-report survey responses, analyses of real-world behaviour, and anthropological and historical records.1 In this essay, though, I’d like to focus on the second question: the why question. Why are men more interested than women in uncommitted sex and sexual variety? On one side of the debate are those who argue that it’s all down to social pressure, socialization, and culture. On the other side are those who argue that, even if these factors nudge things around a little, or even a lot, the ultimate roots of the difference lie deep in our evolutionary past.

The Evolutionary Explanation

Let’s kick off with the evolutionary explanation. You’re probably familiar with the basics of the explanation, but a good way to make the logic crystal clear is to imagine that you live in a premodern society – the kind of society in which most of our evolution took place – and that your one and only goal in life is to pass as many of your genes as possible into the next generation. What would be the best way to achieve this goal? The answer, it turns out, depends a lot on whether you’re a man or a woman. If you’re a man, your thinking might go like this:

OK, the best way for me to spread my genes would be to have as many children as I can. Each child will need lots of parental care. So, one option would be to settle down with a fertile female, get her pregnant, and help raise a bunch of kids. On the other hand, if I’m particularly attractive to women, or for some other reason have lots of sexual opportunities, I could try my hand at a different approach: I could mate with as many women as possible. If I were to mate with, say, five women in a year, I could potentially have five kids. I probably wouldn’t be able to help care for them all, so some might not make it to adulthood. But some surely would, and more than likely I’d end up with more kids if I took this approach than if I limited myself to just one woman. And of course, I could always do a bit of both: some fathering and some philandering. At the very least, I shouldn’t be too picky about my casual sexual partners. After all, if I have a fling with a suboptimal partner, it’s no big deal – it costs me little and I’m back on the market again almost immediately. Good times!

Now, with the exception of the deranged fertility doctor who surreptitiously impregnated his clients with his own sperm instead of the husbands’ (true story), no one actually tries to figure out how they can pass on as many of their genes as possible. It’s easy, though, to imagine genes that push around men’s preferences, motivations, and emotions in such a way that they cause men to act as if they were trying to do exactly that: genes that increase or decrease sex drive, for instance, or that increase or decrease the tendency to bond. Any such genes would stand a good chance of being selected.

That’s the male half of the equation. Now, what if you were a woman who wanted to pass on as many genes as possible? Well in that case, your thinking might go something like this:

Just like a man, the best way for me to spread my genes would be to have as many kids as possible. But I could never have as many as the most successful men. Whereas a man who mates with five women in a year can potentially have five children, if I mate with five men in a year, I’ll only have as many children as I would if I’d mated with one. Sure, there may be some benefits to having multiple partners. But nine times out of ten I’d be better off if I held out for a super-fit guy who’d give me super-fit kids, or a good provider who’d help me look after the kids – or if possible, a guy who’d do both. At the very least, I should keep well away from any man who clearly doesn’t measure up. After all, whereas a man who hooks up with a suboptimal partner can be back in the game straight away, if I hook up with a suboptimal partner, it could tie up my reproductive resources for at least nine months – and if I decide to keep the kid, for several years after that.

Again, no sane person would ever think like this, but again, they don’t need to for the theory to work. Notice that I’ve tried to word the above in such a way as to avoid a common confusion: the idea that, according to evolutionary psychologists, men are only interested in racking up notches on the bedpost, whereas women are only interested in snagging a lifelong mate. This view is doubly wrong. First, to say that men are more interested than women in casual sex is not to say that men are any less interested in long-term, committed relationships. Most men are just as interested, which fits nicely with the idea that pair-bonding and biparental care are an important part of humans’ evolved reproductive repertoire. Whatever the reason, though, both sexes are capable of falling in love and forming long-term relationships, and this suggests that long-term relationships must generally have been adaptive for both sexes: men as well as women. The desire for casual sex is just one component of men’s mating psychology.2

Second, the fact that men are more interested in casual sex doesn’t imply that women are not interested. Many are, and most evolutionary psychologists argue that casual sex was sometimes adaptive for women in our ancestral past. Casual mates may have provided meat or other resources, they may have helped out with the kids, or they may have had better genes than the guy who was willing to get serious. But racking up sexual conquests didn’t boost women’s fitness in the immediate and powerful way that it did for men. We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that on average, women today are less interested than men in racking up sexual conquests. Moreover, given that even a single roll in the hay could potentially have saddled a woman with a nine-month pregnancy and several years of childcare duties, we shouldn’t be surprised that women have higher standards than men for casual sexual partners. Madonna once described herself as “selectively promiscuous.” This is probably a good description of most women’s approach to casual sex (the occasional drunken mistake notwithstanding).

The Sociocultural Explanation

That, at any rate, is the evolutionary psychologists’ story. There’s a rival narrative, however, and that’s the idea that the sex differences come not from evolution but from culture. Here’s how this version of events might go. When it comes to casual sex, men and women are not playing on a level playing field. It’s true, of course, that making a baby entails a greater biological expenditure for women than for men: Women get pregnant; women give birth; women nurse the young. However, unlike other animals, women know this. They know that whenever they have sex just for fun, they’re playing Russian roulette with an unwanted pregnancy. Even if men and women had identical sexual desires, this would surely make casual sex less appetizing for women. Admittedly, pregnancy was a bigger worry before we had reliable contraception. But it’s still going to weigh on women’s minds more than it does on men’s.

And pregnancy isn’t the only concern. Men are larger and stronger than women, and more inclined to violence. This means that a woman places herself at a greater physical risk by going off with a man she doesn’t know than a man does with a woman. She also places herself at a greater social risk. Even today, there’s a sexual double standard in the West: Men who sleep around are viewed as heroes or lovable rogues, whereas women are viewed as sluts and “not marriage material.” As Joan Rivers put it, “A man can sleep around, no questions asked, but if a woman makes 19 or 20 mistakes she’s a tramp.” Again, this is surely going to have an impact on women’s sexual behavior. It’s not evolution; it’s just basic human rationality. People weigh up the costs and benefits of casual sex, and act accordingly.

Besides, even if men and women do have differing sexual appetites, why assume that these come from evolution? Our appetites are powerfully influenced by the culture around us; that’s why people in some cultures think that eating insects is about the most disgusting thing a person could do, whereas people in others think that eating bacon or cheese deserves that honor. Western culture is constantly teaching men that casual sex is bacon but teaching women that it’s a fried grasshopper (or vice versa if you prefer the grasshopper). Girls are taught to keep their legs closed; boys are encouraged to sow their wild oats. Girls are taught that sex without love is a meaningless experience, boys that, as meaningless experiences go, it’s a pretty damn good one. The sexual double standard might initially have appeared because parents worried that, if their daughter got pregnant outside of wedlock, she’d be left holding the baby – or that they would. But however it got off the ground, it soon became an unreasoned social norm: a moral belief that people soaked up from the culture around them and accepted independently of any consideration of the costs or benefits of casual sex.

