Evolutionary Psych’s Double Standard

The double standard.

The double standard.

Evolutionary psychology says the sexual double standard dwells within our genes: men are naturally polygamous and women are naturally monogamous.

It can’t be helped.

Unfortunately, the theory harms women’s sexuality. And unnecessarily, because the theory has some problems.

The math doesn’t work

According to the theory, men are polygamous because — with millions of sperm — they will best reproduce themselves by “spreading their seed” far and wide.

But since a woman will bear only a small number of children, she can best pass on her genes by putting a lot of time and resources into the few children she bears. And by finding a guy who will stick around to help provide for them.

But the math doesn’t work. Men can’t be having sex with lots of different women if each woman will only have sex with one man.

Mathematicians have wondered: Are men having more sex outside the country than women are? Are they seeing more prostitutes, who don’t answer surveys? Yes. But not enough to make sense of the numbers.

And as it turns out, if you tell men and women that you are using a lie detector when you ask about partner numbers, male and female answers turn out the same.

Will kids abandoned by their dads grow up to reproduce themselves?

And the theory contradicts itself. If children need the support of their parents, how many kids abandoned by their dads will grow up to reproduce themselves — and their fathers genes?

As it turns out, humans began living mostly monogamously soon after they started living in large groups. With more support and resources, children grew bigger brains and were more likely to survive.

Even today kids are more likely to reach adulthood, and be physically and mentally healthier, when BOTH biological parents stick around. Even compared to having stepparents, says anthropologist Robert Quinlan. This is true whether the cultures are modern, agrarian, or hunter-gatherer.

Maybe that’s why 75% of men say they prefer relationship sex, versus the 25% who don’t. Sticking around to care for your kids may be evolutionarily advantageous.

But about 25% of young men and women say they don’t prefer monogamy. In fact, a few of my friends choose open marriage or polyamory. They make sure to put family first, so that regardless of their sexual adventures, they are always there for their kids.

Are women naturally more monogamous?

So why are women less likely than men to say they’ve had a lot of partners?

The obvious answer is that patriarchal cultures (most of the world these days) punish women for behaving any other way. So they conveniently forget a few of their partners. (And since “players” are celebrated, men are more likely to pad their numbers.)

But in places where women’s sexuality is valued and not shamed, men and women both readily admit to having had a number of partners. For instance, in the sex-positive societies of the South Pacific — particularly before (and right after) contact with whites.

Evolutionary psychology harms women’s sexuality

Evolutionary psychology is inherently conservative. If our behavior is grounded in our genes, we can’t change. So don’t even try. And if it’s evolutionarily advantageous, all is as it should be.

Next, we punish women and reward men for non-monogamy.

And then the double standard becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, dampening women’s desire as they suppress it — and even lose it to some degree — which isn’t good for anyone.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 27, 2015, in feminism, men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Evolutionary psychology ideas like this one remind me of the tiresome argument of men being the dominant sex because it’s “how nature works”. Conservatives tend to pick out bits and pieces of science that fit their agenda, relying on examples from nature where the male plays the dominant role but omitting species like the spotted hyena, in which the female is highly dominant. What conservatives fail to observe is that humans are highly social creatures like many other mammal species, yet we have the cognitive ability to form incredibly complex relationships with one another. Because of this, we are able to create a culture from which we learn social cues and behaviors from. Stating that males should be dominant because nature says so is as ludicrous as saying we should all be forced to be nudists because other animals don’t wear clothes. Male dominance is less of a natural phenomenon and more of a learned cultural norm. The concept of evolutionary psychology is grounded mostly in guesswork, in which thousands of possible answers could be construed to explain a number of behaviors, even when said behaviors are contradictory. All that evolutionary psychology serves to do is provide conservatives with a means to justify their opinions and have credibility through “science”.

  2. “Evolutionary psychology harms women’s sexuality” YES. THIS. SO MUCH THIS.

  3. I really hate double standard and especially things like this. Woman should be able to have a polygamous relationship just like men would without having to be criticized. And the whole thing with the need to reproduce seems somewhat exaggerated excuse because we don’t live in those times anymore were we really needed to reproduce to survive. This is just social construction with gender roles. Men are able to adventure off while women cannot because it is not lady like. It’s not fair that women can’t be polygamous because its not what a woman should be doing and they will be shunned by society and called names for their supposedly bad actions.

