The goal of a species is to reproduce. Period. Without the hard-wired obligation to pass on genetic code and father successive generations, entire populations would go extinct. Humans are always a bit out of the scope of traditional evolutionary teachings because our advancement & domination over the planet give us many luxuries as a species. So what is it that determines human mating patterns? Is it our biology? Our culture?
First things first: there are four possible mating systems observed in animals: monogamous (1 male + 1 female), polygyny (1 male controls access to multiple females), polyandry (1 female mates with multiple males), and polygyandrous/promiscuous (multiple males mate with multiple females). Throughout nature, polygyny is predominant.
Mating patterns depend on availability of resources in an environment – mainly female distribution. Assuming animals will select for behaviors that increase the success of passing on their genes, there is a greater evolutionary advantage in a polygynous system. Males gain advantage from multiple mating, so are promiscuous and compete with other men for mates, while selecting females who are fertile (young, attractive, capable of bearing and raising their offspring) (Hawkes et al. 1997). Female animals have a greater risk in the reproductive game – they invest a great deal more time in each offspring (gestation period & nursing) so they must be choosier and want a partner who will provide resources and assist in raising offspring.
In animals, one of the markers for polygynous & competitive mating systems is body size dimorphism – basically physical differences between the two sexes in a species. Weckerly’s paper Sexual-size dimorphism: Influence of mass and mating systems in the most dimorphic mammals explains “size and strength may be significant factors deciding male-male interactions that determine dominance and access to females” when a dominant male maintains control over a harem of females (1998). For example, the largest alpha male gorilla (twice the size of lady gorillas and towers over other males) is more likely to win a competitive fight therefore providing security/protection and will more easily gain control of territory & resources. This is a male the female gorillas will want to be with.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN FOR HUMANS?
BIOLOGICALLY (our lack of sexual dimorphism) suggests monogamy…
- Homo Sapiens do not exhibit distinctive body size or canine length between males and females (Ipina & Durand, 2010)
- However, women do favor men with observable secondary sex characteristics that suggest physical strength and health (broad shoulders & narrow waist, muscular body structure), but like other primates, there is a virtually limitless set of attractive traits – ex. personality, looks, type, personal preference… (Dixson, Dixson, & Anderson, 2005).
- Level of human body size dimorphism is associated more closely with levels in monogamous, pair-bonded mating systems (Dixson, Dixson, & Anderson, 2005)
HOWEVER, scientists agree human societies are POLYGYNOUS (Dixson, Dixson, & Anderson, and Kanazawa & Novak)
- “5/6 of human societies are polygynous and divorce and remarriage (at least under some circumstances) is allowed in all known human cultures” (Kanazawa & Novak, 2005).
- Humans partake in serial polygyny as opposed to concurrent (i.e. humans have successive relationships with other partners one after another rather than at the same time)
- Culture has made multiple partners the norm
Human mating patterns are CULTURALLY DEPENDENT
- There is so much variety it’s almost impossible to generalize all humans under one category
- “Culture” is uniquely human
WHAT DO WE DO WITH THIS INFO?
I don’t have the answer. Anthropologists don’t have the answer. Humans are way too complex to say one way over another is better for all of human-kind. But this all makes sense in understanding human sexual patterns.
As stated earlier, CULTURE is a uniquely human construct. In the case of our sexual relationships and mate choosing, culture outweighs biology (which seems to suggest we should be monogamous). Our extreme availability of resources limits the need or importance of biologically directed behaviors.
Evolution says women should prefer to mate with men who will commit and provide for offspring, but women today are going against biology to sleep with “alphas” who will not commit. We are going against the ideal evolutionary plan based on this social construct. Culture changes have allowed for and accepted this to occur.
Sex is not exclusively linked to reproduction anymore, so our entire definition of mate-choosing has been broken down and rebuilt. Women are allowed to have many short term partners – there isn’t the same pressure for women to be selective, monogamous child-bearers.
Has culture created a giant pussy buffet?
- BIRTH CONTROL has encouraged women to be more promiscuous by eliminating the risk associated with sex (getting pregnant and having a child to take care of). Because of this new-found freedom, women have had more sexual partners than ever and have made themselves more readily available for men than ever before.
- The smaller percentage of attractive, dominant, successful men have their pick of any women. They have little risk in having many partners (could provide for offspring if necessary). They don’t have to commit because there is an endless line of women ready to take the previous bitch’s spot.
- Theoretically there may be a limit to how many women a man can bang, by the principle of Diminishing Returns, repeating a behavior will eventually cause negative effects that will overcome the positives – too sex partners would start to have a negative effect (child support, STDs, drama haha).
Man-woman relationships constantly change throughout history, which is why it’s hard to define a mating system and detail the dynamics. Currently we are in a period of promiscuousness – from song lyrics to night club dynamics to celebrity role models, our culture embraces it. Humans may ebb back into a more 50s traditional family unit or it may continue to spiral into a black hole of sluttiness. I guess while we can, let’s enjoy the plethora of sex!
Where do you think humans lie on the mating system chart? Where/When do you think it will shift?