Simping and the Sexual Marketplace
Vintage illustration of a woman choosing between a group of male suitors; screen print, 1946 / Getty Images

Simping and the Sexual Marketplace

Vincent Harinam
Vincent Harinam
11 min read

Whether you’re an impartial onlooker or active combatant in the culture wars, you may have come across the term “simp.” A lexical fixture in Twitch chatrooms and TikTok videos, simps are romantically-challenged men whose servile nature prevents them from earning the affection of their love interest. To be clear, a simp isn’t your stereotypical nice guy. Rather, his excessive geniality belies a focused desire for romantic attention.

Nevertheless, simping isn’t merely a sexual strategy. More crucially, it is a trend born out of the challenges of an unbalanced sexual marketplace where romance has become increasingly sporadic, fleeting, and transactional. Simping reflects the cold reality of our modern sexual marketplace where a growing number of lonely young men search desperately for a romantic partner. Moreover, the ineffectiveness of simping reveals something about female mate preferences.

Sneaky simps

The etymology of the term “simp” dates back to the early 1900s where it began as an abbreviation of “simpleton.” However, as with many slang terms used by today’s youth, “simp” was popularized by hip-hop culture. Rappers in 1980s and 1990s used the term as an insult for a subservient man. This is not altogether different from its current use.

According to Urban Dictionary, “simp is a slang insult for men who are seen as too attentive and submissive to women, especially out of a failed hope of winning some entitled sexual attention or activity from them.” In short, the simp is a transcendent nice guy whose sycophancy is strategically deployed to attain sex and/or affection from women. As such, the compliments he pays and gifts he gives are gestures tinged with Machiavellianism.

Crucially, simping is akin to the “sneaky fucker” strategy. Coined by biologists, the “sneaky fucker” strategy refers to the adoption of deceptive practices by low-status males incapable of attracting females via traditional means of signalling dominance. The technical term for this phenomenon is kleptogamy (derived from the Greek klepto (“to steal”) and gamos (“marriage”)).

Consider male gobies whose body size is positively correlated with their ability to mate. Smaller male gobies cannot compete with their larger counterparts as female gobies prefer males with large bodies. To solve their reproductive dilemma, small male gobies, passing themselves off as females due to their size, will hide in the periphery of the spawning ground of paired fish. Once a female releases her eggs, these fish will slyly fertilize them. While this strategy is dangerous, it is the best option available to small gobies in a hypergamic environment.

Similar to gobies, simps must skirt convention, pursing a sexual strategy that is more tailored to their circumstances. Importantly, the decision to simp is perhaps driven by imbalances in the modern sexual marketplace.

As one article maintains, “The modern sexual marketplace is predicated on a power law where a small number of highly successful men are desired by the majority of women.” As such, average and below average men who cannot compete with above average males in the traditional arenas of wealth, social status, and appearance must turn to simping to attract mates. This, however, is not to suggest that highly successful men cannot and do not engage in simping. While professional success might reduce the difficulty of courtship, it does not guarantee romantic success, nor does it insulate a man from simping.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned power law imbalance in the sexual marketplace has created a demographic of lonely young men who yearn for the “girlfriend experience.”

According to Pew Research, 51 percent of men between the ages of 18 and 29 are single compared to 32 percent of women in the same age group. Furthermore, the number of men aged 18 to 30 who report having no sex in the past year has tripled between 2008 and 2018. Consequently, this development has fuelled the meteoric rise of OnlyFans.

The simp economy

While OnlyFans was not created for the distribution of adult content, the site has morphed into a subscription-based adult site, catering to over 50 million registered users and 1.5 million content creators. The site’s gross merchandise value and net revenue are projected to be $12.5 billion and $2.5 billion in 2022, respectively. However, the site’s revenue model is defined by a power law distribution where the top 10 percent of content creators generate 73 percent of all revenue. The majority of accounts receive less than $145 per month.

The popularity of OnlyFans raises a fascinating question: if internet porn is free, why do men pay for OnlyFans?

OnlyFans offers something which porn does not: emotional connection. OnlyFans provides men that have withdrawn from the sexual marketplace with an opportunity to interact with women. Moreover, despite the near impossibility of establishing a romantic relationship with a content creator, the desire to be loved on the part of users spurs them to empty their bank account.

Importantly, this perceived emotional connection comes without the sting of rejection. OnlyFans dilutes the challenge of courtship, eliminating flirtation, charm, and rejection. It is, moreover, clear from the empirical data that young men are petrified of rejection. According to Pew Research, a whopping 52 percent of single men reported the difficulty of approaching women as the primary reason for their relationship status—by far the most common reason given for why they are single.

It thus makes intuitive sense why these men have turned to OnlyFans. For single men, romantic success is largely predicated on initiative and grit. One must have the fortitude to approach a woman as well as the resolve to move on and try again if rejected. For men, finding a partner rests on action and repetition.