Certainly, times have changed. The arrival of the pill in the 1960s greatly reduced the risks of casual sex for women, and as women started moving into the workplace, they no longer needed to barter their virginity and sexual favors for a slice of a man’s paycheck. And just as we’d expect, premarital and recreational sex have become more common and more acceptable for women since that time. But culture changes only slowly, and the earlier attitudes linger on to some degree. In as much as this drives the sex difference in casual sex, it’s not evolution or rational thinking. It’s just a cultural habit.

Who’s Right?

So, we’ve got two possible explanations for the sex difference: the evolutionary explanation and the sociocultural alternative. It’s time to start sorting the fact from the fiction, the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, and the women from the girls. Let’s begin with the question of cultural change. It’s clearly true that, since women got the pill and started earning their own money, casual sex has become more common and more acceptable for women. To a lot of people, this is proof positive that the casual sex gap couldn’t be due to evolution. But the conclusion doesn’t follow. The change shows that the gap couldn’t be due only to evolution; it doesn’t show that it’s due only to culture. And just to be clear about this, no evolutionary psychologist denies that the pill and other environmental factors affect people’s willingness to engage in casual sex. Of course they do! The only reason they wouldn’t is if people’s behavior were completely unaffected by the probable costs and benefits of different courses of action in their immediate environment. But no evolutionary psychologist would make such a ridiculous claim. The claim they do make is that the costs and benefits aren’t the whole story. Environmental variables don’t operate on a blank slate; they operate on minds that are somewhat differentiated by sex. To understand men and women’s behavior, you have to take into account not only the environment but also the evolved sex differences.

With this in mind, men and women’s sexual behavior since the 1960s actually fits better with the evolutionary psychologists’ narrative than with its sociocultural rival. The pill removes one of the main risks of casual sex for women: the risk of getting pregnant and having to raise an unplanned child without the help of the father. Despite this, more than a half century after it first appeared, women are still less willing than men to engage in casual sex. This doesn’t prove that the Nurture Only theory is false; it’s no doubt possible to come up with a non-evolutionary explanation for the tenacity of the sex difference. But the tenacity of the sex difference isn’t what we would have predicted on the basis of the Nurture Only theory. That should make us wary of any post hoc explanation for the persistence of the casual sex gender gap.

Other evidence presents a similar challenge to the Nurture Only view. Consider, for instance, the sexual behavior of lesbians. Unlike straight women, lesbians don’t have to worry about getting pregnant or about being alone with a more physically powerful partner. If these worries were all that kept women from jumping into bed with every good-looking stranger, then lesbians would have more sexual partners than their straight female counterparts. As various studies have demonstrated, however, they don’t; they have fewer partners.3 This removes yet another block from the Jenga tower of the Nurture Only theory. It suggests that the casual sex gender gap couldn’t just be a product of cost–benefit analyses related to pregnancy risk or personal safety.

It doesn’t yet entitle us, though, to conclude that the gender gap is innate. After all, pill-takers and lesbians might simply be following the casual-sex gender norms of their society, or the dictates of their gender-role socialization as children. These are not unreasonable hypotheses; both, however, face formidable – and I would argue fatal – challenges. For one thing, the social pressures don’t all point in the direction presupposed by the Nurture Only theory. Research has generally failed to demonstrate a consistent or pervasive sexual double standard in the modern Western world. Although the belief in the sexual double standard is still widespread, the double standard itself is much less so. Indeed, some people these days hold a reverse double standard, such that they judge men who sleep around more harshly than they judge women.4 Certainly, “slut” is an insulting term. But so is “prude,” and women who don’t engage in casual sex are sometimes called that – by men who want to sleep with them, for a start. And while “slut” is usually reserved for women, there are plenty of pejorative terms for men who sleep around: womanizer, dirty old man, letch, sleaze, “worthless, lazy, good-for-nothing, womanizing asshole” – and so on.5 At the very least, society gives us mixed messages. And yet the sex difference in casual sex persists.

More than that, the difference persists even when society pushes against it. As Donald Symons points out, men’s stronger interest in casual sex and sexual novelty has survived society’s best efforts to eradicate it.6 It has survived the efforts of parents, partners, and moralists to inculcate men with a healthy respect for monogamy. It has survived Christian moral teachings and threats of eternal damnation. It has survived cultural and legal institutions that endorse and incentivize lifelong monogamous marriage. It has survived worries that one might lose one’s marriage, one’s children, or even one’s livelihood over an adulterous affair that won’t stay hidden. And it has survived pop psychological attempts to stigmatize men’s desire for casual sex by blaming it on psychosocial immaturity, psychological maladjustment, repressed homosexuality, low self-esteem, fear of commitment, a Peter Pan syndrome, misogyny, male entitlement, toxic masculinity, and rape culture. Meanwhile, women’s greater reticence about casual sex has survived the efforts of some feminists and other thought leaders to persuade women to cast off the shackles of patriarchy and match men in the casual sex arena. This is all rather awkward for the Nurture Only theory. It suggests that, rather than being a product of culture, the sex difference in attitudes to casual sex often emerges in spite of culture.

Arguably, though, the most persuasive argument against the Nurture Only view is that sex differences in sexual inclinations and choosiness can be found in many individuals who have no gender norms, no socialization, and little in the way of culture: that rather sizeable group, so often overlooked by psychologists, known as other animals. The differences aren’t found in all other species, but they are found in many, including most birds, mammals, and reptiles. And when we find the differences in other animals, evolution is the only reasonable explanation. Why should humans be different?

It’s logically possible, of course, that the differences are products of evolution in squirrels, turkeys, and frogs, but of learning and culture in Homo sapiens. But it hardly seems likely. In other species, the differences appear when the ceiling number of offspring for males is higher than that for females. Humans meet this condition, and our species presumably evolved from earlier species that displayed the normal sex differences. As such, what the Nurture Only theory asks us to believe is that, in our lineage and ours alone, natural selection eliminated the normal sex differences, despite the fact that the selection pressure that initially created them was still operative. Why would it do that? It’s particularly perplexing given that, when we look around the world, we still find the sex differences that selection supposedly eliminated. Thus, the Nurture Only theory asks us to believe not only that selection eliminated the differences for reasons unknown, but that learning and culture then coincidentally reproduced exactly the same differences in every culture on record. This is not a compelling thesis.

