Sexual Strategies Theory – a Framework
|Sexual Strategies Theory: Summary And Opinion | | | | | |In this paper I will summarize the Theory of Sexual Strategies and evaluate its theoretical and practical relevance based on the empirical | |evidence provided by the authors and theories that apply to the same field of research. |The Sexual Strategies Theory is a new theory which takes multiple aspects into consideration that the current theories on mating have ignored or underspecified. I will start with giving a brief introduction to the shortcomings of the current theories and explaining how these are integrated in the Sexual Strategies Theory.
After this introduction I will explain the Sexual Strategies Theory in detail and I will conclude this paper with my opinion about the arguments presented in the SST. So far, most theories concerning mating or sexual strategies have only considered long-term mating.The main reason for this is that short-term mating is hard to research because it happens in utmost secrecy most of the time. Because of this secrecy the test subjects are inclined to give socially desirable answers which negatively influence the validity of the research. In most societies however, it is normal for a man to practice polygamy, or at least to have more than one mate in one’s life (think of divorces, one night stands, and so on). For this reason it is necessary to try to research the phenomenon of short-term mating more extensively.
Next to this shortcoming there are a few limitations in the current theories.The most supported theory in the field of mating is the theory that people look for mates that are similar to themselves. The limitations of this theory can be summarized as following: The theory doesn’t take the reason why people are attracted to similar people into account, it’s simplistic and doesn’t consider the context of the mating process. Next to that, it’s very broad which makes it hard to derive predictions from the theory and it assumes that mating behavior is the same for males and females. The Sexual Strategies Theory tries to overcome these limitations. The theory is based on the evolutionary rocess of mankind.
Throughout time, people have had to mate as effective as possible in order to ensure the survival of their bloodline. Therefore mate selection has been a paramount activity for our early ancestors. They had to develop a strategy to find the most beneficial mate. In this theory it is hypothesized that the humans of the modern day still, consciously or unconsciously, base their mating behavior on those primal cognitive processes. Furthermore it makes a distinction between short-term and long-term mating interests.
I will proceed with discussing the core principles of the theory.Since the Sexual Strategies Theory makes a clear distinction between the mating behavior of men and women, it is necessary to discuss the sexes separately. I will start by summarizing the ideas about the mating behavior of men. A very basic sexual drive is the need for reproduction. Because the capacity for reproduction between males and females differs, this automatically leads to different sexual behavior.
Since men have a nearly unlimited amount of sperm, at first sight one would say that their most effective strategy for reproduction would be quantitative: mating with as many women as possible.The Sexual Strategies theory defines this as a “Short-term Sexual Strategy”. This seems to be an easy way to increase the possibilities of reproduction, but there are a couple of disadvantages which should be taken into account for this strategy. Three very basic disadvantages are the risk of a STD, gaining a bad reputation or getting beat up by the mates of women that are already married or mated. Next to these basic disadvantages males need to eliminate a few problems to optimize their mating efforts.
They would need to mate with as many fertile, willing women as possible.Judging by these criteria there is one main question males had to ask themselves: “How will I identify the females that are interested in such a short-term relationship, have the highest possibility to reproduce and how will I mate with as many qualified candidates as possible”? In the following section I will explain how our ancestors found answers to this question. The problem of partner number is solved by lowering the bar on mate selection (relaxation of standards) and minimizing the time and effort invested in each mate.Taking this into account, females that are identified as promiscuous are more desirable as a short-term mate, because it takes little effort to mate with them. As for the problem of fertility, a different approach is required.
Since no one precisely knows whether a woman is fertile or not (most of the time she doesn’t even know it herself) men try to identify cues of fertility within a woman’s physical traits. There are two main requirements for a woman to be qualified as fertile: age and health.Features such as full lips, symmetry and smooth skin signal good health and are therefore found attractive by most men. Next to physical characteristics, a youthful, spirited behavior signals a fertile age, so this is found attractive as well. If we look at the odds for reproduction while using a quantitative ‘Short-Term Sexual Strategy’ it would seem crazy for men to adopt a long-term Sexual Strategy. The number of offspring created by adopting this strategy may indeed be lower, however the long-term strategy has some very serious advantages over many short-term relationships.
First of all, men can acquire more desirable mates when they invest time and resources than when they sleep with every available woman. Next to this benefit it may be less costly to choose one woman and stick with her, than the endless pursuit of new partners since time and resources have to be spent on each one of them. A third argument for a long-term relationship is an increased certainty of paternity. Since the ovulation of human women is not detectable by men, it is not possible to know when a random ‘short-term’ woman is ovulating.Therefore the chances of conception decrease dramatically.
