"Wow, that's an inflammatory title!"- A friend that reviewed the post before publishing
Yes, I'm calling women sluts.
But in a good way. The term "slut" is an obviously pejorative term, especially when applied to women. It's our society's preferred way to label promiscuous women. Based on emerging science, perhaps it's time to embrace the sentiment and make "slut" an aspiration.
The Landscape: An Analysis of Our Relationships
As evident by this blog, I've had a long-standing interest in relationships, love, and sex. This includes the dorky research aspect and extends to the colloquial inner workings of actual people. A few weeks ago, I was casually perusing some sexuality articles and came across a piece that talked about the failings of the evolutionary psychology (EP) explanation of human sexual behavior.
The gist of EP theory- women are sexually-selective because the cost of having children is high. Men are slutty because, well, they can father as many children as they have free time to fuck different women. This theory is then extrapolated to many aspects of our behaviors.
This is manifested in our current "serial monogamy" relationship paradigm that's considered the standard operating procedure here in the United States. Males and females will spend their teens to mid-twenties exploring a series of monogamous relationships until they figure out what they want. When they find "the one", they get married and have kids. Eventually the flame dies out and many will have affairs and/or get divorced, then repeat the cycle.
A new emerging (and competing) theory is emerging, which is backed by, in my opinion, much more valid empirical research. The gist of this theory- women are a lot more promiscuous than previously believed.
For me, this completely changes almost every fundamental belief I've had about love, relationships, and sex. I take the scientific method seriously and am more than willing to abandon previously-held beliefs when better data becomes available. This is one such case. This new paradigm shift, based on my own observations of the world, make a lot more sense. I like talking to people in part because learning about them can be weighed against my perceptions of how we operate. Some observations just did jive. Specifically, women in long-term relationships didn't act like EP would predict. This post will outline my current thoughts on this issue.
Sociosexual orientation (SO) is a fancy way researchers define promiscuity. The higher your SO, the sluttier you are. Based on evolutionary psychology's primary explanation, men are inherently high in SO. Women... not so much. According to EP, women had to be selective in their mates. heir primary motivation is to find a mate that provides resources for their eventual offspring. However, women also had a separate drive to hook up with "genetically superior" men after they had already formed a pair-bond (supposedly monogamous relationship) with their rich, powerful male. On the surface, this seems like a great explanation of the prevailing behaviors here in the US. Is it really, though? Here are a few ideas to ponder:
Schaller, M., & Murray, D. R. (2008) found SO in both genders were reduced by the perceived danger of disease. For example, when HIV entered the scene in the 80's to the present, both male and female SO decreased. This is important because it implies our sluttiness can be influenced by environment. That will be an important point later on.
The Trivers-Willard Hypothesis is an interesting observation. As SO increases in both genders, the likelihood of male offspring increases. In other words, sluts have more boys. Why is this significant? Males have a higher mortality rate than females. In a natural state where society has no influence on behavior, sluttiness, er, I mean SO, would produce more male offspring. Since more males are doing to die, this mechanism will help maintain roughly equal numbers of each gender.
Historical Trends in Promiscuity: Female Freedom Always Leads to Sluttiness
For some dumbass reason, I double-majored in college. Psych was my real love, but I also studied history. Specifically American history. Even more specifically, pot-Civil War American sexual history (yes, I was a perv back then, too.)
There's a commonly-held belief among lay folks that sexual openness has increased in a linear fashion over time. We're more liberal today than we were yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, etc. In reality, our society's sexual openness ebbs and flows based on the current sociocultural climate.
After the Civil War, American sexuality was influenced by the European Victorian era. Sex was a taboo topic. Women's sexuality in particular was heavily suppressed. By the roaring twenties, society did a complete 180° turn. Women enjoyed tremendous freedom. As a result, the "flappers" were pretty slutty. The Depression was a major buzzkill and led to a move toward pragmatic conservatism. Poor folks have more important shit to worry about. The fifties saw a shift back to conservatism (read this funny article on how to keep your man), which shifted again in the sixties and the "free love" hippie movement. By the eighties, we went back to conservatism. We slowly opened back up throughout the nineties (thanks in part to Bill and his "Monica is my humidor" antics.) Since the turn of the millennium (and the proliferation of the Internet), we've been on a steady ride toward an unprecedented time of sexual openness and freedom for females to express said sexuality.
The main point- female SO changes with the tide of the current culture. Specifically, the less oppression women experience, the higher they rate in SO. Give women freedom and they get slutty.
Social structure theory confirms this trend across cultures. Extremely repressive cultures, such as some of those in the Middle East, see very few SO behaviors from women. Other places where women do not experience strong oppression, like many European cultures, see a significant increase in SO behaviors.
Lammers, J; Stoker, JI; Jordan, J; Pollmann, MMH; Stapel, DA (2011) confirmed this idea by measuring infidelity. As women gained more power (as represented by working outside the home and gaining financial independence), rates of infidelity skyrocketed to the level of their male counterparts. When women are truly equal, there is no significant difference between our sexual behaviors. Our recent history confirms this trend.