Cultural forces clearly influence people’s willingness to engage in casual sex, and to some extent their desire to do so as well. But the idea that culture creates these sex differences out of nothing not only clashes with the available evidence, it clashes with everything we know about how evolution works.

 

Steve Stewart-Williams is an Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, and author of the book The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve. Follow him on Twitter @SteveStuWill

Notes

1 See, e.g., Baumeister, Catanese, and Vohs (2002); Betzig (1986); Buss and Schmitt (1993); Schmitt and 118 Members of the International Sexuality Description Project (2003)
2 Buss and Schmitt (1993); Stewart-Williams and Thomas (2013).
3 See, e.g., Bell and Weinberg (1978).
4 Allison and Risman (2013); Stewart-Williams, Butler, and Thomas (2017).
5 The quote is from Ken Wishnia’s novel Soft Money (2015), p. 187.
6 Symons (1979).

References

Allison, R., & Risman, B. J. (2013). A double standard for “hooking up”: How far have we come toward gender equality? Social Science Research, 42, 1191-1206.

Baumeister, R. F., Catanese, K. R., & Vohs, K. D. (2002). Is there a gender difference in strength of sex drive? Theoretical views, conceptual distinctions, and a review of relevant evidence. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 242-273.

Bell, A. P., & Weinberg, M. S. (1978). Homosexualities: A study of diversity among men and women. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Betzig, L. L. (1986). Despotism and differential reproduction: A Darwinian view of history. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine.

Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204-232.

Schmitt, D. P., & 118 Members of the International Sexuality Description Project. (2003). Universal sex differences in the desire for sexual variety: Tests from 52 nations, 6 continents, and 13 islands. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 85-104.

Stewart-Williams, S. (2018). The ape that understood the universe: How the mind and culture evolve. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Stewart-Williams, S., Butler, C. A., & Thomas, A. G. (2017). Sexual history and present attractiveness: People want a mate with a bit of a past, but not too much. Journal of Sex Research, 54, 1097-1105.

Stewart-Williams, S., & Thomas, A. G. (2013). The ape that thought it was a peacock: Does evolutionary psychology exaggerate human sex differences? Psychological Inquiry, 24, 137-168.

Symons, D. (1979). The evolution of human sexuality. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Wishnia, K. (2015). Soft money: A Filomena Buscarsela mystery. Oakland CA: PM Press.

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75 Comments

  1. Pingback: 1 – Keeping it Casual | Traffic.Ventures Social

  2. Jalcon says

    But to put it in perspective, although most men would like to have casual sex few men actually do. The vast majority of sex happens within sexually exclusive relationships. That’s how the human mating system works. I doubt if many, if any, men in this comment section have much casual sex.

    • Harland says

      I love how this comment harshly judges a man’s value for NOT being promiscuous and racking up sexual partners. I thought we were supposed to have progressed beyond that?

    • Aylwin says

      To have casual sex you need a partner who wants casual sex. The reason there’s not more casual sex is that one side of the (heterosexual) equation is reluctant. One of the consequences of this is prostitution (massively asymmetric towards men paying for sex). Another consequence is that of all the casual sex going on, it is the attractive men who get a disproportionate share, given the fact it’s a vagina-owners market (a “five” woman will be able to get a “six” man for casual sex, a “six” man will sleep with a “four”, “five”, and upwards (though he’s got the problem the he’s got to find a willing “six” for casual sex when that “six” can get a “seven”).

      • Alan D McIntire says

        I think you’re right on the button. BEFORE the Aids epidemic started to run rampant among homosexual males, I read articles stating that many of them had over 100 sexual partners in a year. That was a case of naturally promiscuous males NOT having to look for naturally monogamous females for sex.

        On the OTHER hand, lesbians, unlike their male counterparts, are NOT innately promiscuous.

    • NickG says

      >The vast majority of sex happens within sexually exclusive relationshipsI doubt if many, if any, men in this comment section have much casual sex.<

      I doubt if either of these statements are true.

    • puddleg58 says

      Define casual. If you are in a longer-term relationship you are in a position to know whether it is exclusive. If you have had a series of short-term ones you are taking the exclusivity more on trust, if you care at all. Casual sex needn’t mean “polyamory” or awareness of other partners, just caring less about exclusivity, not worrying about retaining the services of your partner. The existence or otherwise of competitors is not needed for an excounter to be casual. Prostitution is surely casual sex, and does not seem to be uncommon, though I do lack experience of it or statistics on it..

    • Mark Simmons says

      Yes, I agree. Actually, in evolutionary terms, it makes more sense to stay loyal to one partner and love and care for them and your offspring then abandon them and sleep with other women. The evolutionary theory of promiscuity also falls down when contraception is introduced. We know for a fact that children in families with two parents fair better than those with just the mother. Those men who do sleep around have little respect for women and childishly think that doing so improves their standing amongst males friends.

      • Jorge says

        “in evolutionary terms, it makes more sense to stay loyal to one partner and love and care for them and your offspring then abandon them and sleep with other women.”

        This is not necessarily true, and is an area of intense debate among evolutionary social scientists. The payoffs from any strategy almost certainly depend on the details of the environment. At the very least, they will be frequency dependent.

        “The evolutionary theory of promiscuity also falls down when contraception is introduced.”

        The evolutionary payoffs, perhaps (although, that, again, is debated), but not necessarily the behavior in the present. I’m not up on the latest on this, but Daniel Perusse did a lot of work on this back in the day. A google scholar search of his name should bring up an accessible pdf of some of his work.

    • Only with prostitutes (and that was quite some time ago), never beyond! With prostitutes it’s another matter of course, for both parties. Sometimes, I try to imagine my friends, parents other family, of ever having had casual sex, with casual friends, the screwing around thus, I can’t, really !!, am I so naive, and unknowing? Maybe!

  3. Don Giovanni says

    “I doubt if many, if any, men in this comment section have much casual sex.”

    ROTFL!

    Men who write intellectual rants at night on anonymous discussion boards of obscure online journals not getting lots of strange?

    Blimey. You could be right.

    • Trig B. says

      Hey! Hey @DonGiovanni … if that is your real name … WHICH I DOUBT:

      I’ll have you know I write my intellectual rants on anonymous discussion boards of obscure online journals DURING THE DAY.

      I reserve my nights for my model plane building, Magic the Gathering tournaments, and rollicking sexcapades with models and actresses.

      And by “models and actresses”, I mean … well, if you’re here, you know what I mean. But it’s casual! Very casual!

    • Harland says

      “at night”? We once again observe in the wild the ignorant American who thinks her country is the center of the world and nobody lives anywhere else, certainly in any other time zones.

