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Male competition or male solidarity?

By Luc Loranhe (2006)

It is quite obvious that anywhere around the world, females have a more pronounced preference for monogamous relationships than do men. The reasons for this difference in preferences probably are biological as well as social, and it is hard to judge to what extent they are the one or the other.

Whether biological or social, the discrepancy in the preference for the number of sexual partners poses a dilemma which heats up the competition among men. Statistically, if in a group of 100 men and 100 women, women hypothetically seek sexual encounters with 250 partners (each women, on average, with 2.5 partners) and men with 2500 partners (each man, on average, with 25 partners), then it is likely that the stronger males will push their interest, and many weaker males will go home frustrated.

The discrepancy is not just of academic interest. Men who realize that the numbers in the above example just don’t match may, as a matter of principle, not be available for ideologies that would require male solidarity. Instead, they may be of the opinion that their own success will always be at the expense of other males. Thus, they perceive other men as a man’s natural enemies.

The idea that nature has embedded this discrepancy of sexual interest as a mechanism for natural selection cannot be discarded. It does fit Darwin’s idea of male competition and female choice.

However, there certainly also is a definite social element in the discrepancy. The more societies put promiscuous women at a disadvantage, the more it will be the adaptive behavior of women to limit the number of their sexual partners.

To emphasize social causes for women’s apparently limited preference of sexual partners is, however, not non-biological approach. The keyword here is adaptation.

Humans can adapt very quickly to specific conditions of their environment, much quicker than other animals. This can easily be observed in everyday situations.

If, let’s say in Cambodia, the traffic police newer enforces the validity of traffic lights, many drivers will just not care and proceed into an intersection even when a red light would oblige them to stop. But if in neighboring Thailand, the police is very strict in implementing traffic light rules, then drivers will stop at red lights even when the intersection is empty.

The “biological character” of Thais and Khmers has very little to do with this. When Thai drivers cross into Cambodia, they will quickly abandon their observance of traffic lights, and Cambodian drivers learn very quickly, indeed, that one better stops at traffic lights in Thailand.

The secret is adaptation.

Women in societies around the world are typically well adapted to the rules that are enforced where they live. They emphasize monogamy more strongly in those countries where extramarital sexual contact is punished more heavily than they do in countries where there are fewer legal sanctions. They will also be more likely to emphasize monogamy in societies where such an attitude earns them a lot of respect, compared to societies that do not care so much about women being monogamous.

It is important to be aware of the fact that this is difficult terrain. It is hard to know to what extent male as well as female sexuality is social adaptation, and how much of it is “natural” (beyond the adaptive range).

I assume that basic sexual orientation (whether we are heterosexual or homosexual) is outside the adaptive range. Men and women are probably born either heterosexual or homosexual.

On the next level, we would have to decide whether for men as well as women, seeking a high degree of sexual variety or a low degree of sexual variety is either adaptation or “natural”.

This question is answered more easily for men than for women. Men may suppress their sexual appetite for a multitude of sexual partners in order to conform to social norms, but it seems that they can never fully discard it. However, if they live in miserable circumstances, are socially threatened, or of ill health, and, quite possibly, malnourished, their sexual appetite for a variety of sexual partners will likely decrease.

The question is harder to answer for women. I assume that for women, both natural conditions and social conditions are more likely to generate a monogamy-favoring adaptation than in the case of men. Natural monogamy-favoring situations for women are pregnancy and mother’s love for children. Women who have not been pregnant are probably more likely to be promiscuous purely for the sexual pleasure of it.

Furthermore, women who do not feel beautiful, for example because of having given birth to one or more children, may also display an adaptation towards monogamy over promiscuity because they have a harder time to compete for the best men.

And then there are the purely social adaptations to laws that punish premarital or extramarital sex, or to a hypocritical public that views female promiscuity as character failure (while regarding male promiscuity as “boys being boys”).

I do want to point out again that the question of whether, and to what extent, the discrepancy in the sexual appetite of men and women is genetically determined (just as sexual orientation) is of great importance.

For if a basic parity of sexual interest seems possible, then many men may decide to act in solidarity with other men. But if parity seems totally out of reach, then many men will regard other men just as unwanted competitors. This will make a decisive difference for their philosophical outlook.

Whether it will be possible to ever establish full parity of sexual interest, I do not know. But it is obvious that doing away with conditions that force women into adaptations that favor monogamy can go a long way towards parity.

For this reason, I favor numerous practical measures that will allow women to free their sexuality from adaptations to adverse natural and social condition.

1. no legal and practical discrimination of women who have a promiscuous lifestyle

2. measures to keep the risk of unwanted pregnancies at an absolute minimum

3. the strict guarding of sexual hygiene among the members of a society

4. no age discrimination (governments need to keep no records on birth dates; cosmetic surgery technologies will keep older people sexually attractive)

5. no artificial barriers on sexual contact of people of different age (especially no discrimination of women who have much younger sexual partners)

6. no artificial barriers on the exchange of sexual and material gratifications; it ought to be considered natural that older partners can help younger partners economically

I cannot predict whether such measures will indeed lead to a parity of sexual interests, but I assume that they will go a long way towards it. They certainly are promising enough for men to abandon a competition-based philosophy and instead adopt a solidarity-based philosophy.

A solidarity-based philosophy will be needed for the formation of a political movement strong enough to effect the outlined social change, and, finally, to form a strong government based on an ideology that allows people the personal freedom necessary for optimal sexual experience, while at the same time creating an as safe as possible environment, which, ultimately, grants people to die a gentle death.

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Copyright Luc Loranhe