Quick. What’s the usual script we have playing in the back of our minds regarding hookup culture? You know, that awful symptom of the cultural degradation of women by men exploiting female sexuality for a cheap thrill?
It probably goes something like this.
Woman: “I’m a precious flower of womanhood who just happens to be hanging out in a bar in a bikini top completely by accident; I just floated in on the breeze.”
Man: “Hark, precious flower of womanhood, let me crush your innocent and beautiful spirit with my filthy sexual arsenal! Ka-POW!”
Woman: “Oh, I am despoiled! Truly hookup culture is an exploitation of me and my pure-as-the-driven-snow sisters!”
We have this attitude toward hookup culture because we are convinced that male sexuality has no value. Not even no value, we think male sexuality has negative value.
Men sow their seed hither and yon; women guard their vaginas like Fort Knox.
But is this true?
Let’s think about it logically. With each act of sex a male ejaculates semen into the female. This is an investment of physical resources that takes time for the male to replenish. So male animals are limited in how often they can have reproductively viable sex. Female animals, on the other hand, are not. The sex act has zero cost to them.
Now, the reason this obvious truth is invisible to us is because we lump in the cost of carrying young with the cost of sex. Yes, carrying young is high female investment but the sex act itself is higher male investment.
For humans who are often trying to avoid the hassle of pregnancy, this makes some sense. For female animals, it makes no sense. The whole purpose for a female animal, in going into heat, is to get pregnant. Because that’s her instinctive imperative, the hassle of pregnancy is irrelevant to her cost of sex.
In fact, for female mammals, the real risk is investing resources in sub-par offspring. Because of this it’s in their best interest to have sex with as many males in as short a time as possible. Multiple male partners improve both her chance of conception and the quality of the conception via sperm competition. This is why the majority of female mammals are polyandrous—they mate with multiple males.
It is not, however, in the best interest of the male animal to mate with as many females as possible.
Why? Because, quite simply, his sperm is in limited supply. He wants to prioritize delivery of sperm to a.) high quality females and b.) less mated females.
Our ‘common knowledge’ about so-called male promiscuity is better termed common stupidity.
Further, the relative costs of sex and the priorities of both males and females explain why a male mammal might evolve to pair bond.
A pair-bonding male has maximized his access to a less mated female. He does trade off in terms of access to a higher quality female than himself—higher quality in terms of status and fertility—but he is less likely to obtain this higher quality female and, overall, he’s better off as a pair bonder then a promiscuous breeder.
What’s less understandable is why a female animal would evolve to seek a pair-bond. She gains nothing at all from restricting her sexual choices.
To see why a female mammal might pair bond let’s take a closer look at human sexuality. Human males are unique in the animal kingdom in that they retain an interest in sex throughout the female’s cycle.
Some biologists conjecture that the human mating pattern—retaining an interest in sex outside of fertile times—is a way for pair-bonding to become more attractive to the male.
But what if it’s the reverse? What if male human sexuality is designed this way to keep sexually carnivorous females interested in just one male?
Human women are rather poor breeders over all. It takes a lot of ‘tries’ for a woman to get pregnant. Compare this to female animals that have one day of receptivity and most of them are pregnant by the end of that day.
What’s happening with women is that they are conceiving, nearly every month, but the conception is usually flushed out due to chromosomal errors. Estimates put the number of blighted ovum at 80% of all conceptions.
This may be due to a lack of sperm competition; instead of filtering out the bad through sperm competition, the bad is transferred to conception resulting in a high rate of malformed zygotes.
But why would this wasteful system have developed in the first place?
Well, for starters it requires human women to secure access to sperm at least once a month twelve to eight times a year to achieve one viable conception. At that point developing an ongoing relationship with someone who can provide her access to sex is looking pretty damn attractive to our female hominid ancestor.
And then we add in the fact that human males are so goddamn finicky. When our female hominid ancestor finds one that’s actually responsive to her—remember, we didn’t evolve with porn, Viagra or tremendous social shaming to create artificially inflated male sexual receptivity—she’s likely inclined to keep a tight hold because of the scarceness of the sexual resource he’s providing her. Which she’s suddenly evolved to need a lot of over an extended period of time to get pregnant.
Bada-bing-bada-boom. Pair bonded female.
However that pair bonded human female probably still has urges to get her monkey on.
Ironically when we look at hookup culture through the lens of human sexuality – which female mammals actually have, as opposed to the absurdly idealized Common Stupidity that fantasizes that only men do — it becomes quickly apparent that it’s HOG HEAVEN for a woman’s inner-ape.
Hook up culture gives the chimp-within every woman the impression she has unlimited access to sperm from males who are higher status and higher fertility then herself.
By contrast a male mammal preferentially wants to breed with a). higher status females and b.) less mated females, to get the best bang for his genetic buck.
Remember that stereotypical hook up scenario presented in the beginning? The predatory male inflicting his horrible sexuality on the pure and virtuous female? In the average hook up culture scenario reality is the exact opposite.
Women are exercising their animalistic desires while men are suppressing theirs.
Let’s strip away the Common Stupidity and listen in on the reality of the hook up scenario.
Woman: Hi, I stink of numerous other men’s intimate attention and I’m about half as attractive as you. Shall we go through a social dance in which you pretend that you’re getting something worth having from me?
Man: My natural instincts tell me to hold on to my sexual resources for high status, unmated females, but you’re granting me access to the one thing I’ve been trained all my life to respond to like a performing monkey. Do you mind if a part of me weeps silently while we have sex?
Woman: Whatever. As long as I get my ape on, I couldn’t care less.
The cover image is credit nodstrum.com (now offline).