      It’s 6:30am in London so it’s very doubtful this commenter is British. She’s an American using British slang – eww. Call me crazy but the Americans that do that are always very douchey oikophobes.

  4. Robert Darby says

    Very readable introduction to what promises to be an interesting book. I particularly liked the observation that “men’s stronger interest in casual sex and sexual novelty has survived society’s best efforts to eradicate it”, a useful corrective to the “straw man” point made earlier, that boys were encouraged to sow their wild oats. I can’t actually think of any society in which rampant male promiscuity was actively encouraged, and in most (especially those based on the monotheistic religions that arose in the Middle East) the dominant attitude has mostly been strongly anti-sex and barely willing to tolerate it even for the limited purpose of procreation. Even in the generally sex-positive world of ancient Greece and Rome there were elaborate rules governing sexual relations, and although the Romans (at least under the early Empire) allowed great latitude to male sexual behaviour, women (especially among the upper classes) also had considerable freedom – far more than in Greece. Of course sexual promiscuity among males has generally been tolerated and indulged to a far greater extent than among females, but that is not quite the same thing as active encouragement.

    The only cultures that positively encouraged male sexual promiscuity (not to say rapacity in some cases) were the libertine subcultures that flourished briefly during the Restoration and mid- to late eighteenth century in England, and during the period of sexual liberation in the 1960s and 70s that followed the availability of the pill (as Steve points out, and as Hera Cook demonstrates in her book, The Long Sexual Revolution). All these periods were followed by strong puritanical backlashes, notably in the Victorian era and the present day. Modern Anglophone feminism grew out of the late Victorian campaigns against the then current policies for controlling venereal disease (involving compulsory inspection of women thought to be prostitutes) and the demand that men be made subject to the same strict rules of sexual propriety and restraint that applied to women. It might have been different in France: apparently it was not that unusual (at least in late nineteenth and early twentieth century) for a father to take his son to a brothel in order to introduce him to adult sex – though in many cases (if Proust is to be believed) plenty of teenage boys found their way to such places on their own.

    • You are right that we should make a distinction between uneven discouragement (i.e. women discouraged more than men) and encouragement of male promiscuity. The latter seems much harder to find in past ages.

      As a counterpoint, you might consider that today you can find behaviours that reinforce men’s interest in casual sex. Groups of young men in their early twenties who are friends would often cheer and congratulate the one member that successfully managed to have sex with a desirable woman. It is a kind of camaraderie that does not make the members inside the group perceive each other as enemies but as compatriots on a quest to ‘get laid’ or ‘to score’. This behaviour can be readily seen on the British Isles, but I’d be surprised if American fraternities would be any different. Of course, group acknowledgement, respect, or even jealousy of other, less successful members work as incentives to promiscuity.

      It is, however, a behaviour that is admittedly restricted to a certain age group and maybe even to certain cultures (would, say, Chinese men do it? I’ve no idea.) and it cannot be applied to explain marital unfaithfulness. The proponents of the socially based explanation for the disparity in preference for promiscuity could point to this as to a proof that such positive encouragement for men exists in the modern society. It is dubious to me how much it is a symptom of a larger trend rather than an anomaly that is specific to a certain fraction of the population.

    • Burlats de Montaigne says

      Wasn’t the stag night originally all about bidding farewell to an acknowledged period of licentious promiscuity? If such behaviour wan’t “encouraged” why would it’s passing be so publicly mourned – with all one’s male friends?

    • Matt A. says

      Just a point of order. The Romans were HUGE prudes. Not to give anyone ammo to criticize religion or a particular one but, the idea that they were lecherous sex addicts is a diagnosis of Christian proselytizers arguing why Rome fell.

  5. Morgan says

    The article is interesting so is likely to be the book.

    However, viewing sex as unequivocally leading to pregnancy is too unsophisticated a notion to have, imo, sufficient real-world merit, now or ever.

    • puddleg58 says

      An activity only needs to increase the “hazard” of a result to be associated with it – and in this case, correlation does equal causality. Without sex there is zero pregnancy, with sex there is an increase, and this is quite enough for evolution.

  6. Heike says

    Second, the fact that men are more interested in casual sex doesn’t imply that women are not interested. Many are

    Yyyyyesss…you are partially correct here. Some of them are interested. BUT they are only interested in the top 5-10% of men. The bottom 90% of men are about as appetizing as a bowl of soup with a dead mouse floating in it.

    We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that on average, women today are less interested than men in racking up sexual conquests

    A key that opens many locks is very valuable. A lock that can be opened by many keys is not so valuable.

    Madonna once described herself as “selectively promiscuous.”

    Yup. You think she had sex with anyone but the top 0.1% of the male population?

    lesbians would have more sexual partners than their straight female counterparts

    LBD, Lesbian Bed Death. Many lesbians have very little sex, some none at all.

    Certainly, “slut” is an insulting term

    The Chinese word for slut, jianren, literally means “cheap person”. Jian means “inexpensive” or “lowly”. The implication is that a jianren is a woman who has something highly valuable which she foolishly gives away.

    there are plenty of pejorative terms for men who sleep around: womanizer, dirty old man, letch, sleaze, “worthless, lazy, good-for-nothing, womanizing asshole”

    I think you missed important context here. These are all terms for men with low mate value who use deception to fool women into sex. The deceiver is a valid strategy used by many species, not just humans. It’s the motivation for male feminists – why do you think so many of them got accused of rape during the #metoo movement? (And it’s “lech” as in lecher or lecherous.)

    Don’t believe me? Try this when you’re walking around with one of your female friends. The next time you see a man with very low mate value – you know, one of those internet atheist types – point to him and tell your friend, “Oooh, your and his kid would look so cute! and watch the look of utter revulsion and horror come across her face. Don’t be surprised if she has to stop and puke in a trashcan.

    Woman are programmed with an extreme disgust reaction to low value males, and are never afraid to tell the world about it. This makes perfect sense. Mating with one and bearing children who bear his genes and are hence unlikely to reproduce themselves is one of the worst things a woman can do with her lifespan.

    • The point you make about ‘extreme disgust reaction to low value males’ is indeed a very interesting one. It broadly agrees with my own observations of social situations and the outcomes of such little mean experiments as the one you describe (‘Oooh, you and his kid…’).

      Quite a few times I remember teasing female friends about the attention they get from what I knew were undesirable males for them, suggesting that these guys would do just about anything to get laid with them, not excluding romantic dinner dates and showering with rose pellets. The looks on their faces–well, you might guess it–are of sheer horror and disgust. Sometimes they even also tell you that they are going to puke. Exactly what you suggest.

