The Sexual Double Standard Cuts Both Ways

January 6, 2012

One of my core beliefs about mating is that the sexual double standard reflects the biological differences between the sexes. Generally speaking, men prefer women with less sexual experience than they have and women prefer men with more sexual experience than they have (Buss, The Evolution of Desire). While it’s true that many women today seek to shed the encumbrance of their virginity, we all know that the aging male virgin is an object of cultural ridicule. In today’s sexual marketplace, many women will ruthlessly disqualify a man for a perceived lack of sexual experience or finesse. (Cads will do the same to female virgins, but that reflects their short-term mating priorities rather than long-term preference.) Today we’ve reached a point where there are more male virgins than female virgins in college (43% vs. 37%), reflecting the increasing divide between the minority of men who have sexual options and the rest.

I’ve stated before that my interest in sex (and who’s having it) is a strategic one. I’m not concerned with moral questions around casual sex. Indeed, I do not believe that casual sex is immoral. My opposition to casual sex is rooted in the belief that it is a risky strategy for women who wish to ultimately settle with a life partner. This is not to say that promiscuous women will be unable to marry, just that promiscuity limits one’s options by dramatically shrinking the pool of potentially interested partners. There is also some evidence that the prior number of sexual partners, as well as the age at which women lose their virginity, are risk factors for divorce. (More about male promiscuity in a bit.) 

Ultimately, my position re casual sex means that there will be times when I will applaud a male for having gotten laid, while withholding approval from a female for the same behavior. This is simply a reflection of my position that men and women experience sex differently, and judge one another accordingly. It is a double standard, one that’s built in, and 40+ years of feminism’s trying to “reeducate” men and women has been an unmitigated failure. I believe that it’s possible, though by no means guaranteed, that a man may profit from a casual sexual encounter. I believe it’s also possible, though much less likely, that a woman may benefit from a casual sexual encounter.

At the same time, I believe that people should be held accountable for their own choices. Basically, “you break it, you own it.” Both sexes have full sexual agency today, and we are seeing that play out in an increasingly dysfunctional sexual marketplace. We should not be in the business of trying to protect either sex from themselves. I do not hold men responsible for the emotional toll on a woman who readily engages in casual sex with them (provided they have not engaged in deceit.) Nor do I hold women responsible for the emotional toll on a man who falls for a woman who is clearly averse to commitment. Again, it is a strategic matter – we should avoid those people who we can reasonably judge as being unwilling to give us what we want.

Eric Barker at Barking Up the Wrong Tree recently shared a study that looks at how men and women respond after having sex with a person for the first time:

This article develops the Affective Ship Hypothesis, which suggests that women experience positive affective shifts following first-time intercourse as a means to facilitate a longer-term, more committed relationship. The hypothesis predicts a negative affective shift in men who pursue a short-term mating strategy; this shift is hypothesized to function to curtail commitment by motivating the man to terminate the relationship.

In two separate studies, researchers found that “men with high numbers of sex partners, but not men with low numbers of partners, experienced a decrease in their partner’s physical and sexual attractiveness following first-time sexual intercourse. In contrast, women, more than men, experienced increases in feelings of love and commitment following first-time sex.”

In other words, a manwhore will like you less after having sex with you, while a less sexually experienced man will like you more.

This has clear implications for women: there is indeed a boomerang effect in male  promiscuity. Preselection is not endlessly beneficial as an indicator of mating fitness. We know that male promiscuity is a risk factor for divorce, but it also means that a man with a high number of past sexual partners begins to tire of you immediately after having sex with you.

While women often prefer men who have sexual options, and consequently some sexual experience, they would do well do avoid promiscuous men.