  4. Great post and topic, you hinted that you were going to be discussing this in an early post/reply. Insecure political and religious structures controlled by men suppress and as the post begins, punishes the psyche of women…it is damaging as it limited the happiness that people can achieve in this short life we all have. Why do people get so caught up on the sexuality of others? In many Native American communities, children are raised by the village and there is more inherent trust and security because of this. A powerful post and great questions.

    • Thank you! All patriarchal types tend to get assessed with controlling women’s sexuality. It seems to give them a sense of control, a sense that women are being controlled. Plus, in early cultures when you didn’t know who daddy was the name and property passed through women, which gave them a lot of power.

  5. Stephen Yogi

    The double standards imposed on women are the most interesting concept. The common phrase that people often pair with the idea of women and monogamy, with the key and the lock analogy. The analogy seemed extremely strange to me as a younger male and took me years to realize why I felt it to be strange. The idea that a gender could be put down so often by an entire culture is asinine. The problem in my opinion starts with men, or more specifically fathers and the way they raise children. By instilling the idea that promiscuity is looked down upon in one gender but is a sign of value and dominance in the other seems absurd. Evolutionary psychology seems to have a lot of flawed thinking in it, but does have valid points to offer.

    • Yeah, evolutionary psychology has some points that actually makes sense. But the double standard isn’t one of them.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  6. I agree with the article when they say that the math does not add up just simply because men have a large number of sperm. I believe some women may lie because as pointed out, it’s seen differently by society. It is acceptable for men to be polygamous and not for women so they lie about how many partners they’ve had. If a man wants to have a large number of children he can find a woman that’s wants the same thing. He doesn’t have to sleep around to reproduce. When you are young and unsure of who you are fully it’s okay to spend time getting to know yourself and that may include dating to see what you like and what you don’t and enjoying being single but, I believe there comes a time when you say okay i know what i like and then you can find and get to know a person that has the qualities you seek. Then you can get married and start a family. At that point, because you promised to be with this person through sickness and health, you have to think about their feelings and if you have children them as well and make the decision to be an adult and see it through. Just my opinion.

  7. Interesting that what some might think is an authentic want is more a product of conditioning. I think that applies to a number of standards of society too. The idea back in the day that after school, early adulthood, marriage and motherhood is what one is supposed to want- people getting into both when they’re not really ready or if the conditioning hadn’t been ingrained in might not have been their choice.

    • So many things that seem biological turnout to be socialization/conditioning once you do cross cultural research and see that different societies do things in different ways.

  8. I wonder how many published evolutionary psychologists are men. It seems like ignorant thinking when you draw the conclusion that women are (or should be) more monogamous than men because of the amount of sperm they have to ‘spread.’ Also, the patriarchal stereotype that women endure (and can also embrace) as a submissive and attentive housewife/mother comes into play right off the bat. Not that choosing to be a stay at home mother is wrong, but being automatically profiled and having that role used as prime evidence to support a theory that is supposed to be scientific, is ridiculous and obviously sexist!

    Also, I believe that if your communication and parenting skills/techniques can be cohesive and consistent to each other’s- sexual adventure should be accepted. You can be good parents with ‘un-conventional’ relationships if you can can get along well that way! I do agree that ensuring a healthy lifestyle for children is important. So, practicing this before you have children when you are married or are in a relationship can be beneficial so you can anticipate what ups and downs you’ll go through.

  9. In my opinion, for the point “men are naturally polygamous and women are naturally monogamous” is because women are more emotional than man. Women care much more about “love”, so woman is easy to struggle with whether or not the guy loves her, which causes women get hurt in a relationship. Moreover, I agree that the culture is stricter for women most of time. If a woman sleeps with many different gays, people judge her; if a man has various sex partners, he may not bear the judgments all around. It’s really unfair to women. However, there are some people who prefer open sex relationship even they have gotten married. If they could get agreement with his/her wife/husband, they still could have sex out of marriage. When I first time heard of the open sex relationship, I have to admit I was shocked and it’s not understandable. But I met someone who had this kind of open sex relationship in the real life. Then, personally, I still think that a relationship is supposed to be loyal and honest, but I won’t judge them because it’s their choice.

