I had a laptop disaster over the weekend (Mac says the crash was caused by old liquid damage, ouch. No more wine while writing.) Anyway, I got a brand new computer today, and am up and running once again. It’s good to be back and I learned something important during this period: I’m not indispensable! The discussions continued without me, which is so great. Let’s dig in.
Mating, romance, sex and love are inherently strategic. Our strategies are designed to solve particular problems for successful mating. Though modern conditions of mating differ from ancestral conditions, the same sexual strategies operate.
David Buss, Professor of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin
It didn’t surprise me when there was pushback from sex crazed feminists on last week’s post about Jaclyn Friedman seeking encounters on Craigslist. What did surprise me was the absolute tenacity with which Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon demanded to know how many sexual partners it takes to make a woman a slut. Like a dog with a bone, she growled and defended her turf, wary and distrustful of an interloper who dares to question, much less refute feminist orthodoxy.
She belabored the point again in her rebuttal:
We got into a Twitter battle over this, and I kept trying to get Susan to define a “slut” for me, based on the universally understood idea belief that you’re a slut once your Number gets over a certain point.
While I suspect that she was trying to bait a trap, so that she could proceed to deride my definition, she lent validation to the concept that sluthood can be achieved after one has climbed (or descended) a ladder of sorts. If sluthood is a good thing, a badge that feminist “badasses” proudly wear, then they must need a metric to know when a woman has met all of the requirements. She needs to have been sufficiently indiscriminate in her choice of sexual partners in order to claim membership in that hallowed sisterhood. When I suggested that for women who want relationships, casual sex may not be the best strategy, Marcotte replied:
Apparently in the femosphere, having a lot of casual sex is a way of communicating that you are confident, and sexy, and have no needs, or at least not any that might be fulfilled by a male. I believe there are less risky ways of getting that message across.
The Sexual Double Standard
Sexual promiscuity has always been a real issue for women. I’ve written about this previously, in The Sex Risk for Women That No One Likes to Talk About. Known as the double-standard, invented and perpetrated by patriarchy, feminists refuse to accept it, which is entirely their right. However, ignoring what is largely a matter of biology is erroneous. The double-standard has historically served a very important purpose in sexual relations, namely that of decreasing false paternity claims, which cost men dearly in emotional and physical resources. Indeed, jealousy is believed to have evolved as a means of discouraging cuckoldry:
“Jealousy, experts agree, is a survival mechanism, although what is most at stake is a matter of debate. The most destructive of passions—it is a leading cause of homicide—and the least studied, it is, like all emotions, born of necessity, with roots deep in our evolutionary past. Its purpose: to help maintain intimate relationships.”
This explains why men have always placed a premium on sexual inexperience when selecting for long-term mating. American men, in selecting among 67 desirable traits, ranked sexual faithfulness and loyalty #1. According to The Evolution of Desire (Buss, 1994):
“Studies demonstrate that women’s preferences for short-term mates include availability as a marriage partner. They strongly resemble their preferences for a husband: kind, romantic, understanding, exciting, stable, healthy, humorous, and generous with resources. In other words, women have high standards for both short-term and long-term relationships, or at least that’s how we’ve evolved thus far.
Conversely, men select for very different traits when seeking short-term sexual partners. Compared with their long-term preferences, men don’t want casual partners who are prudish, conservative or have a low sex drive. In contrast to standards for committed relationships, for short-term sex they want: sexual experience, including promiscuity, and a high sex drive.”
These evolved differences mean that historically, men have not been shamed for having many sexual partners, and indeed they benefit from social proof when women observe their success in attracting other women. In recent years, as the ratio of casual sex/relationship sex has increased dramatically on college campuses, there has been a backlash of sorts, with women indicating that they find extremely promiscuous males unattractive and unworthy. The study is explained more fully in my post It’s About Time: The New Reverse Double Standard.
Men’s natural preference for sexual faithfulness and loyalty in women means that many will reject women who exhibit behaviors that contraindicate for that. A woman’s sexual history serves as a proxy, or indicator of future behavior. It is not perfect, but men can and do make use of this information when selecting partners. This does not mean that a promiscuous woman cannot find a mate, but it does mean that the pool of men from which she may select has shrunk dramatically. A woman may say, “I would never want a guy who felt that way,” and that’s perfectly legitimate. Still, it’s important that she understand the effectiveness of various sexual strategies in mating so that she may make informed decisions.
