Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Men do everything they do to get laid?

Ted Maxwell of Intelligence Squared asks that I pass on this notice of a live online debate on evolutionary psychology at 18:45 GMT on Dec. 10.
Can it really be true that men do everything they do to get laid? Yes, argue the proponents of evolutionary psychology - because in their view the largely unconscious motive of human behaviour is to maximize reproductive success, which in men's case means getting sexual access to as many fertile women as possible. And so men - without necessarily being aware of it - do everything they do in order to get laid, and they are evolutionarily designed to behave in this way, because if they (and their ancestors) weren't, they wouldn't be here today. Women, on the other hand, have to be rather more careful about who they sleep with.
This, according to the theory, is why most millionaires, criminals and creative geniuses are men, why Intelligence Squared has such trouble finding good women speakers for its debates, and why middle-aged men tend to leave their wives for younger women. But what about the 50% of men who stick with their first marriage? And are we really saying that every creative endeavour - from the Sistine Chapel to the splitting of the atom - is nothing more than the manifestation of an underlying psychological impulse to copulate as much as possible?


  1. This is a narrow perspective. More generally, a thing (in this case, person) does everything it does so that it can continue to persist. Passing on genes is one way to (sort of) persist, but so is passing on ideas or leaving lasting emotional impressions on people. In all those cases, part of "you" is retained somewhere else, granting a greater degree of persistence.

  2. I forgot to mention making lasting changes in society. Basically, leaving one's "fingerprint". Getting laid is just the most "easiest" way to do that.

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  4. "Yes, argue the proponents of evolutionary psychology - because in their view the largely unconscious motive of human behaviour is to maximize reproductive success"

    Do they? There's a constant trade-off between natural selection and sexual selection. Getting laid is necessary but not sufficient in practice. Men must also survive to get laid, and accessing and retaining sexual access to females may require some competition with other males, ranging from ritualized to life-threatening. Females will evolve to tune into a range of life skills of males in addition to their sexual alure; this might even include a capacity and desire to care for offspring.

    Just wanting sex won't be enough.

  5. Anonymous8:41 AM

    "But what about the 50% of men who stick with their first marriage?" -- It is indeed an evolutionary advantage for men to reproduce prolifically--"spread their seeds"--because it increases the odds of passing on their genes. But merely increasing the evolutionary odds isn't enough. Having multiple progeny doesn't pay off if they die young or fail to further reproduce! In today's highly individualized society, marriage makes sense because it is one way for men to ensure that their offspring survive to pass on their genes. The alternatives of impregnating multiple women and giving them full responsibility for caretaking aren't so attractive--abortions occur, women find other men and reproduce their children, creating a competition of resources, single women struggle to support themselves in a patriarchal society, etc. There may be evolutionary advantages for monogamy.

    Yet again, how do we explain the ~50% divorce rate?! This may be a product of the increasing role of the welfare society. Whereas it used to be "every man for himself," it can be generally assumed that government will step in to aid suffering children and their mothers. Women's families can also be counted on, generally, to step in. We're also at a point where, more than ever before, women have the capacity to successfully caretake on their own. All these factors may contribute to an evolutionary perspective of modern divorce and why men seek multiple women.

    Another interesting question: What about the increasing number of women who decide not to have children? Women who do not reproduce nullify their ancestors striving for survival. The buck stops here. I think this is where ergo ratio's discussion of symbolic reproduction is useful. Perhaps humans are now able to defy their selfish genes because their newfound powers of consciousness enable them to aim for the transcendental. Genetic defiance! And so we have traversed from science to philosophy; and psychology will bring us back to science.

    Conjectures ;)
    Tierra OR

  6. I guess you could say that evolution had more luck equiping us with sexual desire than an abstract desire to propagate our genes.

    In a modern technological culture, sexual desire can produce many behaviours that don't produce offspring.


  8. Anonymous12:19 PM

    I am a 40 year old man. Probably 80 percent of what I do in life is targeted toward getting laid. I am always horny as hell and get a huge turn-on whenever a woman tells me that I have gotten her pregnant. It is "survival of and rule by the fittest." I am very proud of the fact that I have impregnated more than 40 women. If I have my way, my offspring will go on to rule the world.