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 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
"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,
"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."