Our Socially-Accepted View of Female Desire
Presently, we treat female desire like a delicate flower. It's a rare beauty that needs to be cultivated with ample love, respect, empathy, communication, flowers, and Hallmark greeting cards. It's a mysterious force to most men, but the rise of the beta male seems to be a key to the treasure chest (more on that later, too.) They are something to be pursued and won.
A good way to think of women, according to the popular belief today, is to assume they're playing defense. And us males are playing offense. Women are selective; males are indiscriminate. We want to score; they do what they can to keep us from scoring.
We also see women's desire changing over their lifespan. In heir late teens to early twenties, we accept some degree of experimentation in the form of serial monogamy. A few one-nights stands may be acceptable, but too many will result in slut-shaming. During this time, women are still less slutty than their male cohorts. By the time women settle down in their late twenties and early thirties, their sexuality goes a bit dormant, then reaches a peak in the late thirties to early forties. Menopause eventually sets in and desire slowly dries up.
The Empirically-Confirmed View of Female Desire
Does the socially-accepted view of female sexuality, where men are the slutty pursuers and women are the chaste pursuees, hold up to empiricism? A major problem with evolutionary psychology is data- inferring past behavior from dubious sources hardly counts as empiricism. And this topic perfectly illustrates that point.
Over the last few weeks, I've read a slew of interesting books and articles that make the same basic point I'm making- we're completely wrong about the inner-workings of female desire. Specifically, the books Mating in Captivity, Sex at Dawn, What Do Women Want?, and The Ethical Slut outline the empirical research that supports the premise that women are basically just as slutty as men.
Sidebar- If this discussion fascinates you, check out all four of these books. I recommend reading them in the order listed.
So... what DO women want?
The very short answer- sexual novelty.
The much longer, more elaborate answer is contained in the books listed above. The basic premise- regardless of the origins of the behaviors, women's desire is primarily fueled by access to multiple partners. That can be manifested in many different ways, but pretty much any "desire disorder" is immediately cured by... well, a new cock. Or a vagina. Yes, women have a lot more sexual fluidity than males.
I'm going out on a limb and guessing that's a bit shocking to my readers... unless you're a woman that's been in a monogamous relationship for a few years. Or you're a single dude that preys on those same women.
In the age of the Internet, it's easy to find anything related to everything. For example- how about a guide that outlines methods to meet and seduce married women? The technique, boiled down, plays on the realities of female desire. The successful pickup artist will simply arrange a "chance" meeting with a previously-identified target, appear fairly pleasant and trustworthy, assure discretion, and then score.
For married dudes reading this you probably couldn't imagine your wife doing that, right? The data says otherwise. Atwood and Schwartz (2002) found anywhere between 45-55% of women will have at least one extramarital affair... which is only a few percentage points below the rate of male infidelity. As I mentioned in this post, around 70% of males AND females would cheat if they could be assured they would get away with it.
But What About Parental Investment and Sexual Jealousy?
These two concepts are critical components of the popular theory advanced by evolutionary psychology. Parental investment is the bedrock of the idea that we evolved to be monogamous because advancing your genes is the name of the game. Pair-bonding appears to be a great strategy to accomplish that goal. Sexual jealousy, those feelings we get that warn us others are interested in our mate, serve to reinforce our desire to make sure our mates aren't leaving us (in the case of women) or getting pregnant via another dude (in the case of men.)
Is this really what's happening, though?
For parental investment, I actually side with the evolutionary psychologists... mostly. We do seem to like to pair up for parenting purposes, and both parents' desire usually takes a significant hit in the early years after a baby is born. Oxytocin bonds us to each other pretty well. The problem is duration. This bonding doesn't last forever. The kid grows up a bit, mom and dad may experience a bit of a desire rebound, then boredom sets in. I'd say we pair-bond just long enough to survive the first year or three. After that, we're primed to look elsewhere. Unless we have multiple kids.
Sexual jealousy is usually interpreted as a function of ownership or the idea that our partner belongs to us and only us. What if it's not so much possessiveness as a desire-building behavior? Sexual jealousy is usually manifested as anger, but also results in horniness. If women are naturally promiscuous, that horniness would serve a decidedly utilitarian purpose- getting laid.
Why Nice Guys Finish Last
Ah, the beta male. I've talked about this topic in the past, but never made a relationship connection here on the blog. Basically beta males are pleasers. They are caring. Sensitive. Nice. Open. Honest. A great communicator. Gentle. Giving. Agreeable. Malleable.
And women hate them.
Of course, in our post-feminism world where we routinely demonize masculinity and do our best to feminize our male children, the beta is celebrated. We're led to believe the beta, at the end of the day, will win the woman's heart.
And it's a lie.
The prevailing EP theory says women want a good provider for her and the kids. Sure, she may bang an occasional bad boy when she's ovulating, but the beta will still reap the rewards of monogamous bliss. He does, after all, possess the key to unlocking her desire.
