A new interview from Salon about men’s sexual preferences has been passed around lately. The interviewee, an Andrew Smiler, argues that men are not naturally promiscuous based on research he did for his book. Not surprisingly, Susan Walsh trumpeted this. So did Amanda Marcotte (it’s amazing how eager feminists who cry foul whenever men supposedly dictate their sexuality are to to dictate men’s sexuality to them).
Interestingly, the interviewer is one Tracy Clarke-Flory, who manospherians may remember as the former apologist for the hook-up culture who changed her mind as she began to hit the wall. Now that she no longer believes in casual sex, she now seems intent on showing men don’t like it either, because that would be convenient, wouldn’t it? There must be tons of men who are sick of the hook-up culture and just looking for The One (ie. her).
Obviously, I haven’t read Smiler’s book and don’t plan too. I’m far enough behind on my reading list already, so I hope I don’t misrepresent his arguments. If I do, he can feel free to correct me.
I’ll start with the Amazon blurb, just ’cause, then get to the interview. The book description:
In his groundbreaking new book, noted expert on teenage and adult masculine behavior Andrew Smiler debunks the myth that teenage boys and young men are barely able to control their sex drives, which may lead to destructive hyper-sexuality, unwanted pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases. Dr. Smiler? helps us recognize that the majority of boys and men do not fit this stereotype and that boys? sexual development is multi-faceted.? He also shows how this shift in attitude could help create young men who are more mature, and have better relationships with partners and friends.
I’ll ignore the weird punctuation, but notice how not having casual sex is somehow more “mature” and “better.” Now, as a reactionary Christian, I think casual sex is a sin and that marriage is better for society, but to anyone who does not have a reactionary Christians pre-suppositions regarding sex and marriage, judging free life choices as more mature or better is just silly. Either sex is reserved for marriage or it is a free lifestyle choice. From the interview is seem unlikely that Smiler is one of the “religious guys”.
There is no moral difference between a casual hook-up, a short-term relationship, or a long-term, non-marriage, relationship. All are simply life-style chocies, none are more mature and certainly none are “better” (however better may be defined absent strong pre-suppositions on the spiritual and societal value of sex).
Here are the “4 Ways the Casanova Stereotype Is Incorrect” according to the book as per the Amazon editorial review:
Most guys want only a few partners
Anonymous surveys of undergraduates tell us that about 25% of young men want 2 or more partners in the next 30 days; that means 75% of guys want 0 or 1 partners during that time. If all – or even most – guys are Casanovas, many more should tell us they want multiple partners in the next 30 days.
This is obviously stupid. A full quarter of guys want 2+ different partners in the next month (if extended to a year, that would be 24+). This tells us is that 25% of guys do fit the “Casanova Stereotype” (to a degree).
Three quarters want 0-1. This tells us nothing. A man wanting one partner in the next month time horizon is meaningless; maybe he’s busy, maybe he likes STR’s rather than ONS’, maybe more than one is a pain in the ass (or expensive), maybe he’s tired. Who knows? It’s meaningless.
As for those wanting zero partners in the next month, are they asexual? Probably not, it just means that in a short time frame, they decided the cost is not worth the potential benefits.
All we really learned is that at least 25% of guys want a lot of partners.
Most guys have only a few partners
In studies that ask young men to describe their sexual behavior, about 15% of guys say they had 3 or more partners in the last 12 months and only about 5% of guys say they’ve had 3 or more partners each of the last 3 years. Together, these numbers tell us few guys actually live like Casanovas.
Any idiot can tell you is and ought are not the same thing. Just because 80-85% of guys have <2 partners does not mean that they only want <2 partners. There are a lot of variables (particularly the one where most men are not overly successful with women).
Most guys do want relationships
According to the stereotype, guys only want sex and aren’t interested in relationships. If it’s difficult to get your son to clean his room, how difficult must it be to get him to date when he supposedly doesn’t want to? Real life says that most guys choose relationships and enjoy them. In fact, about 90% of guys will get married at least once.
Mmm-hmmm… Again: is and ought. Not all men can be Hugh Hefner.
Also, relationships and sex are not the same drives, but sex is intrinsic to relationships. Men could (and do) want both relationships and casual sex.
Puberty is not only about sex
Puberty includes sexual development as well as other aspects of physical development like increased height and broadening of the shoulders that help distinguish men from boys. Puberty is one change among many for adolescents: changes in the way they think and understand the world, new concerns about personal identity, and a shift away from parents towards friends. Sexual development is just one part of growing up; it’s influenced by and influences each of those other changes.
