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Promiscuity Differs by Gender

Men and women are hard-wired for short-term sex -- but must we obey our brains?

Different Desires for Marriage Partners

Schmitt's findings also support basic differences between men and women in what they want in a marriage partner.

"These differences aren't as conspicuous as those for short-term desires, but they are still quite distinct," Schmitt says. "Long term, men prefer youth and physical attractiveness while women prefer men who are somewhat older, intelligent, and ambitious. Men prefer women who are intelligent, too, but not as much."

These differences really shouldn't surprise anybody, says Helen E. Fisher, PhD, professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J. Fisher is the author of First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World and Anatomy of Love: The Mysteries of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, among other works.

"Why should they have desires in common? Men and women are very different creatures," Fisher tells WebMD.

Men, she says, already know that they need to appear fit and socially powerful to attract a mate. And women certainly know what attracts men.

"Men are looking for youth and beauty in the short term -- women really do know this," Fisher says. "They do try to look young and pretty. It is remarkable how the makeup and clothing industry constantly plays on this. Makeup makes the face clearer, the eyes bigger, the lips more baby-like red, the hair the sweet light color of youth. Clothing, too: The belts and things that show off the waist-to-hip ratio, the tight blue jeans and shirts that mold the figure. Both sexes always know these things."

The Limits of Lust

People built their hopes and dreams on relationships, not mating strategies. But there's nothing wrong with knowing what you want and going for it, says George Williams, PhD, an Atlanta-based marital and sex therapist.

"I help people become conscious of their own desires," Williams tells WebMD. "It is perfectly legitimate for people to be clear about what they do and do not want in a partner."

Williams agrees with Schmitt and Fisher that men and women have innate desires wired deep into the brain. But he stresses the importance of other brain wiring -- that which gives us reason.

"Human beings' sexual behavior has an awful lot to do with our ability to think and imagine," Williams says. "There are some primitive brain structures that operate, but our sex behavior is not seasonally driven or hormone driven -- we don't mate only in the spring, or only when the female is in heat. We can use reason in our sex lives."

Just because men and women are programmed for promiscuity doesn't make it impossible -- or unnatural -- to have faithful, monogamous, long-term relationships.

"I tell people to honor their values," Williams says. "If you honor fidelity as important to you and your relationship, it is a matter of your own integrity to honor that.

"And, as the Catholics say, there is the issue of avoiding proximate occasions of sin. Or as my college roomie used to say, 'God will throw a sexy woman in your path every six months.' So don't fan any coals that come your way. Don't fan the fire."

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