      If you can pull it off without being creepy, the reactions are at least amusing to observe. But there is something telling about this, because men to not show a gut, and so apparently more basic and visceral, reaction if you suggest that unattractive women are hitting on them. Or so it seems.

    • Ghatanathoah says

      @Heike

      The problem with your argument is that it is based on the premise that women do not want sex, sex is something they use as a bargaining tool in order to obtain other things they want (i.e. commitment from men with high mate-value, whatever the heck that means). According to this premise, women who have lots of casual sex are fools because they are using sex to “purchase” a low value man instead of a high value one. They are the sexual equivalent of someone who buys a cheap car that will break down soon and need to be replaced instead of saving a bit longer for a sturdier model.

      This premise is faulty for a couple reasons. First of all, most women do want and enjoy sex, even if they do so to a somewhat lesser degree than men. So a woman who has a lot of casual sex isn’t giving up something valuable, they are doing something valuable. Keeping up with the car analogy, a woman who has frequent sex is like someone who needs a car and buys one, whereas a woman who doesn’t is like someone who needs a car, but is so scared of getting ripped off that she puts off buying it for an unreasonably long time, and is massively inconvenienced as a result.

      Secondly, you are treating “mate value” as something objective, when it is mostly subjective. The majority of women I know would find an “internet atheist type” reasonably attractive because most of the women I know are also Internet atheist types. People have very different interests and personalities. Dating isn’t a bargaining game where you try to negotiate optimum value. It’s a searching game where you try to find the optimum match. Even for short term, casual sex, someone you have a lot in common with is often more attractive than someone who is physically handsome, but whom you have less in common with.

      I suspect that your female friends who have that disgusted reaction to someone with (subjectively, to them) low-mate value are just reacting with disgust at the idea of having sex with someone they find physically unattractive. You don’t need to read anything deeper than that into it.

      • Peter from Oz says

        @ Ghatanathoah

        A fine comment. Too many people over-analyse these things. Some people like more casual sex than others, and at different times. It is wise in general not to treat casual sex as a good thing, but rather as somehting that happens.
        I am amused at the idea that some posters here have forwarded that if a woman has sex, she is somehow ”soiled goods”. I’m pretty certain that if a woman has sex, she can in fact still function as normal. She can even have sex again, either with the same man or a different chappy. As you say, this is not wasting her time if she enjoys the activity or if she gains something from it other than pure sexual satisfaction.
        All this stuff about 5s going after 6’s, etc is utter toss.

  7. There are a lot of problems that I have with this essay, but I’ll stick to the most clear cut ones: birth control pills and lesbians.

    First, birth control pills. These do greatly decrease the risk of an unwanted pregnancy if they are used consistently. But they also come with risks of their own. From the first Google result for “birth control pills side effects”:

    “Common side effects for oral contraceptives include: intermenstrual spotting, nausea, breast tenderness. headaches and migraine, weight gain, mood changes, missed periods, decreased libido, vaginal discharge, [and] changes to eyesight for those using contact lenses”

    https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290196.php

    One side effect from that list deserves special emphasis: decreased libido. If the most common method for avoiding an unintended pregnancy can cause a bunch of unpleasant side effects *and* can make the user less interested in sex in the first place, then it’s hardly surprising that the pill has failed to completely erase sex differences in this area. Decreased libido is listed as a possible side effect for all hormonal birth control methods, by the way.

    Second, lesbians. More recent data paints a more complicated picture and shows that looking at just the average number of sex partners can be misleading. According to the National Survey of Family Growth (summarized here: https://contexts.org/blog/an-unequal-distribution-of-partners-gays-versus-straights/), compared to straight women, lesbians are more likely to have had zero sexual partners in the past year, less likely to have had one partner, and more likely to have had 2 or 4+ partners. So it seems that lesbians are, in fact, more likely to be promiscuous than straight women, but they are also more likely to not have any partners at all. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I don’t think this can tell us much about heterosexual sexual behavior, because clearly other factors are at work.

    • But birth control pills are not the only method; we now have Nuvaring, the shot, and IUD’s. Every woman is different and all methods have side effects at first, but most women prefer that over an unwanted pregnancy.

      • Nuvaring, the shot, and hormonal IUDs have nearly identical lists of possible side effects to the pill, including decreased libido. Copper IUDs don’t have hormonal side effects, but do have risks involving heavier menstrual bleeding and cramps, among other things.

        Still, I admit that women who use copper IUDs are something like a control group. But [they’re a small minority of the female population](https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/contraceptive-use-united-states), so we shouldn’t expect them to have much of an impact on broader sexual mores.

  8. Jezza says

    I struggle with the concept of more men than women engaging in casual sex. Surely, if forty couples engaged in casual sex, then forty men and forty women would be involved? I think the big unasked question is, “WHY is the sex casual?” The answer may differ according to the sex of the respondent.

    • Jeeves says

      “I struggle with the concept of more men than women engaging in casual sex. Surely, if forty couples engaged in casual sex, then forty men and forty women would be involved?”

      What if 40 of the men have casual sex with 1 woman?

  9. Imgoingtobed says

    “So, we’ve got two possible explanations for the sex difference”

    No, what we’ve got is a false claim that “evolutionary explanation and the sociocultural alternative” are the only two options.

    Anyway, with the STD rate of sexually active persons and the number of those having incurable STD, I think we might be having the wrong discussion.

    STDs that are linked to deadly cancers, alzheimer’s, and other nasty issues would be virtually eradicated if humans would opt for a ONE partner life. You need self control, commitment and a clean, life long partner.

    How ’bout we start thinking about the impressionable young people who ruin their sexual health before they finish university? (heck, before they get there.)

    What if we teach the realities of sex like we do any other potentially deadly subject?
    STD’s are NOT “Ok, everybody has them”
    NO, everybody doesn’t and those who do are SICK, not healthy, you are damaged. OK?

    Accept it and stop pretending STD is the new black.

    I shouldn’t have had to watch my very good friend die of AIDS when I was 14.
    My GYN nurse shouldn’t have to be in tears wondering how she got cancerous HPV when she had every vaccination to prevent it.
    We shouldn’t have blind babies, dead babies, brain damaged babies and of course the babies that will never even get to grow up to experience an STD free life…. because of preventable illness!

    If evolution is supposed to make people more enlightened, we’re going the wrong way.

    Men like sex. It feels good. Duh. Evolution and culture have nothing to do with it.

    Women want to connect with someone.

    WHY? because we were created that way. Yes, c.r.e.a.t.e.d. that way.

