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The theory that men's and women's sexual desires are hard-wired
isn't new. It's been controversial for decades. Now a central tenet of
evolutionary psychology, the theory holds that our sexual behavior evolved over
millennia and is encoded in our brains. We aren't doomed to act out these
programs. But they do shape our desires.
According to evolutionary psychology, men and women each
evolved their own strategies for seeking sex partners. If that's true, men's
sexual desires should be the same for men everywhere. And the desires of men
everywhere in the world should differ in the same ways from those of women. The
same would hold true for women.
Now there's convincing new evidence that this is so.
It comes from the International Sexuality Description Project,
led by David P. Schmitt, PhD, Bradley University, Peoria, Ill. The projects
findings appear in the July 2003 issue of the Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology. The title sums it up: "Universal Sex Differences in
the Desire for Sexual Variety: Tests From 52 Nations, 6 Continents, and 13
"Both men and women show signs of being programmed to be
monogamous in a certain way and promiscuous in a certain way," Schmitt
tells WebMD. "The main difference is in short-term mating strategies, or
how men and women go about being promiscuous."
Good Sex Partners vs. Lots of Sex Partners
"We don't say men and women always opt for short-term
strategies," Schmitt says. "What we are talking about is that when they
go for infidelity or promiscuity, men focus on large numbers and women focus on
What really irks Schmitt is that many people interpret this
finding to mean that women are designed to be faithful but men are predestined
to be promiscuous. That's not what the evidence shows. Instead, both women and
men are fully equipped for one-night stands and lifelong relationships.
Schmitt and colleagues asked men and women all over the world
about what they wanted from long-term and short-term sexual relationships.
"What we found is that when men opt for short-term mating,
they pursue larger numbers of partners than women," Schmitt says. "When
women go short-term mating, they don't go for large numbers. They are a little
more discriminating. They look for physically attractive men who have masculine
facial features. Women look for men who are symmetrical, who are high in social
dominance. This doesn't mean all women will be short-term maters. But when they
opt to do so, they show these desires."
Another big difference: Men are ready to say "yes" to
sex much more quickly than women. They say they'd need to know a person only a
relatively short time before consenting to sex. Women want to know their
potential partners significantly longer before sex.
Yet another difference points to the origin of the dumb-blonde
stereotype: The minds of men.
"Men's preference for intelligence in short-term mates
drops off the scale," Schmitt says. "If you look at what men want in a
short-term mating partner, a sexual partner as opposed to a marriage partner,
they prefer below-average intelligence."
These different desires hold true regardless of whether women
or men are married or single, heterosexual or homosexual. And they hold true
across six continents.