The problem, of course, is that nice guys are really fucking boring. They're great in the beginning when there's a great deal of novelty and mystery. After a few years, though, their inability to take charge wears thin. Their wive's desire plummets, closely followed by his. Eventually they cheat, get divorced, or settle for a sexless life of reruns and Chinese takeout.
The fundamental problem is our misunderstanding of female desire. Women don't want to romance and trust and comfort and constant intimacy. Women want hot, passionate fucking. And the two are mutually-exclusive (see my post on the topic here.)
Beta males make the mistake of being one-trick ponies. They believe building intimacy is a prerequisite to passion. Its not. Intimacy kills passion.
It's worth noting alpha males don't fare a lot better. Yes, they get a lot more pussy... but they also don't get to experience the closeness of an intimate relationship. The real key isn't to be an alpha or a beta. The key is to be able to freely move between the two on a regular basis.
Dealing With Monogamy
This, of course, leads us to the idea of monogamy. I covered a lot of ideas in the "What's the Deal with Monogamy" post, but a few are worth repeating in the context of a female desire discussion.
I track stats here on the blog, including search terms. I've covered a wide range of love, relationship, and sex topics, but its clear which topics are the most popular. Here are the all-time to three topics:
The five most common search terms that drive traffic from search engines involve:
- Convince partner to have a MMF threesome
- Convince partner to have a gang bang
- Convince husband to try swinging
This is hardly an accurate snapshot of American sexual desires, but it's somewhat valid. The overarching theme: We're bored and are interested in fucking others. It's not surprising coming from males, but the majority of my readers are female.
Its been estimated pharmaceutical companies have spent billions of dollars on the quest to find a female equivalent to Viagra. There's a HUGE demand from women to find a miracle pill that will allow them to feel the flames of desire they once felt for their significant other. Instead of questioning the fact that the decline in female desire may be a naturally-occurring phenomenon and the problem may reside with the societal institution of monogamy, we look for the quick and easy drug cure.
Sometimes people deal with the rigors of monogamy by having illicit affairs (or the researcher term nonconsensual nonmonogamy.) Historically cheating was viewed as more of a male behavior, and the data supported that. As I mentioned earlier, however, women really have achieved equality. They now cheat as often as dudes... and its about a 50/50 proposition. A flip of a coin. Cheating, though, creates stress and guilt for the cheater and, if discovered, lots of pain for their partner.
Divorce is another avenue to deal with monogamy, which often proceeds affairs. Again, we're looking at about 50/50 odds any marriage will end in divorce. If there are no children involved, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Kids though? Now we complicate things. Single parenthood is hard as Hell, and blended families aren't always smooth.
The nonconsensual nonmonogamy options, while commonly-employed, are exceedingly destructive. For the adventurous folks, there are the consensual nonmonogamy options, primarily polyamory (multiple parties in various configurations of emotionally-attached relationships), swinging (multiple parties in various configurations of sexual relationships without emotional attachments), and multiple stops in between. These alternaties to monogamy are becoming shockingly popular... more so than I would have expected (~20-25% of all couples in the US.) The inclusion of new partners effectively satisfies both (or multiple) partners' desires for sexual novelty.
Will the Millennials Save Female Desire?
I'm not a fan of labeling and generalizing generational cohort groups, but sometimes it's prudent. This may be one such case. Since the Victorian era, we've ebbed and flowed progressively closer to a better understanding of our sexual selves, and female desire is one of the last considerations. The Millennials, with their penchant for casual hookups, openness to nonmonogamous relationships, and viewing of relationships as a finite arrangement, are in a great position to really give female desire it's due.
Of course, the last few generations have been moving in that direction, but this may be the first that really force the issue into the spotlight. The youth of today more civic-minded, more open to radical social change, and are increasingly comfortable with the idea of slutty women. While the feminists of yesteryear fought to win equality, this generation is fighting to regain individuality. That freedom from social constraint will user in a brave new world of love, relationships, and sex.
Will this kill monogamy?
Probably not. Given the acceptance of the individual AND the fact that there are still a lot of people that genuinely (and successfully) maintain long-term monogamous relationships, the social construct will survive. What will likely happen is continued change of how we view and accept alternative relationships. This generation will right the ship of gender expression. Instead of a move to feminize everyone, they will be more cognizant of the value of both feminine and masculine expression. Distinctions like sexual orientation will no longer be a reason to divide. There will be less focus on long-term commitments, a reduction in illicit infidelity and divorce, and an increase in arrangements like polyamory. All of us will enjoy more balanced, honest lives.
It is becoming increasingly clear we've misunderstood and suppressed female desire for a long, long time. Emerging empirical evidence is beginning to shed more light on the exact nature of what women want. This realization is and will continue to shake the very core of our society's most hallowed and revered institutions.
For those that stuck around and read the whole post- what are your thoughts? Women that have been in long-term relationships- can you relate to that drop in desire and yearning for newness? What do you think of today's beta male?
Share these and any other thoughts in the comments!