The response to sluts v prudes: Is it our genes?
Girl Fight: Sluts vs. Prudes …. part two.
Comment by lilech:
I agree that the patterns of behavior are influenced by social factors. We’ve been raised with an old set of values according to which increased sexual activity makes women ‘sluts’ (a strong insult coveying negative value) but makes men ‘studs’ (usually a compliment conferring positive value). It’s a value system that we should try and get rif of.
But can we? What if this ‘double-standard’ value system, with its resulting behavioral patterns, was hard-wired into us during evolution? I’d like to think we’re still free to change our thinking and values even if they were conditioned by natural selection, but after reading an interview in Salon I’m not so sure that we have this freedom. The interview is at http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/2010/08/05/booty_call/index.html . In it, a psychologist argues that until recently (when better birth control became available), sexual activity could be very costly for women since it would result in her having lots of kids without any assurance of a supporting male to help look after them. So it made more sense for women to withhold sex so they could use it as a bargaining chip via which to extract a commitment from men (so that the men would help support any resulting children).
While that strategy might not make as much sense now (since sex is much less likely to result in children if birth control’s used), it might be part of a set of attitudes towards sex that most people will always hold simply as a result of evolution. As the psychologist put it, it might turn out that we just don’t have the power/freedom to escape our biology (including our evolutionary history) and that, as a result, men and women will continue to have conflicting interests when it comes to sex. Men will aim at being studs (thereby spreading their genes around as much as possible) while women will aim at not being ‘sluts’ (since in the past that would result in having too many kids and not enough male support for them). The pessimistic upshot is that while it would now make more sense for us to do away with the old double standards (as you recommend), human nature makes it very unlikely that most people will make that change.
Reply, via Pepper:
If sex was primarily about reproduction, as it is for many other mammals, why is ovulation hidden, even from women? The scenario you describe would make more sense if we had distinct ‘heat’ periods, but we don’t.
Which leads me to believe, from a strictly biological standpoint, that sex is primarily about social bonding in humans, and the incredible range of sexual behavior and gender fluidity that we see across cultures kind of bears this out. Why? Well, evolution doesn’t really work on a small, individual personal, or even cultural level. It’s about the species. I think we tend to forget that, in all of these nature vs. nurture conversations.
And western values around sex are not universal. Patriarchy is near universal, but not completely so, and if there are exceptions, then it’s not biological.
So on a species wide scale, sex for social bonding may be more important than anything else in the survival of our actual offspring. And that is fitness, which is the essence of evolution.
So my point is that many mammals have a very very narrow range of sexual behaviors, but humans don’t. Most mammals have distinct and apparent periods of ovulation. Humans don’t. Sex doesn’t always result in pregnancy for us, and pregnancy doesn’t always result in offspring. That is a really profound statement about our biology that is often just swept aside when we want to get all defensive about preserving our sexual behavior and gender norms on the basis of the fallacy that its natural, and that whatever is natural is better.
Reply via Anton:
Asking whether we can escape our biology is a misleading question, I think. On the one level it’s almost certainly true: we *are* our biology, so “escaping our biology” would mean escaping ourselves. Which doesn’t even make sense.
But! Just by looking around it’s easy to see that people have a vast range of behaviors and attitudes and and values. For example, many people have in actual fact rejected the slut/stud double standard that you describe. So it’s obviously not impossible.
Maybe the answer is that our biology and our “hard-wiring” is actually pretty darn flexible and too complex to be captured by simple theories. Maybe there really is an evolutionary pressure for females to be more selective about sex than males–it stands to reason. But there are also a million other evolutionary pressures that have, in total, resulted in fantastically sophisticated organisms that are capable of adapting their behavior within broad parameters to suit the demands of their environment.
Thanks, Pepper & Anton. You’ve convinced me that that psychologist’s pessimistic view isn’t well supported.
Interesting, yes? I did blog in this vein as well, but I find Pepper’s expansion on this topic quite insightful.
And just so I actually write something in this post, here’s my response – as the final thoughts on this topic:
This is actually something my girlfriends and I are struggling with. We believe that we are sexually empowered women who LOVE sex. It’s not that we’re interested in random sex and not a long-term relationship. It’s more that we typically know very early on (with most people) that we want to have sex with them. After making that decision, we want to be able to have sex when we want it (as long as the other person is into it too, which they typically are) – whether that is after three dates, or three hours. We feel like, as two consenting adults, this shouldn’t be a problem. This shouldn’t result in disrespect (as once commenter put it) and this shouldn’t mean we can’t continue to date someone and get to know them – i.e. pursue a relationship.
One night stands are also fine. Whatever. It’s about wanting to have our sex when we want it, and not waiting because of societal views we don’t believe in. Or evolutionary behavior that surely we’ve outgrown (we have rational brains – although I also love the discussion in the comments here on that subject).
The unfortunate thing we’ve come up against is that boys (I use the term on purpose) aren’t very good at understanding this. They tend to be very into us and we’re into them so… sex happens. If they think it’s too soon, they pull the disappearing act. I sweat it’s not us, it’s them.
I don’t care if it’s a societal value that these DBs are buying into. I don’t care if there is a evolutionary basis for this behavior (I get it). The bottom line is… haven’t we moved past this? Why can’t we be strong, confident, sexual beings… and fuck like men?
I guess the bottom line is… I don’t really want to pursue a relationship with a man who isn’t fucking me because he likes me, or wants to hide behind either a societal standard or an evolutionary explanation that leaves him off the hook for rational thought. I can still want to fuck him… and if he bails, just another indicator of who he is.