One of the common myths about dating is that there' s a soulmate out there for everyone. Dating services have made millions promoting the idea that your perfect partner is out there, you just need to try harder to find them. This seems to make sense since there are an equal number of men and women. The reality is that in our promiscuous culture, a small percentage of men now monopolize sex with the majority of women. When this happens, the matching up process does not occur, and singles end up floating indefinitely around the dating pool.
The Attractiveness Hierarchy
In the monogamous marriage system of the obsolete past, the majority of men and women found mates and got married. In that system, singles knew roughly where they were ranked in overall attractiveness and married a mate of roughly equal rank as soon as they could, usually by their early 20' s. There were strong economic and sexual pressures to marry early, and this motivated singles to quickly find a mate of roughly equivalent attractiveness rather than wait for their "perfect soulmate." In the monogamous system, if one waited too long, the pool of eligible mates shrank, and it became more difficult to find a quality partner. (SeeThe Pill and the Decline of Dating and Marriage ).
In today' s society, birth control removes the incentive for singles to settle into their place in the attractiveness hierarchy. Because women freed from birth control can have sex without marriage, they can engage in temporary physical relationships that have nomarriage potential while they wait and hope for Mr. Right. These strings of temporary relationships help women meet their short-term emotional needs but delay them from pursuing serious marriage partners. Men have a greater evolved desire for unfettered sex, and generally prefer more sex partners rather than a commitment to marriage and raising children. Because women are willing to have premarital sex, the attractive men who have ready access to many new sex partners have little incentive to pursue marriage at all. They generally prefer to circulate among women rather than settling down.
(Note:Robert Trivers' 1972 parental investment theory proposed that men' s stronger sex drive and stronger desire for variety in their partners is the result of a basic biological difference between the sexes. In order to procreate, men need only invest the few minutes to have sex, while women must invest at least nine months of pregnancy to bear the child. From a biological standpoint, sperm is cheap and easy to produce, while wombs are much, much more valuable. Women possess the more valuable reproductive resource, so sex and pregnancy imply a much greater investment on the part of women.
A result of this investment differential was that before the invention of contraception, sex improved the reproductivepotential of man much more than it did a woman. When a man had sex with more women, he could have more children. One prolific example, Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty, fathered 888 children out of a harem of 500 women. A woman, on the other hand, can have only one child per nine months no matter how many men she has sex with. Because of this differential, over the course of evolution, women became pickier about the quality of their sex partners while men became the more sexually aggressive and less choosy gender.)
Circulating around the Pool
The promiscuous system allows very attractive men to avoid commitment and be continually available for sex. Because these men can have more sex, women have sexual access to more attractive men than they would have been able to attract as marriage partners under the monogamous system. However, there is a downside for many women and men. For most men, it means that the few particularly desirable men at the top of the attractiveness hierarchy can monopolize many of the women. By having many relationships, many sex partners and even multiple wives in serially monogamous fashion, the most attractive men can consume the prime reproductive years of multiple women. For biological reasons, a woman' s fertile lifetime is much shorter than a man' s, making it even easier for some men to consume an unequal share of female reproductive resources. When some men consume more than their share of women, there will necessarily be other men, lower on the attractiveness hierarchy, who will have no suitable women available for marriage at all. This also means that all of the men who are not at the top of the hierarchy must lower their standards.
Most men don' t realize that rampant promiscuity hurts them. They think that the pill and sexual revolution have brought them a sexual boon. They don' t realize that promiscuity prevents them from finding high-quality women. The monogamous marriage system allowed a man only one woman, which meant that virtually all men got at least one woman. In the monogamous system, attractive women were more evenly distributed so the majority of men were able to attract more desirable women than they could attract under the promiscuous system.
For women, the transition to the promiscuous system has made it more difficult to find a marriage partner as well. The attractive men don' t commit because they have new sex partners constantly available. Lower-status men shun marriage because they hope to gain more options as they gain status and rise into the ranks of the highly attractive. Women who are accustomed to having sex with highly attractive men also don' t want to "settle" and marry the kind of less sexy man that would be willing to marry. Men don' t want to to be settled for, either. This means that both men and women remain circulating in the dating pool for long periods without settling into marriage. Shows like Sex and the City and movies like Bridget Jones' Diary resonate because this experience is so common among modern metropolitan singles. As promiscuity increases, marriage declines and fewer singles can find lifelong partners
The pattern of mating behaviour that the article describes is not unusual in the non-human animal world. The monopolization of most females by few males is characteristic of all animal species that are polygynous. Two representative, well-studied polygynous species are the Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopia jubatus) and the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei).
Gentry (1970) observed that the most successful male sea lion copulated 32 times and mainly with different females. This was out of a total of 105 total copulations in the study site. This represent approximately 30% of all available copulation opportunities.
Similarly, Robbins (1999) observed that 3 adult male mountain gorillas copulated 115 times with 9 females. Further, there was a hierarchy even within this set of three males such that the distribution of copulations was 21, 31 and 48% of the matings.
Amongst non-human polygynous animals many males do miss out so it is unsurprising to find a similar outcome amongst humans when they revert to polygyny. I say "revert" because humans, like their non-human primate cousins, would have originally had a polygynous mating pattern. Polygyny is "natural" amongst most animals that are sexually dimorphic, primates included.
Many would associate the freedom for humans to be promiscuous as socially progressive and "liberated", representing a freedom from traditional sex roles and hence more "socially evolved". I would like to suggest otherwise. Polygyny amongst humans represents their pre-cultural mating behaviour. That is to say, humans in a state of nature, in the absence of a sophisticated culture, are -- like their non-human cousins -- naturally polygynous. I would like to argue from a functionalist sociological perspective that the "monogamous system" contributed to social cohesion and thereby contributed to the survival of the society. The monogamous system was not mereley an arbitrary restraint -- as some writers would have us believe -- but was instead a cultural practice that developed in response to the failings of the natural, pre-cultural polygynous system.
I conjecture that the polygynous aka "promiscuous" (as per the articles terminology) system will produce a large pool of disenfranchised single men with a low investment in their society. The same system will also produce a smaller pool of similarly marginalised and unhappy women.
Gentry, R. L. (1970). Social Behaviour of the Steller Sea Lion. Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA.
Robbins, M. M. (1999). Male mating patterns in wild multimale mountain gorilla groups. ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR, 57, 1013–1020