Importantly, OnlyFans’s financial metagame is not contingent on the profitability of its “power few” content creators but on simping. If a popular content creator were to leave the platform or discontinue the sale of content, would it stem users’ demand for the “girlfriend experience”? This is unlikely as users would simply migrate to another content creator to get their fix.

The influx of single young men has created massive demand for the “girlfriend experience.” This has in turn created a simp economy where emotional connection can be acquired through economic transactions. Moreover, content creators can also tap into this market, harvesting simps for their own profit. In this sense, simping is comparable to a hard commodity like gold or silver as it is both currency and commodity within the simp economy.

The dark gentleman

The ineffectiveness of simping lies in its pedestalization of women in the absence of genuine intimacy. While the gentleman holds doors and pays for dinner, and engages a woman on an emotional level, the simp inundates a woman with extravagant gifts and superficial praise. The simp engages in romantic bribery, attempting to buy a woman’s love.

A man who is too ingratiating is ultimately a man who is too desperate. His inability to tell a woman “no” is a direct reflection of his over-eagerness to please. Contrary to popular belief, telling a woman “no” in specific circumstances is an attractive quality as it signals that a man is not a pliant doormat.

Importantly, simping contradicts women’s romantic preferences. Whereas men typically mate below and across dominance hierarchies, women typically mate above and across them.

Neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine has shared research indicating that women, on average, prefer men who are at least four inches taller and three and a half years older. Other research by sociologist Rosemary L. Hopcroft indicates that men in the highest income category are 57 percent more likely to find spouses compared to men in the lowest income category. Moreover, men in the highest income category are 37 percent less likely to divorce compared to men in the lowest income category.

Interestingly, a woman’s income is not positively correlated with her likelihood of marriage. In fact, higher-earning women are more likely to get divorced. Likewise, recent research by psychologist Gillian Parker reports that, “within couples, a shift toward women out earning their partners was associated with decreases in relationship satisfaction for both women and men ... women who win political elections are twice as likely to divorce than their counterparts who lose.”

Taken together, the empirical evidence suggests that simping and its associated subservient qualities may be ineffective in attracting a romantic partner as self-devaluation reduces a man’s attractiveness.

Nevertheless, the ineffectiveness of simping reveals much about what women find attractive. Importantly, what a woman finds attractive will often differ based on her age as the mild-mannered professional is generally less attractive to a woman in her early 20s compared to her early 30s.

In contrast to the simp whose attention is abundant, the stereotypical jerk withholds his attention. This lack of interest often presses a woman to chase him. Moreover, the scarcity of bad boys as well as the inherent challenge of acquiring can increase their perceived value in the minds of (some) women. In some contexts, the more a woman seeks to qualify herself to a man, the greater his perceived value. We desire most that which we cannot have.

Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman defines a jerk as someone with “high extraversion, low neuroticism, low conscientiousness, low agreeableness, high openness to experience, and a bit of a dip into the dark triad traits.” Curiously, much is made about women’s attraction to men who possess the dark triad personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism (manipulativeness), and psychopathy (callousness, lying, thrill-seeking). This is corroborated by the scientific literature.

Research indicates that the dark triad is associated with a preference for short-term relationships. To this extent, narcissism was positively correlated with a preference for one-night stands and friends-with-benefits, while psychopathy was positively correlated with booty calls. Both traits were negatively correlated with a preference for serious romantic relationships. Furthermore, researchers also found that the dark triad was associated with game-playing and cerebral mating strategies where individuals shirked long-term relationships by avoiding emotional connection. Furthermore, dark triad individuals tended to use more sexual words in naturalistic settings, enticing prospective mates.

In another study, researchers had participants fill out personality questionnaires then participate in speed dating sessions. Following this, participants filled out score cards for each person they met, indicating the type of relationship they envisioned with each person and whether they’d like to see them again. Men who scored higher in narcissism were rated by women as more appealing for both short and long-term relationships. Crucially, male narcissists tended to score higher in extraversion, but were no more appealing than the other males once extraversion was factored out. I will return to this point.

In general, genes linked to the dark triad are correlated with the genes associated with reproducing earlier in life and having more children. Of course, much of this can be explained by the impulsive, risk-taking nature of these individuals. Nevertheless, these traits facilitate attraction and reproduction. To this extent, researchers asked 128 women to rate the attractiveness of men who either represented the dark triad or a control personality. Even when controlling for physical appearance, the dark triad man was rated as significantly more attractive than the control.

The allure of dark triad persons resides in their ability to cultivate an aura of self-importance. For example, researchers found that dark triad persons were often better dressed than their non-dark triad counterparts. As such, the additional attention garnered by their wardrobe served to increase their self-esteem. In addition, dark triad individuals were found to be more likeable, exuding greater confidence and attractive facial appearances. Indeed, confidence in a man is more alluring than modesty.