If you have a long-term relationship with someone however, copulation during an ovulation is far more likely to occur, increasing the odds of paternity. The fourth and final benefit is not so much a matter of reproduction as a solution to practical problems. When together with a long-term mate, labor that otherwise has to be done alone can be divided between two persons, increasing the efficiency of everyday life. As with all other sexual strategies however, costs and problems come along with adopting a long term strategy.The biggest cost of an exclusive relationship is missing other opportunities for copulation.
Next to this problem it is harder to find a mate for a long-term relationship because the relaxation of standards no longer applies. Clearly there are many differences between the selection of a short-term and a long-term mate. Where promiscuity is valued in a short-term mate, it is considered a very negative trait for a long-term mate. I will now proceed with the summary of the sexual strategies women can adopt. As with men, women can choose between a long- and a short-term Sexual Strategy.
Because of biological and social differences however the choice is very different for women than for men. In most cultures in history, only men who had a high status could acquire multiple short-term sexual relationships. For women however, it has been exactly the other way around. Sexual promiscuity for a woman could mean that she wasn’t able to find a long-term mate, which would lower her social status. Next to the social risks, women also take physical risks in mating with multiple men. Since men are stronger, women take the risk of being physically or sexually abused by their (former) mates.
Disadvantageous as it may seem to engage in short-term relationships for women, there are some advantages. Since men that are looking for short-term mates value promiscuity in a woman, a sexually loose woman is more attractive to those men. Considering this, a relatively unattractive woman, can obtain the genes of more attractive men in a short-term sexual relationship if she has a promiscuous attitude. Another benefit is the immediate extraction of resources of men. In earlier cultures it was common for men to bring jewelry to women with whom they wanted to copulate.If the gifts weren’t sufficient the woman would simply refuse to have sex with the man.
Another occasion when short-term mating is interesting for women, is when it’s used to check if a male is a potential long-term mate. The importance of proper mate selection is far larger for a woman than for a man. The reason for this is that the woman is not only depending on the man for good genes and reproduction, but also for resources and protection. Therefore it could be wise to evaluate the behavior of a man in a short-term relationship before rushing into a long term relationship which is later regretted.Of course it is also possible for women to adopt a long-term strategy. If a woman can find a good mate which is willing to commit to a long-term relationship, her reproductive odds are optimal.
A good mate to women however, is different from a good mate to men. The Sexual Strategies theory predicts a number of heuristics women tend to use in their mate selection. Under the condition that men control accruable resources (which has been the case for a long time in human history) women will value the ability of a man to provide economic and other resources which can be invested in her and her offspring.This is based on the idea that the offspring of the woman is more likely to survive / have a higher quality of living when many resources are available to them. Theoretically this would mean that women who have a lot of resources themselves have a less urgent need to mate with a man who has many available resources.
This is the core idea of the “structural powerlessness hypothesis”. Empirical evidence shown by multiple studies however, doesn’t support this hypothesis. Based on the results of these studies it seems that mate preferences stay the same whether a woman has many or few resources.This supports the idea of the Sexual Strategies Theory that mating preferences of men and women are not only affected by nurture, but also by nature. This dichotomy leads me to the persuasive part of this paper.
I’m convinced that most of the arguments presented in the Sexual Strategies Theory are sound, but as with all scientific theories there are some points of criticism. The conclusions of the Sexual Strategies Theory are divided into four quadrants. For each of these quadrants the SST takes an evolutionary component and a contextual component into account.While the evolutionary perspective on mating is a new development in this field of research, the empirical evidence supports this part of the SST. According to Tesser and Martin (1996) there are 4 conditions an evaluative response must meet in order to be attributed to biological factors.
First of all it should be difficult to find an experiential source, secondly there should be cross-cultural evidence for uniformity of the response, thirdly the response should be compatible with the evolution theory and lastly the response should co-vary with biological factors.Each of these conditions has been met in the SST, so the hypothesis that mating preferences are determined by evolution is at least partially true. The contextual component has not been studied very extensively in the Sexual Strategies Theory, which can be seen as a point of criticism. The authors are aware of the importance of contextual factors however, and admit that further research in this field is required. Even though the Sexual Strategies Theory has many predictions concerning the attitudes of males and females towards potential mates, I don’t think the ehavioral predictive value is very high.
Since every individual has a different personality, people may act differently even when they have the same attitude towards an object (a potential mate in this case). I’m convinced that most of the arguments presented in the Sexual Strategies Theory are sound, but as with all scientific theories there are some points of criticism. References 1. Tesser, A. , Martin, L. L.
(1996). The psychology of evaluation. In E. T. Higgins & A.
W. Kruglanski (Eds), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (pp. 400-432). New York: Guilford.