What you really want out of sex
As I’m sure most of you know, the Carillon ran a singles-themed issue on Valentine’s Day a few weeks back. As is the norm with themed issues, every section of the paper had an article or two devoted to single life in some way. Every section except one: Features.
Why was Features absent from the paper that week? It was not because of a lack of content; it was the content of the section itself that prevented the article from making print.
As the editor of the features section, the duty to produce the singles-themed article fell on my shoulders. With everyone scrambling for ideas for the singles issue, I decided that I would like to examine the psychological concepts of the dating game itself.
Through my personal interest in psychology, I had already been aware for some time about the vastly different goals of both men and women in the dating game. What is more, I also know that almost no one else seems to be aware of these things. What would be better than an article highlighting some of these confusing and unknown differences between men and women?
Without hesitation, I did my research and wrote the article.
After a long night of production, I went home feeling confident that I had written a decent article. To my surprise, when I opened my email later that evening, I received a message that I had never seen before. It was my editor-in-chief – my article could not be printed, there was no time to edit it, it had to be scrapped.
Shocked and in disbelief, I read on to find out why. When I found out, it became blatantly obvious why the article was scrapped. Despite all of my research, all of the work and writing I had put into the article, I had still managed to utterly ignore the entire queer community. The entire piece dealt solely with heterosexuality. What is worse is that I did not even think about it at the time. I made one of the worst mistakes a journalist can make: I looked at an issue from my point of view alone and failed to see the bigger picture.
White privilege and Heteronormativity
As a straight, white male, I sit atop the most privileged position in society. Unfortunately, in that position, people like myself enjoy unearned privileges because of my race and sexual orientation. To make matters worse, people in society’s most privileged positions are over unaware of challenges other face.
I did not intentionally exclude the queer community from my article; I literally never considered it. This is a problem throughout our society; the problems of the less privileged go unacknowledged by individuals who live in a best-case scenario.
The truth is that we live in a society that is stratified by race and sexual orientation. Straight white men can be sure that everyone they meet will be comfortable with their sexual orientation. They do not have to be concerned that if their friends and family find out about their sexual origination that there could be economic, psychological, physical, or emotional consequences. They do not have to defend their sexual orientation. They have no need to qualify their sexual identity. They are not identified by being straight. No one calls them straight with maliciousness.
These are just a handful of the privileges that come with being a straight in today’s society. Unfortunately, members of the queer community do not share in these privileges and, as painful as it is for me to admit, people such as myself have passively contributed to the problem by remaining ignorant of it.
White privilege is different from obvious prejudice because the dominant group is not actively seeking to oppress minorities. Instead, the theory of white privilege suggests that whites, like myself, view their position in life as the norm that others should strive to achieve. What this does, in turn, is prevent dialog on issues and situations of inequality, unless a group is so disadvantaged that it is viewed as having “failed” to achieve this norm, in which case a dialog is opened to think of methods of allowing that group to return to the “normal” condition enjoyed by whites.
In a nutshell, white privilege prevents inequality from being combated unless it is substantial inequality, which in turn prevents society from ever reaching a state of true equality.
So here is my shot at making things right. This is the revised edition of “What you really want out of sex.”
Men and Women
It was an unfortunate mistake to make not just because it was exclusive, but a look into the queer community also provides some powerful insights into the realm of human nature.
Indeed, many physiologists, such as the two mentioned below, have used their findings in researching the queer community to add supporting evidence to their claims. What is more, research has indicated that men and women, of any sexual orientation, are psychologically the same when it comes to sex. The only difference is who they are attracted to.
To look into the nature of human sexuality, a look into the tendencies of heterosexual couple is helpful to start off with.
As I am sure almost everyone on the planet has noticed, men and women are decidedly different and we have some trouble understanding each other. However, is that statement true, or is it simply a cliche stereotype?
Many psychologists, such as world-renowned Harvard professor Steven Pinker, believe the typical gender stereotypes often “underestimate the documented differences between men and women.”