It’s also true that a woman who is expending energy seeking and engaging in no-strings sex is not wholly available for a longer-term relationship. Halfwaying it always exacts an opportunity cost and distracts from the long-term objective.
Promiscuity is a poor strategy for women who seek a long-term relationship, or life partner.
Other Negative Characteristics of Sexual Promiscuity
Aside from evolved male preferences, there are other risks associated with promiscuous sexual behavior. Most of these apply to men as well.
1. Increased prevalence of STIs, compromised fertility.
2. Research shows that 20% of men and 41% of women strongly prefer dating to hooking up.
“Women more than men seem to want a relationship. They fear, both in dating and hooking up, that they will become emotionally attached to a partner who is not interested in them.
Men more than women seem to value independence. They fear that even in hooking up relationships, which are supposed to be free of commitments, a woman might seek to establish a relationship.”
When those hopes fail to materialize, there is often some degree of emotional distress. Over time, a repeated pattern of post-hookup avoidance makes young people cynical and jaded about relationships.
3. Research shows that children of divorce are more likely to engage in no-strings sex, and to avoid relationships. They hook up earlier, more frequently, and have sexual intercourse during hookups earlier.
4. Risky sexual behavior may reflect genetic personality traits, including a high degree of risk-seeking, high degree of extraversion, and high degree of neuroticism.
5. The use of copious amounts of alcohol before hooking up is commonplace. Indeed, both women and men indicate that they drink heavily in order to summon the courage to hook up. Alcohol use is also a primary factor in sexual assault.
6. Hookup sex is generally rated as lower in quality by participants than relationship sex, due to lack of intimacy and knowledge of one’s partner. This is more true for women, obviously, as men often express that “The sex wasn’t great, but there was lots of it!”
7. Marital stability is correlated with the number of pre-marital sexual partners:
“Consider the 2003 study of over 10,000 women which found that as the number of non-marital sexual partners went up, the probability of marital stability went down. For example, once a woman has had 5 sexual partners, the probability of pulling off an intact marriage dips under 30%; it is under 20% when the number of sexual partners reaches the upper teens.”
What is the Magic Number?
How many cupcakes can you eat without gaining weight? How many sick coworkers will it take to make you ill with the flu? How many drinks does it take to make an alcoholic?
It depends. It’s not an exact science. It’s not one-size-fits-all.
The right number of sexual partners for a woman will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- personality traits
- family history
- relationship history
- relationship goals
- life goals
Some women feel badly about hitting double digits. Others celebrate with a round of tequila shots. Some women are embarrassed to be virgins, or to have had only 1-2 partners. Others love the dopamine high that comes with impulsive, risky, or even dangerous behavior.
Some men object to 5 partners. Men with a great deal of sexual experience themselves may consider 20 rounding error. Some men will judge sexual history depending on the nature of the relationships. As indicated above, men prefer promiscuous women with a high sex drive for short-term mating. If that’s your goal, you should have no difficulty in getting all the casual sex you can handle. If you hope to marry or cohabit and possibly have children, you should understand the tradeoffs so that you can make an informed decision about which strategy you wish to pursue.
In closing, I will share one last thought. This excerpt from the post Marcotte linked to really pissed her off and led her to call me a liar. It’s #15 of the 20 Reasons You Don’t Have a Boyfriend:
Your number is too high. OK, fine, you don’t want any guy who cares about how many people you’ve slept with. Problem is….that’s most guys. You don’t have to tell anyone your personal data. Just be aware that when you’re making the rounds within a certain community or group of friends, word gets out fast. I don’t think there has ever, ever been a guy who got laid and didn’t tell anyone about it afterwards. If your number is high and that fact is well known, you have every right to find a new pack of males and reinvent yourself.
I’ll stand by this. Your sexual history is your personal business. You are not obligated to share it with anyone. I’ll preempt the guys right here who claim they have a surefire list of “slut tells.” If you’re a woman who has been trolling for sex online, that’s bound to come across in a myriad of ways. But if you’re feeling regrets, or like you may have overindulged, there’s no reason you can’t change your behavior and change your life.