Of course, it is one thing to appear important and another to be important. Research indicates that narcissistic tendencies were positively correlated with professional success and financial achievement while Machiavellianism was positively correlated with a leadership position. High-level resource acquisition and inexorable confidence are, by themselves, desirable qualities in a man. Put them together, however, and you get a man that is highly attractive to the opposite sex.

While dark triad men are certainly attractive, I am not suggesting that a conniving psycho-Chad is a good long-term option. They’re not, by most empirical accounts. Nevertheless, perfect is boring and a man with questionable character who never texts is generally more desirable than a diffident simp who texts too often. It is not that women like bad qualities. Rather, it’s that bad boys possess a bevy of ancillary traits (e.g., charisma, humour, social dominance, etc.) which make them attractive.

Dark triad personality traits reflect low agreeableness, high openness, and high extraversion, which are often alluring traits. For example, the behavioural scientist Daniel Nettle reported a significant negative correlation between agreeableness and number of sexual partners in a sample of 545 people. That is, disagreeable men tended to report having more sexual partners than average. Furthermore, men who scored one standard deviation below the mean on agreeableness earned 18.3 percent ($9,772) more than men who scored one standard deviation above the mean. Disagreeable behaviours are generally rewarded in environments where competitiveness and aggressiveness are valued. With regard to extraversion, research indicates that those high in this trait were perceived as more attractive. This is the same for openness where ornamental/aesthetic creativity was found to be sexually attractive.

Based on the empirical evidence, female mate preferences might be described as conflicting. The ideal man is a figure who embodies contradiction as he is both the disagreeable bad boy and the caring family man. Such a man is capable of great violence yet is too self-disciplined to use it. He is proficient at attracting other women but is loyal to his own. He is hyper-masculine yet emotionally aware, roguish yet caring. In practical terms, the ideal man is capable of both short-term sexual gratification and long-term provisioning and parental investment. Such a man is a Rebis-like amalgam of the cad and the dad. He is the dark gentleman.

Game over man, game over

Game theory is a branch of economics that considers how players of a mathematically formalized game can optimize their decisions. It is a method of making predictions in a world that is simultaneously probabilistic and rules-based. Simping is game theoretic. It involves some form of strategic interdependence where the actions of either party affect the welfare of both. It is, moreover, governed by three logic parameters:

  1. It involves a set of players.
  2. Each player has a set of allowable moves.
  3. How each player feels about outcomes can be mathematically described by a payoff matrix or utility function.

Here, I apply game theory to better understand the operable value of simping as a sexual strategy in the modern sexual marketplace.

Figure 1 presents the payoff matrix for simping. I have designed the matrix such that one participant is female and the other is male. Moreover, males can pursue one of two strategies, “simp” or “don’t simp,” while women can either reciprocate or not. For the purposes of this model, simping involves expending resources during courtship to acquire affection from a female while reciprocation involves pursuing or committing to a romantic relationship with a male.

The top-left quadrant represents an outcome where the male engages in simping and the female reciprocates. In this scenario, the male expends resources and receives affection but must continue to expend costly resources to maintain the relationship. In contrast, the woman receives resources but is saddled with a simp. This outcome is pareto inferior as there are other outcomes which would give both players higher payoffs. The top right quadrant represents the worse outcome for the male as he expends resources but does not receive affection in return. In contrast, this is the best outcome for the woman as she acquires resources from a simp but does not have to commit to him. As such, she can commit to another male while receiving resources from the simp. This particular outcome is common on OnlyFans.

The bottom left quadrant represents a positive-sum outcome where the male does not expend resources but gets the girl while the female does not receive resources during courtship but is committed to a man that is not a simp. This outcome is pareto optimal as both parties stand to gain without making at least one party worse off. In economics, a pareto optimal outcome implies that resources are allocated in the most economically efficient manner. Finally, the bottom right quadrant represents a neutral outcome as neither individual gains or loses anything.

Based on this payoff matrix, choosing not to simp is the most prudent decision a man can make as he does not lose resources during courtship regardless of whether the woman reciprocates. In contrast, the simp does not score a resounding victory in either scenario as he can either continue expending resources to remain in the relationship or gain nothing for his efforts. Nevertheless, both parties stand to gain when the male does not simp and the female reciprocates.

Simping is a by-product of a deregulated sexual marketplace. This asymmetry has resulted in an influx of lonely young men. This is not merely a negative development, but a warning sign of a society teetering toward disaster.

Acknowledgments

  1. Thanks to Rob Henderson for his feedback on an earlier draft.

Vincent Harinam

Vincent Harinam is a data scientist and law enforcement consultant.