Everyone knows the stereotypes Pinker is referring to: men are blunt, emotionless, and isolated. Women are emotional, talk too much, and are more social than men.
Although these stereotypes are just that, stereotypes, what Pinker and other physiologists have pointed out is the sex-differences between humans have a wider reaching effect than simply emotions and talking; they make an immense impact on how we look for love and what we want to get out of the encounter.
The famous anthropologist Donald Symons, credited as one of the founders of evolutionary psychology and a pioneer of the study of human sexuality, believes the goals of men and women in copulation are almost polar opposites.
“There is a female nature and a male nature,” he stated in an interview with BBC Radio 1. “Men and women differ in their sexual natures because, throughout the immensely long hunting and gathering phase in human history, the sexual desires and dispositions that were adaptive for one sex were, for the other, a ticket to reproductive oblivion.”
When discerning why we are so vastly different in our psychology regarding mate selection, the concept of investment is incredibly important. Our libidos have evolved to motivate us to mercilessly breed our species. That means each person is highly driven to replicate their own genes and ensure their own genetic code survives. However, how a man increases his chances and how a woman does is entirely different.
A female’s investment in sex is much larger than a male’s. A woman can only produce one offspring at a time; she has to nurture it inside her body for nine months and take care of it for years afterwards. Each offspring is an incredible investment of her time and energy. A male, on the other hand, only needs to contribute a few minutes of sex.
With the amount of time and energy that a female is forced to put into each child, and the fact that she can only have one child at a time, means she can only increase her chances by selecting from the best genes out there and, hopefully, from a man who is willing to stick around and help out.
Males, on the other hand, increase their chances by copulating with as many females as possible. The more impregnated females, the better the odds the male will be able to pass on his genes. This also has the added benefit of preventing other males from passing on their DNA.
Thus, human females, like almost every other animal, are called the “choosy sex.” An attractive woman has no shortage of men constantly knocking at her door and she stands to gain nothing by mating with all of them; selecting the best one is the only method of increasing her offspring’s chances of survival. Because of this, males compete for females by presenting themselves and demonstrating the desired traits that make them appealing.
In the past, physical violence determined the winners and losers. We know this because human males are around 1.5 times larger than females. Larger males would win out in physical battles; they would pass on their genes, while extinguishing the genes of the smaller males. Thus, men have evolved to become the larger gender.
Today, physical prowess is no longer necessary to establish the dominance and the social status that women find attractive. Wealth, prestigious jobs, celebrity status, musical talent, confidence, and social skills are now also used to establish a position at the top of the male hierarchy. A male at the top of roost is attractive to women because he has proven to have the strongest DNA and replicating with him means they will get to combine those “winning” genes with their own and hopefully produce powerful offspring.
This means a man’s actions are the predominant factor in generating attraction in women. The quality of his genes is indicated by his success in the real world, which is part of the reason why things like wealth and fame can make a man more attractive in the eyes of women – a concept that is very confusing to men.
Like stated before, a male does not increase his chances of genetic survival by picking the best genes, but rather, by producing as many offspring with as many partners as he can.
For males, a female’s attractiveness is dictated by her perceived ability to produce children. The more children a woman has the potential to create, the more attractive she is to her prospective mates.
The most consistent indicator of a fertile female is in her physical appearance. Over the course of the hunting and gathering era of human history, which accounts for approximately 99 per cent of it, males would assess a female’s fertility by looking for indicators of youth. After all, a younger woman has more potential to pump out offspring than an older one. Soft, smooth skin, colourful eyes, and body shape are all indicators of a youthful female, and a larger hip-to-waist ratio is an indicator of a woman’s ability to give birth successfully.
Some may call it shallow, or callous, for men to use physical appearance as the barometer of attractiveness —men’s desire for a high level of sexual variety compounds this problem. However, males are driven by hundreds of thousands of year’s worth of conditioning and natural selection.
Pinker notes the male’s thirst for varying partners is nearly unquenchable.
