When it comes to human nature, the differences between males and females must be acknowledged as real, important, and downright fascinating. Moreover, when it comes to understanding those differences, there is no better guide than evolution. — David P. Barash, PhD. and Judith Eve Lipton, MD.
Biologists have a very simple and useful definition of what is male and what is female, whether we are fish, ferns, or human beings. An individual can either make many small gametes (sex cells) or fewer but larger gametes. The individuals that produce smaller gametes are called “males” and the ones that produce larger gametes are called “females.”
Many men believe that size matters. Yet, most of us are not aware of the difference in size and number between a sperm and an egg. A human egg is 85,000 times larger than a sperm. Each man produces 100 to 300 million sperm per ejaculate.
Dr. Steve Jones is professor of genetics and head of the prestigious Galton Laboratory, University College of London.
The cellular imbalance is at the center of maleness,
It confers on males a simpler sex life than their partners, together with a host of incidental idiosyncrasies, from more suicide, cancer, and billionaires to rather less hair on the top of the head.
Generally, it is easier to move the smaller sperm to the larger egg than vice versa, and so it is the male that seeks out the female and the female who makes the selection from those males that come courting
Dr. Jones concludes.
From the greenest of algae to the most blue-blooded of aristocrats their restless state hints at an endless race in which males pursue but females escape.
Of course, if females escaped completely, there wouldn’t be babies and that would be the end of that species. Yet, it does help us to recognize the different challenges males and females face in the mating process.
According to Dr. David Buss, author of the textbook Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind,
Human sexual psychology evolved over millions of years to cope with ancestral adaptive problems before the advent of modern contraceptive technology. Humans still possess this underlying sexual psychology, even though the current environment has changed.
“What competing is to males,” say Dr. David Barash and Dr. Judith Eve Lipton, authors of The Biology of Male-Female Differences,“choosing is to females.”
In a TED talk on “Sexuality Conflict in Human Mating” Dr. Buss begins with a thought experiment: I’d like you to imagine an attractive person of the opposite sex walking up to you and saying, “Hi, I’ve been noticing you lately and find you very attractive.” They then ask you one of three questions:
- Would you go out on a date with me?
- Would you come back to my apartment with me?
- Would you have sex with me?
These experiments were carried out numerous times in a variety of settings and, as you might expect, the answer given were different depending on whether those being asked were male or female. Here were the results:
Of the women approached by the attractive male experimenter, 56% agreed to go on a date with him, 6% agreed to go back to his apartment, and 0% of the women agreed to have sex with the attractive male stranger.
Of the men approached by the female experimenter, about 50% agreed to go out on a date with her, 69% agreed to go back to her apartment, and 75% of the men said they would be happy to have sex with her. Of the 25% who declined, many were apologetic, citing a girl friend or fiancé and asking for a raincheck in case things changed.
This evolutionary-based difference between men and women is at the root of much of our sexual conflicts.
Conflicts Between the Sexes Are Tied to Different Evolutionary-Based Desires of Males & Females
Conflict #1: Desire for Sexual Variety
In experiments with males and females they were asked, if given your choice, how many sexual partners would you like to have over the next month, six months, or over your lifetime. Think about it yourself. How many would you like to have?
- Women, on average, said they would like to have 0.7 sex partners over the next month. One partner in the next six months. And 4-5 over a lifespan.
- Men, on average, thought 2 in the next month would be about right, 8 in the next six months, and 18 in the lifespan. Dr. Buss noted that this was after eliminating 3 outlier males who wanted to have 1,000 sex partners over the lifespan.
As you might imagine, this difference between males and females is often a potent source of conflict.
Conflict #2: Sexual Over-Perception Bias
In this experiment males and females are shown a video of a man and woman sitting across from each other and interacting. At a certain point, the woman smiles at the man. The video is stopped and subjects are asked, “Why did the woman smile? What was she thinking? What signals was she sending?”
Men are more likely to say, “It was obvious. She was sending sexual signals.”
Women seeing exactly the same film say, “She was just being friendly, being polite.”
This over-perception bias is a source of conflict with men assuming sexual interest that isn’t there. It is most prevalent with attractive women, the ones who are most often hit on by men and the least likely to be reciprocating a sexual desire. You see the potential for conflict, I’m sure and have likely experienced it yourself.
Also, men who are high on narcissism are particularly prone to this bias, assuming, mistakenly, that they are God’s gift to women. They think they’re hot, but they’re not.
Conflict #3: Deception
All of us are prone to deception, but the sexes lie in different, albeit predictable ways. Men lie about their height (always want to be a bit taller), their income, and status. Women lie about their weight (by about 15 pounds on average, lower). Both men and women post photos that make them look more attractive than they are.
So, we need to see people and get to know them, not just trust social media connections. But even when couples meet, men tend to lie about the depth of their feelings. I remember being very drawn to a young woman, becoming sexual and then responding much more positively about our potential for a more in-depth relationship than I actually felt at the time. Studies show that I was not alone in what I said. Men often profess love when they are really talking about lust. We even tend to fool ourselves, which adds additional levels of conflict.
Conflict #4. Mate value discrepancies
I was asked by a female colleague, “Jed, why is it that all the guys that I’m interested in don’t seem very interested in me, but I’m pursued by all these guys who are interested in trying to ‘chat me up,’ but I have no interest in them?”
I told her honestly, “On the mating market you are an 8 seeking 10s, being lusted after by guys who are 5s and 6s.” Many of us seek a partner for short-term or long-term relationship that is at an evolutionary higher value than we are. We all want a high-quality mate, but even if we’re successful, we may still lose. Higher quality mates tend to have affairs more often and more often leave their partners over time. Some of us underestimate our value and are drawn to those below us. Best to seek a mate with relatively equal mate value.
This is one of the most common, and misunderstood, sources of conflict I see as a clinician who specializes in sex, love, and relationship issues. One of the greatest services I offer clients who are looking for a great partner is to be realistic about our evolutionary-based mate value as well as the value of those who may be interested in us.
We might tell ourselves that it shouldn’t matter, that we should see the whole person below the external indicators of desire, but we can’t ignore evolution.
My wife, Carlin, and I have been together for 43 years now. We had both been through two marriages and divorces before we met. But when we first got together there was clearly some attraction, but there were strong evolutionary pressures that told us that “the chemistry just didn’t feel right.”
I was a few inches shorter than her, which usually ruled me out with many women I found attractive. She was five and half years older than me, which was usually a deal-breaker for men she might be interested in getting to know better. Fortunately, we were smart enough to talk about our feelings of attraction as well as the discomforts we were experiencing.
Ultimately, we found that we were totally right for each other and have continued to be even more in love with each other through the years.
Here’s a take-home bit of wisdom we’ve learned:
- We can’t ignore the forces of evolution.
- Evolution has little interest in our happiness, just in our reproductive success.
- We have to explore outside the evolutionary box of what drives our initial attraction.
- We need to take our time before we get too involved with Mr. or Ms. Right or to exclude someone where there were lots of Mr. or Ms. Right signs, but the “chemistry” wasn’t there initially.
- If we want to be happy for the rest of our lives, we need to listen to our evolutionary-driven desires but decide for ourselves who would be the best mate for us.
This post was previously published on menalive.com and is republished on Medium.
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