    • Actually, if you look at the numbers — at least if people think that they are strapped up to a lie detector — Women aren’t any more monogamous, And men aren’t any more polygamous.

      Most men and women prefer relationship sex, too. About three quarters of both genders.

      But a when men and women have casual sex, on average men tend to be less bothered by it (and some women really enjoy it). But what causes what? Women are punished by society when they are more polygamous, so maybe that creates the effect.

      In more sex-positive societies, Like Oceana, men and women have very similar attitudes towards sexuality.

    • “If a woman sleeps with many different guys, people judge her; if a man has various sex partners, he may not bear the judgments all around. It’s really unfair to women.”

      Don’t you think women need to start viewed men who sleep around in a negative light? This is part of problem. Society is made up of men and women. Men tend to judge women more harshly for their sexuality than other women. But, women tend to be totally non judgmental of men who are cads, playboys, and man wh&&&es.

      Until women start to view such men as undesirable (instead of prized as it is today), then little if anything is going to change.

      • Oh women do or from what I’ve seen. The problem is that many guy’s don’t care if women don’t like it as long as it impresses other guys or strokes that man’s own ego. The reason why I say that is because, my best friend, ( I don’t know why or don’t think it’s anybody’s business) but he’s lied big time about the number of girls he’s slept with, because he knew the girlfriend would find it a turn off for him to be such a manwhore. Girls do not like manwhores, especially if it’s a guy they want a relationship with, because they feel or fear he’s either used women, might not be committed to something serious, he might have an std from all the fun he’s had, which I can’t blame them. Yeah they probably expect a man to have slept around to an extent, but there is definitely a limit. If she knows or feels the guy just like slept with the whole school’s number of girls and manwhoring around, then it’s not something they are happy about. Guy’s need to realize this.

        Guy’s have their fun when young and with their bros and sleep around when young. Then time comes where they want a relationship and they are at the age of not being bachelor frat boys anymore and their buddies are getting serious and they want a realtionship themselves. Then seeing what impressed their buddies with all the hot ass they scored, isn’t quite the same with that beautiful, smart girl he likes a lot and wants a relationship with or is in with and he has to downgrade his sexescapedes, Because she won’t be too fond if he was completely honest with what a slut he was during his times and how he treated or viewed women and sex. So it’s something guys to think about. Not to not have fun, but girls are taking notice and girls aren’t impressed about your “scores” like your buddies are, so something to think about as far as far as long term and how things are or will be when you’re older.

  10. It is sad to hear that men are non-monogamous, but eventually, in reality, men used to have more than girlfriends, and they can manage themselves and do sex with all of them with none of them knew that he has more than her! If we came to women, they are more loyal and emotionally feel in love and she thinks that she only can have sex with him since he is her love. That is the difference, women cannot feel or imagine herself that she can be selfish and break her loyalty, and have so many partners because when she is in love she seems that the person whom she loves him is the person whom she has to get married and have children from him. This is her characteristic that based on women and the culture treats her as well, too. Even the man should be a loyal dad when they get married and help the mothers to encourage and build their children’s personality in a right way. But, if one part is missed since one of them still have relationships and sex with many partners, their kids will assume that this is what they should be when they grow up! So, life will go on and will never change this idea about having sex with many partners!

  11. After reading this I thought about a statistic I once read. It stated that men on average sleep with 12 people and women only sleep with 6. Now how is that possible? Women feel as though they need to lower their number and men feel as though they need to raise theirs. This all starts back in high school when boys get praised for getting to “home base” and girls get called sluts if they do anything or prudes for doing nothing. There is never any winning for women, but men win with each step closer they get to sleeping with a women. The double standard is really real. Something needs to change, so women don’t feel pressured to have or not have sex.

    • Women are known to understate their number of sexual partners, while men tend to exaggerate.

      I am convinced beyond the shadow of any doubt that women, on average, have far more sexual partners over a lifetime than the men. The only men who can reach double digit partners are men who are either good looking/sexually attractive, high status, musicians/artist. Most men fall into neither category.

      If sex were so readily available to men as your position implies, then why are there so many prostitutes? And why are men willing to pay for sex? Or have to pay for sex to obtain sex? Btw, how many women do you know must resort to paying for sex? Thank you.

