Dossiers Sexologiques

15 February 2008

In the current issue of The Berry, student political newspaper, Ni and Shahvisi ask “Why shouldn’t women play the field?” wondering why promiscuous women are not socially acceptable. This week, Dossiers attempts to answer this question…

“We all have sexual freedom, why not use is?” the article asks. Well, there is no reason for a single person of any sex not to practise safe sex with other consenting adults until and beyond the point of full liberation. But this is not at issue here. Instead, we have to look at reasons at why the society dislikes promiscuous women, and, in fact, why it did so for thousands of years-this is no recent invention. Surely, male-dominated society wouldn’t, as article suggests, favour women to be non-promiscuous. If anything most men would probably want women (other than their partners) to be more promiscuous.

Rates of partner exchange in homosexual men is much higher than in heterosexual men suggesting that it is the women who are the ones who control how many partners heterosexual men have sex with, not men. Also, prostitution is mainly a female job for male customers who are in higher demand of sex then females. Sexual coercion, or rape, also happens more often when a male forces a female to have sex with him. It is clear then that men are more promiscuous than women. The reason for this lies in the basic evolutionary fact that males of most species can increase the number of offspring they have by increasing the quantity of sex they have with different partners. There is even an evolved adaptation in males to prefer novel females, the so called ‘Coolidge effect’ (The name allegedly comes from presidential visit to a poultry farm where Mrs Coolidge asked if the rooster copulates more than once a day. The answer was yes, many times a day. She said “tell that to Mr Coolidge”. After hearing this, Mr Coolidge asked if the rooster always copulates with the same hen. The answer was no, with different hen each time. He said “tell that to Mrs Coolidge”.)

So, men can increase their biological fitness substantially by being promiscuous. Women can only increase their biological fitness slightly through being promiscuous (through acquiring better quality genes from other men). However, while there is little to gain there is everything to loose. Everything meaning their partner’s support in terms of investment in them and their children.

It is evolutionarily wise for men to avoid promiscuous women as they can never be sure whose children they are raising. Men’s side of the family should also frown upon such partners as their genetic interests are similar. Women’s side of the family would also discourage promiscuity as it would decrease the chance of successful marriage with a serious, investing man and might leave them with a cost of raising a stranger’s children.

In effect, successfully promiscuous men gain a limited, valuable resource; successfully promiscuous women gain something anyone can have, unlimited and thereby not very valuable resource. Social disapproval of women’s promiscuity might then stem from our evolved biological/psychological tendencies that helped our ancestors leave more offspring behind.