    But you’d rather believe we are the product of an accident and that all our mutations and diseases are going to magically turn into good things that make us super people. hahahaha. no.

    I saw a grown man, a “liberal” minded “feminist”, kick a woman, a STRANGER, the other day because they hold different opinions. Baby, if you think the human race is evolving, you’ve got blinders on.

    We are a dying race.

    • Lert345 says

      ImGoingToBed

      Because they have been given the impression by the education system and society that prophylactics are 100% effective. Statistically, the more traffic you get, the more likely you are to get infected. It is basic good hygiene to limit the number of cars using your driveway.

  10. AC Harper says

    An interesting article which I’m sure most people will have firm opinions about. One additional factor I’d like to see more widely discussed (perhaps it is in the full book) is the extension beyond the nature/nurture debate.

    The relatively recent paper “Top 10 Replicated Findings from Behavioural Genetics” includes the finding that “Most measures of the ‘environment’ show significant genetic influence” – which I paraphrase to mean that there is nature, nurture affected by nature, and then other environmental factors. To consider only Nature OR Nurture is a gross oversimplification.

    • tomoncapecod says

      Genes can only react in an “environment”. Writing heuristic software is very challenging. Creating heuristics genes must has been more so. The known, the unknown and not knowing the unknown.

    • The to 10 behavioural genetics findings are behind a paywall. Not fair to the non-university crowd to cite it.

      • AC Harper says

        If your browser accepts the ‘Unpaywall’ extension you can download the entire paper for free and legally.

  11. Farris says

    First don’t tell that joke on campus.
    Very interesting well written article. I did find it a bit strange the author failed to mention: 1. that 3rd world women will occasionally use prolonged breast feeding as a form of birth control, 2. The role of the prevalence of testosterone and 3. the role of STDs (mentioned in a previous post).

    • Larry Siegel says

      I’m glad I’m not on campus. That is a very mild joke. I usually tell it as an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman (who is the one with the bar where you get laid) and “my sister does it all the time.”

  12. Ghatanathoah says

    I think the main problem with ev-psych explanations, at least in popular culture, is that they go straight from “the are strong selection pressures for women to engage in less casual sex than men” to “women are programmed by evolution with an innate desire to have less casual sex than men.” It’s possible, and likely, that evolution was more subtle than that.

    For instance, there’s the orgasm gap. Women orgasm less frequently than me do. During casual sex they may orgasm half as much as men do. This probably explains a lot of women’s disinterest in casual sex. Even if women want to get their rocks off just as much as men, if they are more likely to fail than men they will probably try less often. I don’t know if this has ever been studied, but I suspect that men who, for some reason or another, have difficulty orgasming, probably have less casual sex than the average man.

    Even if the orgasm gap explains 100% of the difference in promiscuity, this doesn’t discredit the evolutionary explanation. Maybe the mechanism that evolution used to make women less promiscuous was making it harder for them to orgasm, rather than directly programming them to desire casual sex less.

    • puddleg58 says

      I’m also wanting to ask, never mind fitness, what about sexual selection? That could be reinforcing the opposite of natural selection in this argument. If men “like” women to behave a certain way, and women “like” men to behave another way, these sexually dimorphic behaviours will be conserved and amplified in their offspring. This can’t go forward without being consistent with fitness, but is surely modifying the outcome, and even gives a mechanism whereby cultural values – if they are sincerely held by the young – can shape evolution.

      • Jorge says

        “If men “like” women to behave a certain way, and women “like” men to behave another way, these sexually dimorphic behaviours will be conserved and amplified in their offspring.”

        There are multiple frequency dependent strategies within each sex.

    • Jorge says

      “I think the main problem with ev-psych explanations, at least in popular culture, is that they go straight from “the are strong selection pressures for women to engage in less casual sex than men” to “women are programmed by evolution with an innate desire to have less casual sex than men.” It’s possible, and likely, that evolution was more subtle than that.”

      That’s a strawman. I’m not aware of any serious evolutionary psychologist (or evolutionary ecologist, or any other Darwinian social scientist, for that matter) who advocates the simplistic model you offer. Virtually all of the interesting work coming from evolutionary scholars studying human sexual behavior in the past four decades at least has been on the subtlety you suggest is not there.

  13. Lert345 says

    There have been a number of studies comparing student relationships across several universities. A casual hookup culture was more common in the colleges where women outnumbered men. Where men outnumbered women, long term relationships dominated. This adds some credence to environment influences and competition among the genders.

    • tomoncapecod says

      So let me see if I have this right – When women have more mates to choose from and can therefor find a closer match to what they desire, the are happier with their chose and stay with them.

      • David says

        A second point to consider (if I remeber it correctly). A study of males and females living in a ghetto. The successful males all have the ability to get out of the ghetto (the top 30% of males escape). This leaves a much greater number of females competing for a smaller number of non-sucessful males. What was observed was the females became much more sexually aggressive to compete for the males attention. Think twerking….

  14. A bit like trade, isn’t it generally hard for heterosexuals to suggest men have more sex than women? Sure, there’s prostitution in which there’s perhaps a few more men than women having sex, but it seems doubtful men boast of such sexual exploits any more than they’d boast of the number of porn videos they’ve masturbated to.

  15. thatsmysecretcap says

    These discussions frequently leave out a key point that ought to be included. Why might a man disdain a woman who has slept around? Why would virgin women be prized? Is there any fundamental difference between men and women that could justify societal preference for women who save themselves for a committed mate? The answer is that in times past women could always be perfectly certain that the child that they pushed out of their body carried their genes. Men could never be completely certain of that. There are always plenty of anecdotes of the neighbor’s wife telling him in a fit of rage that their fair haired children do not in fact take after great grandfather, but they do take after the local blacksmith who happens to be a gorgeous flaxen haired specimen of masculinity. This is a fundamental difference that can explain different behaviors and attitudes. The feminists like to remind us that men can’t understand what it is like to be a woman constantly afraid of the sexually and physically aggressive monsters that surround her. I admit that I can’t truly empathize with that. Where women have a blind spot that I have yet to see acknowledged, is that men have a existential dread associated with the idea of unwillingly investing their life into another man’s child. Not only that, but the idea that he could not have any true children at all.

    If a woman is promiscuous, a man that commits to her runs the risk that his entire life’s investment is wasted on another man’s child(ren).

    If a man is promiscuous, a woman runs the risk that he may not provide for her to his fullest extent. She can still be assured that the children she birthed are her own.

    Which of those situations poses the worse evolutionary danger?

    • Interesting. But what about men who date women who already have kids and look after them as their own? I am a woman and personally would never date a guy with kids. But it seems like many men do date and marry women with children from another father.