Completely irrelevant to a discussion of the “Casanova Stereotype”.
So, so far, it seems his logic is faulty, his grasp of statistics shaky, and his philosophy defective, but this was just the Amazon book blurb.
Let’s check the interview.
This stereotype “tells us that guys are primarily interested in sex, not relationships,” he writes. “This contributes to the notion that guys are emotional clods who are incapable of connecting with their partners because, hey, they’re just guys, and guys are only interested in sex. “ The result is the belief that “guys shouldn’t be expected to achieve any type of ‘real’ emotional intimacy with their partners.”
This is idiotic. It’s not a dichotomy. Even when they are interested in relationships, sex is a major component of a relationship. They are interested in both, to varying degrees on a personal basis.
If Casanova-style promiscuity is men’s naturally evolved state, then why do most men want no more than one partner?
My guess, they have some understanding of their market value and act accordingly.
All of the research that we have show that it’s only a minority of guys who have multiple partners per year, and I typically talk about this as three partners a year because that’s the Casanova average.
Here we go: again, mistaking is and ought. Desire does not necessitate ability.
It’s actually a minority of guys who want multiple short-term partners — that even comes up in the evolutionary research.
We’ve already dealt with this. Unless he has better evidence in his book than the evidence he used for his blurb (which would seem unlikely to me; wouldn’t you put your best bit of support out there) you can not draw this conclusion.
It made it out of scientific circles and into popular culture in the 1980s as sociobiology, and parts of it got recreated as evolutionary psychology in the 1990s. So it’s gotten a lot of press attention as a new theory. Another part is it really caught on because it gives us essentially a simple answer to a difficult question and, for whatever reason, we here in the U.S., if not in many other places, really like those simple answers to difficult questions.
Obviously, he’s not boned up on either his history or religion. Spreading the seed goes far older than that. King David had many wives and still slept with Bathsheba. Solomon had 700 wives, and 300 concubines to boot. I’m sure other ancient faiths/traditions have their own stories of men engaging in mass copulation. Ghengis Khan had untold partners. I could go on ad infinitum, but why? Polygamy is ancient. Men spreading their seed across numerous partners is ancient and precedes 1980’s popular culture by millenia.
In mainstream media we’ve had all of this stuff on TV since the 1970s that really promotes this idea of promiscuous young men. The history, as far as I can tell, really starts with Fonzie on “Happy Days” and “Hawkeye” Pierce on “M*A*S*H.” And it continues with guys like Sam Malone on “Cheers” and Charlie Sheen’s character on “Two and a Half Men” and Barney on “How I Met Your Mother.” For several years now we’ve had so-called good guys who were also promiscuous. If you looked at TV and movies from the ’50s and ’60s, the promiscuous guys were always very clearly the bad example.
That sounds almost socially conservative of him. Interesting how at one point society discouraged anti-social behaviour.
If you look at the public health research tracking things like unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, that research typically shows about 15 percent of guys have three or more partners in any given 12-month span. If you follow those guys over time the number of guys who have three or more partners a year for as long as three years, that drops to about 5 percent. So there are definitely some guys out there who are doing it — but it’s really a small percentage of guys. By contrast, if you look at guys who are very religious, that’s about 15 percent of guys, and most of them really are devoutly religious, really dedicated to their partner. There’s way more of that than guys that are having three partners per year for three years.
Again, he implies desire necessitates capability.
Also, no offence to religious guys, but abstaining is more attainable, though not necessarily easier, than 3+ partners a year.
Let me go back to the religious guys for a minute. They will often talk about dating as courting and using this model that comes to us from the 1950s: you met someone you were interested in, you asked them out on a first date and then a second date, and there was this fairly clear understanding of what type of physical behavior was supposed to happen.
…But what most young men and young women are experiencing today is that we’ve gotten away from that script.
I will insert here a sad lament for the good ol’ days.
What most guys seek, and this seems to be regardless of sexual orientation or age, they’re looking for people whose company they enjoy. People who appreciate them for who they are. We know that a couple tends to be similar in age. More often than not folks match on ethnicity, political orientation and religiosity. The thing that ultimate grounds it are personality match, similar sense of humor, similar tastes in music, TV and movies, similar activities, because you want to be able to do things with your sweetie and you want someone who gets you.
What does this have to do with sex though?
There is a distinction between a man’s lust drive and his love drive. All these are what a man looks for in love; none have to do with sex.