“People don’t seek mass quantities of air, food, and water,” he writes. “But the more women that a man has sex with, the more offspring he leaves, too much is never enough. That gives men a limitless appetite for casual sex partners.”
The sexual interests of men and women are seemingly on opposite ends of the spectrum. Men want the maximum amount of sex with the maximum amount of possible partners, while women want the maximum amount of sex with one quality partner,and she wants to hold onto that partner for as long as she can, or until she finds a better one and can move up.
Homosexual, Bisexual, and Pansexual Men and Women
Now, do the rules of the game change when sexual orientation changes? According psychologists like Pinker, and Symons, the answer is “No.”
When discussing the deep-seeded psychological principles that drive both men and women to seek out sexual partners, the goals are dictated by gender, not sexual orientation. In other words, it doesn’t matter which gender an individual’s sexual attraction is aimed towards, men and women of any orientation are still looking for the same things out of a sexual encounter.
Symons states in his book The Evolution of Human Sexuality that homosexual relationships actually provide a purer window into the sexual nature of both men and women.
“Every heterosexual relationship is a compromise between the wants of a man and the wants of a woman,” he writes. “But homosexuals do not have to compromise and their sex lives showcase human sexuality in a purer form.”
Pinker points out that, before the AIDS epidemic, a study in San Francisco backed up Symons statement.
“Twenty-eight per cent of gay men reported having more than one thousand sexual partners and seventy-five per cent reported having more than a hundred,” he writes. “No homosexual woman reported having a thousand partners, and only two per cent reported having over a hundred.”
It is essential to note this is not to be used to negatively scrutinize gay men. They are simply males, whose male desires bounce off other male desires, thus amplifying the effect. They are just men being men in an unrestrictive environment.
The social conventions of our society are heavily situated in the belief that “promiscuity is negative.” There are legitimate concerns that warrant caution in mating with an excessive amount of partners. However, this idea also blatantly ignores the very real evidence that monogamy is an unnatural practice for humans and our closest primate relatives. Indeed, even women have a natural incentive to have sex with multiple partners, but to a more limited capacity than men.
Symons stresses that a tendency toward promiscuity is one shared by all men, not simply homosexual or bisexual males.
“I am suggesting that heterosexual men would be as likely as likely as homosexual men to have sex most often with strangers,” he writes. “To participate in anonymous orgies in public baths,and to stop off in public restrooms for five minutes of fellatio on the way home from work if women were generally interested in these activities. But women, for the most part, are not interested.”
The parallels between men and women of all sexual orientations also extend to arousal.
Human men are all the same; they become aroused by a visual assessment. This can happen in real life, or through things like photography, video, postcards, dolls, sculptures, etc. Because of this, a massive pornography industry has emerged worldwide that capitalizes on the male’s sexual preferences. Indeed, most pornography depicts the same situation: a mysterious stranger who is eager to engage in casual, emotionally detached sex.
Pinker noted it does not make any sense for a woman to become aroused in the same way.
“A fertile woman never has a shortage of willing sexual partners, and in that buyer’s market she can seek the best partner available, the best genes, or other returns on her sexual favours,” he writes. “If she could be aroused by the sight of a naked man, men could entice her to have sex by exposing themselves and her bargaining position would be lost.”
Although the above quote is aimed at heterosexual women, the San Francisco study mentioned earlier confirms that bisexual and homosexual women behave the same way.
In the study, the majority of women rated character traits and indicators of status as the most attractive quality in a girlfriend.
This should all be taken with a grain of salt. Psychological research and principles are inductive, meaning they represent the majority of subjects, but not necessarily all of them. There are, of course, women who would love to have hundreds of sexual partners, who love to engage in casual sex, and who hold physical appearance in high esteem. There are men who prefer to stay with one partner, and find personality traits attractive. Psychology is not a game of absolutes, but research and studies —like the work done by evolutionary psychologists— help to give us a broad picture into what most people are like and how humans have evolved to become what they are.