      • thatsmysecretcap says

        First, they are doing that knowingly, so the dread of uncertainty isn’t there.
        Second, given the choice between equal women with and without children in tow, very few men will do what you have described. The fact that men do that doesn’t mean that it is what they want, it does mean that is the best they thought they could do.
        Third, these discussions always generalize and there will always be a small percentage of outliers that buck the trend for an unknowable combination of reasons. Thus why these types of discussions need to be very careful about differentiating between group trend behavior and appropriate policy for individual people.

    • meerkat says

      After I read the article, I was going to write the exact same thing, but you did it better than I ever could.

  16. I thought it was interesting that even when you outlined ways it could be partly cultural and not evolutionary, you needed to invoke evolutionary causes:

    “Men are larger and stronger than women, and more inclined to violence. This means that a woman places herself at a greater physical risk by going off with a man she doesn’t know than a man does with a woman. . . It’s not evolution; it’s just basic human rationality. People weigh up the costs and benefits of casual sex, and act accordingly.”

    How did men become larger and stronger, or more inclined to violence? Different selective pressures due to sexual selection. Any cultural explanations need to cut off evolution from seeping in, which is impossible. Cultural pressures, norms, and taboos don’t just appear out of thin air. They are responses to many factors, especially evolution and geography. It’s impossible to tease the two apart, which is why the “vs.” in “nature vs. nurture” is absurd.

  17. mikeb says

    Then there’s the case of promiscuous gay male sex. Since the advent of AIDS, it’s certainly different, but when I came out in the 1980s, I discovered that one could have a nightly pig pile if one wanted. I was shocked and grossed out (I’m currently married, have been with the same partner for 30 years) by the public sex, the sex in bars and nightclubs, the “tricks,” that friends and acquaintances bragged about. This is male sexually fermented and distilled.

    It’s a false generalization to assume all gay men are like this. Probably most are not. But you won’t find gay men sticking their penises through holes in restrooms with the hope that some willing woman will be on the other side.

    • mikeb says

      Ugh. I meant to say, “You won’t find STRAIGHT men sticking their penises through holes in restrooms with the hope that some willing woman will be on the other side.” (Though what I wrote originally is certainly true as well! 😉

  18. DarwinFish says

    Steve Stewart-Williams’ writing is perfectly accurate and yet funny and greatly enjoyable. Reminds me of the other Steve (Pinker), especially “How the mind works”, which is where I first learned about evo psych, almost 20 years ago. We need more books like this. The social sciences and the general public are decades behind in their understanding of evolution as it applies to humans.

  19. The Manipulated Man by Esther Villar,

    “Vilar writes, “Men have been trained and conditioned by women, not unlike the way Pavlov conditioned his dogs, into becoming their slaves. As compensation for their labours men are given periodic use of a woman’s vagina.” The book contends that young boys are encouraged to associate their masculinity with their ability to be sexually intimate with a woman, and that a woman can control a man by socially empowering herself to be the gate-keeper to his sense of masculinity. Vilar states that this has been going on for some time. “

  20. Larry Siegel says

    Jezza, obviously the math is as you said. The usual explanation is that men want it to be casual and women want it to be the beginning of a relationship, but my experience is that men and women are not as far apart as all that. Quite a few women want casual sex to be casual, and quite a few men want it to be the beginning of a relationship.

    • In Malindi, Kenya, I came across another type of sexual behaviour Larry, was it casual? It’s quite common to see there older white women (60+ ) hand in hand with a young black (about 20). It seems (from hearing) that these women from Germany or Sweden come there every year for such a youngster, pay his expenses and even a rented room, live quite intimately with him for a few weeks, but don,t take him ever back home (are they alone? married? who knows!). There is now even a movie about such situations, a very funny one, Paradies Liebe, of a certain Austrian. Houellebecq also wrote about such situations, but more about white males with much younger ladies, resp. of the first and the third world, in a rather positive way, both parties gain, so he wants us to believe!

      • Larry Siegel says

        Of course it’s casual. What else could it be?

        Houellebecq is a piece of work. What a weird dude.

        • Casual ? where you pay a rented appartment for him? And see one another every year? I saw excerpts of the movie again yesterday, it’s different of what I experienced and heard there. It seems, the white lady in the Austrian movie really thought she was experiencing something like romantic love (though, a clumsy sort of), whereas the young black (” I have a little problem”) just cheated her, and wanted her money.

  21. I just thought that every man who read this blog was an Incel and would mostly just wonder what sex is like…..casual or not

  22. Angus Black says

    Of course this is right – if you lift your eyes beyond humans to any mammal species, the evidence is overwhelming. Alpha males do all the copulating that gets done, pretty much; all females copulate with the local alpha male. No doubt someone will identity an exception, but they’d be few and far between.

    Then look at pet breeders, and farmers – only the very best males ever get used (check out the prices of, eg, bull semen). Look at the differential prices for say, mares versus stallions after the end of a racing career. Mares fall pretty much in a normal curve price wise; but stallions…it’s either zillions or you’re for the pet meat & glue factory. Same for cows/bulls, ewes/rams, dogs and cats too, though the figures aren’t quite so stark because the same rewards aren’t there.

    So basically, the evidence suggests in the wild, nature produces exactly the same behaviour that humans impose in controlled breeding environments.

    Human nature is different? You’d surely need a mountain of compelling evidence before believing that!

    • Larry Siegel says

      Human nature is different. We’ve instituted the concept of marriage, the aim of which is to equalize access to sexual partners as well as to protect children. While marriage doesn’t work in all cases, it works pretty well for a lot of people (but not for hamsters). I thought that was kind of obvious, but you asked.

      • Angus Black says

        I did ask.

        Marriage, however, is clearly not part of human nature. It is an intellectual construct which one must learn from one’s community (or “discover”, I guess) and which must be imposed legally or culturally. I agree, it is a system that works well for people and, were hamsters intelligent enough to understand it, might work well for them too.

        Have another go, if you like…

        • Larry Siegel says

          OK, sure. Using reason and intellect, long-run problem solving, learning from one’s community, and having laws and a culture are part of human nature. In fact, that’s a pretty good summary of the positive aspects of human nature.