What we know is that most guys do get into relationships, they enjoy relationships, they do a lot of things in relationships that are not about sex and they’re not doing them just to put up with them in order to get sex. Guys get something out of relationships; they like relationships. If you add in the fact that average age of first marriage is something like 28 for guys, a lot of guys have the sense that this girl they’re starting to date at 17 or 19 or 21 probably isn’t going to be the one — and yet they are choosing to date. They could easily choose to just hook up — or instead of spending that money in a bar you could get a prostitute — but they’re consistently choosing to be in relationships.
Again, I ask, what does that have to do with sex?
From this interview we can see his reasoning is based aroundthree major mistakes:
1) He assumes that men are getting exactly as much sex as they desire in the way they desire. He completely discounts that for most men, they do not get anywhere near the amount of sex they desire in the way they desire it. This false assumption is especially bitter given M3’s confession earlier this week.
Men are not women. We can not just walk into a bar, say “let’s have sex” and receive it. I can understand this kind of solipsism from females and feminists, but Smiler should know better.
2) He incorrectly implies that sex drives and relationship drives are the same in some parts of the interview, but, somehow, at the same time implies an artificial dichotomy a man’s desire for sex and his desire for a relationship. Somehow he jumps between these two mutually contradictory unspoken pre-suppositions.
They are two are different desires and can not be mistaken for each other, but at the same same time they are not mutually exclusive. Just because a man desires a relationship does not mean that he does not desire meaningless sex at the same time. As well, a desire for sex is an intrinsic part of a desire for a relationship.
3) He does not seem to recognize the distinction between a man’s “desires” and his “wants”. A healthy young man typically “desires” to sex anything youngish within proximity having two legs, two breasts, a vagina, and a decent hip-to-waist ratio.
He does not always “want” to sex said young thing because of the potential consequences. He could go to jail for rape if he followed his desire through without consent (or if she was a little too young), he could be charged with sexual harassment if he expressed said desire inappropriately, the maxim “don’t stick your dick in crazy” always applies, he could have a fear of knocking her up or STD’s, he could have religious or moral objections, he could just decide it’s not worth the effort, etc. The reasons he may not want what he desires are endless. Men don’t always “want” what they “desire” because often the cost of what they desire is higher than the benefits.
Evolutionary psychology explanations would typically deal primarily with desires. Freudian psychology (id, ego, & superego), sociology, and economics would handle how “desire” is is expressed in “want”. You can not apply the superego outcomes to determine the full range of the desires of the id.
Now, there is some interesting information in all this and there are probably some interesting conclusions that can be drawn.
But what it does not show is that “Guys don’t want casual sex!” or “Men Want Sex with Girlfriends, Not Randoms“.
All it shows is that a lot of people do not understand the difference between what someone may want and what someone actually receives.
So, for all those who are confused I’ll explain what men want:
Men desire both relationships and sex at the same time concurrently. The exact amount of each desired will differ between individual men, but what most men would ideally desire is both, but not with the same people.
The ideal sexual situation for most males (morality/religion aside) would be a single life partner to love, make home with, and, possibly, sire children with and a side harem of dozens of women for sex and fun.
Obviously, this is impossible for all but the most sought after men. We can’t all be King Solomon.
We can’t all have both a doting wife and a string of sexy, low-maintenance mistresses, the wife would get upset and the mistresses would demand more.
So we compromise.
Being unable to fulfill the mating strategies of both promiscuity and marriage, each individual man will choose a strategy based on their personal preferences between the two mating strategies and their perceived value on the sexual marketplace.
Some men on one moral extreme (the “religious guys”) will go for the best women they think they can get, scoop her up, and marry her. Some men of high sexual value and the other moral extreme (the “Casanova Stereotype”) will sleep around with as many gals as they can (some men of low sexual value will try to be Casanova’s and fail). Some men (the “losers”) will never find a woman and will masturbate in their Real Doll.
Most men do not belong to one of these extremes of sexual morality and value, but rather are somewhere in the middle. In our current mating market, they will adopt a middling strategy. They will go through a number of relationships (based on their market value and preferences) which provide sex and companionship without commitment so they can still try diversity if/when they get bored of their current partner. Between these relationships, they will try to get occasionally lucky with casual hook-ups. Then at some point, they will decide they can’t get better than what they have and marry off. After marrying, depending on their morality, they may get some casual sex on the side.
Men desire both casual sex and relationship concurrently. It is not a dichotomy and they are not mutually exclusive.