      Yes, a double standard does exist. Here is something to consider: men do engage in slut shaming….But why don’t women repudiate the cads and playboys? Quite the opposite is reality! What this tells me is women simply do not seems to care at all how many women a man has been with. The more the better it seems. The exact opposite is the case for men. So, why don’t women start caring? Maybe this would go a long way towards eliminating the double standard.

  12. Isn;t this part to do with the fact that men need to be charming, good looking, decent job, intelligent, etc and all these things that tick the box for women, to cause a woman to wan to date and have sex with him? A woman just has to look decent, and doesn’t even have to be pretty for a man to want to have sex with her. She doesn’t have to charm him or show nothing in comparison. Women are held to a higher standard, because of how women are much more selective with their desire than men. Society already placed men as “easy sluts” who just need something pretty to see to want sex, therefore the low expectation of men and their desire. It’s because more girls and women are selective and everything goes from there. I think of hypothetically if babies in the next decade grew up and everything boys saw since little was girls their same age had the same desire and view as they did, then there wouldn’t be such thing as slut.

    If boys in the future grew up and there were programs equally of men in sexual clothing and girls were ogling it just as much as men toward womens. And if commercials and ads were equally filled with eye candy for women and women being distracted and desirious towards that. Boys in highschool and girls sexuality just like a man’s and girls looking at sites with nude men or shirltess men on the internet, and if women’s sexuaiity was visual and sexual like men, then girls wouldn’t be seen as sluts for sleeping around, because it would be seen as the “norm:”. In the past and today though, most women are selective to a degre, therefore, the reason that women who step out from that norm as seen as “sluts”. It’s seen as the norm for men, which is why men aren’t “sluts”. If in a parellel universe of human beings and women weren’t selective about sex and boys were and were emotionally selective and all or most of the visual stimuli was catered to women and not men. But if a subset of these men weren’t selective or emotional like other men and they wanted sex in a promiscuous way, they’d stand out from the norm and could be seen as “sluts” and not in a complimentary way.

    • Maybe.

      The reason why women are generally less interested is because their sexuality is repressed.

      In societies like Oceana, where neither sexy is objectified, and where neither are shamed, there is very little difference in the sexual behavior or enjoyment of women and men.

  13. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but at some point, if a person can’t grow beyond uncommitted, non-relational sex, “where’s the beef?” (as the old Wendy’s commercial used to ask)..

  14. Even sparrows and swans engage in non-monogamous sex. In high school they used to do exercises in blood-typing in biology class. That practice ended when, on more than one occasion, kids would take the project home and discover that Dad wasn’t Dad. The rewards are about the same as between the genders, but the penalties are disproportionately borne by the women.

    • Interesting. Thank you.

    • I think it serves an evolutionary purpose. It also may offer a solution to certain forms of compatibility based infertility (or for male infertility). Never worked for me as a turn on–but I defend anyone’s right to engage in it, so long as it’s done openly and honestly without the intent to hurt anyone.

      • That’s the thing about evolutionary psychology: you can find an evolutionary reason for contradictory forms of behavior.

        . It’s evolutionary to be monogamous because children are more likely to get resources and survive
        . It’s evolutionary for men to be promiscuous because they can spread their seed
        . It’s evolutionary for women to be promiscuous because they can have sex with a lot of different men, and let the best sperm win

      • Yet another problem with evolutionary psychology. They say that we are the way we are because some species of animal is a particular way. Yet 1) we are not animals and 2) different species behave in different ways

  15. It’s sad why would you get marry in first place and then decide to have sex adventures, while you have kids? It’s really sad! It’s better to stay single and do whatever you want and have an infinite amount of partners you wish. I believe a man or woman who’s married and have sex adventures outside marriage, is selfish to his or her kids, because even if she or he’s says , that they are always there for the kids, it’s not true. In order for you to be count has being there for the kids, you should keep your ass home and live your married life like you should. And before getting married,make sure it’s really what you want. And the person you want to marry is exactly who you dreamed of marrying. Get to know the person better, meaning the negative and positive parts of the person’s life for at least 1years. I think after experiencing your life with the other person’s life, you want have the need to have sex outside. But for single people you can have as much partners as you wish … Maybe I mistaken the topic 😦

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