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  24. Darby says

    It is probably a bit of both, but I suspect the rates of casual sex are more even than is indicated. One comment indicated 40 men had casual sex with 40 partners, another comments it was more like 40 had sex with the same female. That latter thought is absurd. Unless you live in a tiny village isolated from society, it is going to be pretty close to 40 men casually meeting up to 40 women. Also, I assume the author used surveys to find peoples sexual habits and this is highly likely to be inaccurate information with women under reporting given the fear of judgement (yes people still feel it in an anonymous survey. I have a few anecdotes from my many sexual encounters (I am male and heterosexual) over the years. Anecdotes of course is not as good as scientifically collected information, so it is more my perspectives from experience just for discussion purposes.
    First, I have noted women are much more willing to engage in casual sex on vacation. My presumption is that they are far from home so there is less concern of social circles finding out about this. Unrestrained from those social pressures to not engage in casual sex, they then engage in a fair amount of it.
    Second, I was often looking for a relationship, and this process many times resulted in sex in the first or second meeting, and that was the end of it, even though they said they were looking for a relationship too. What I learned is women want casual sex but they won’t tell you that, it is under the cover of seeking a long relationship. This took a long time to learn but happened with such frequency that this appeared the likely situation after really evaluating it.
    Third, some women, at least a substantial minority want the casual sex, but they hide under the “men want casual sex it wasn’t me, I wanted a relationship”. How did I learn this? Withholding sex. When I did not pursue them on the date for the sex, then they pursued me till they got it. By pursuit I mean that dance of meeting and working the way into the bed room. If I did that dance, very often they would let it happen. If I showed interest but did not make that effort to get us into bed, then she would pursue. Sometimes surprisingly aggressively.

    So I think women engage in casual sex at levels close to men, and the flip side men seek relationships more frequently than the stereotype suggests. All anecdotes so take them for what you will.

    • -Surprisingly aggressively-, a pity that here a man just tells his anecdotal experience, because, only very casually this is what you hear or read in the media, what do the sexuologists say about this phenomenon? Exceptional? Or the norm?

  25. Thinking more about this, I’m starting to have doubts about the basic premise of the evolutionary rationale:

    “OK, the best way for me to spread my genes would be to have as many children as I can. Each child will need lots of parental care. So, one option would be to settle down with a fertile female, get her pregnant, and help raise a bunch of kids. On the other hand, if I’m particularly attractive to women, or for some other reason have lots of sexual opportunities, I could try my hand at a different approach: I could mate with as many women as possible. If I were to mate with, say, five women in a year, I could potentially have five kids. I probably wouldn’t be able to help care for them all, so some might not make it to adulthood. But some surely would, and more than likely I’d end up with more kids if I took this approach than if I limited myself to just one woman. And of course, I could always do a bit of both: some fathering and some philandering. At the very least, I shouldn’t be too picky about my casual sexual partners. After all, if I have a fling with a suboptimal partner, it’s no big deal – it costs me little and I’m back on the market again almost immediately. Good times!”

    From what I’ve read, in most pre-modern societies, including known hunter-gatherer societies, it was common for parents to kill infants that they couldn’t afford to provide for. Surely this would be far more likely to happen if Dad is a deadbeat. And in a world populated by small bands of semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, where would a deadbeat Dad run off to, anyway?

    Having an affair with a woman who is already married to another man solves the problem of who helps the mother provide for the infant, but it creates another problem: doing this risks being murdered by the jealous husband or otherwise punished in a way that has a severe negative impact on your reproductive fitness.

    Polygyny is a different story, but it has very little resemblance to modern casual sex. Throughout history, harems have tended to be *very* tightly guarded.

    • Jalcon says

      You’re right, it’s a bit naive.

      In the small, close-knit societies in which we evolved there wouldn’t have been many opportunities for casual sex and one-night-stands. The function of men’s desire to have sex with many women is probably more about motivating men to try and acquire multiple wives than “spreading their seed”.

  26. Something completely different: in my youth, Kinsey came with a popular scientific book on the sexual behaviour of men and women. It was widely read and discussed. But it was (as he explicitly explained) on the sex behaviour of modern , educated westerners, not of other social and geographical/cultural strata wordlwide. I wonder what type of sex is hovering in the heads and hearts of the above commenters, most probably the Kinsey type!

  27. ccscientist says

    The problem with the cultural explanation for sex differences is that it is never explained how such universal cultural norms could have originated and been enforced. Why did they originate in parts of the world totally isolated from each other? Where are the classes where they are taught. The other logical flaw is that it assumes a nearly perfect social acculturation, when attempts to train children to not commit crimes, to stay in the same church as parents, to finish school, to eat healthy, to not get tattoos, have a terrible track record. If we do such a bad job of child raising in every other way how do we achieve near perfection on sexual norms? It defies belief.

    I would also like to argue that women have their motives more hidden from themselves than men do. Men are perfectly aware that pretty women turn them on. No man will deny that. Women seem confused about what attracts them: they will report on surveys that they like beta men (kind, polite, good listeners) but in fact always choose alpha men (to put it crudely) if given a chance.

  28. But don’t forget to make a difference in imagination and reality her cc, in Fifty Shades of Grey, it was imagination, allowed in the fantasy of the modern urbanised western woman. In real life, it is the attention of a certain nice man of around the corner or the work-floor, even if not the alfaman from literature. And even if that alfaman would appear, after a short conversation or encounter, he probably would stay nowhere! It’s durable attention that women go for, in the real at least (and that’s not the casual).

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  30. Indie Wifey says

    “casual sex,” is a euphemism for the meaningless pursuit of approval and acceptance through promiscuity.

    There are a helluva lot of people pretending on every level at *every moment* (ahem) and at ever increasing levels, to counterbalance the inevitable: a diminished self worth.

    as a woman, I’m dumbfounded that, given all info access out there, which should be guiding on matters of personal safety, women still see fit to hook up with strangers, especially in alcohol-entrenched scenarios. But current culture has granted dangerous immunity via perpetual vestal virginal posturing, an insidious behavioral golden ticket…

    Imo saddest and most detrimental are the children sidelined as these pursuits are granted top priority by single and divorced parents. Vicious behavioral cycles being taught by example.

    I hope some “big name” women out there create an official callout to women for personal best choices and decisions to help counterbalance the feminist attack wave against men, which is not true empowerment – true power and change only ever comes from within. Like too much else, feminist having it both ways gets in the way of agendas actually making sense. Women have the capability to inspire those nasty men to aspire to their level, which is positively skewed and congruent with our symbiotic bio reality

  31. Gordon says

    I feel causal sex is self destructive, demeaning and very selfish behaviour un-befitting behaviour of a civilized person. The “ friends with benefits” thing is another word for cowardice and basically nothing short of prostitution. The trading of services ( hooking up is nothing more then that) is a taxable obligation under our tax law… thus again becoming a taxable service.
    It may seem “ fun” when your young but… as age sets in, the looks and body fade… and long lonely nights descend.
    Cowardice, self harm, low self esteem and disease …. wow not to hot is it.

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