Hypergamy Hypothesis

My last post said teen males want more sex than teen females. Older men also often complain of women withholding sex, while women complain of men demanding too much sex. From a typical top ten complaints list:

[Women About Men:] 3. They are not affectionate enough.  4. They tend to bypass sexual foreplay.

[Men About Women:] 1. Women complain, criticize and nag too much. …  4. They tend to withhold sex as a punishment or blackmail.

This is often explained in part via women just caring less about sex than men. Men often see the entire dating/mating process a sport where they pay costs, jump hurdles, pass tests, etc. in the hopes of gaining sex. In that view, women seem more interested in the costs men pay and the hurdles they jump than in the sex itself. But consider:

‎A multi-year study look[ed] at the relationship satisfaction of men and women from five countries who’ve been married more than 20 years. In men … a number of factors could predict relationship satisfaction, including health, sexual functioning and intimacies like kissing and cuddling. In women, only sexual functioning — level of desire, frequency of arousal and orgasm — seemed to predict satisfaction.

This suggests that older women care more about sex than men. Perhaps this result is just wrong, but if not the hypergamy hypothesis offers a resolution: unhappy men could be satisfied by more sex from their partner, but unhappy women mainly want sex from other better men. So while it makes sense for men to ask their partner for more sex, there’s little point in women requesting access to other men.  So women instead complain about everything else.

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  • Dog of Justice

    Er, you are inexplicably treating older and younger women as if they’re sexually interchangeable…

  • unicorns and rainbows

    re: older women. when your sexual desirability has tanked, sex becomes an indicator of relationship commitment. younger women are highly sexually desirable, so sex to them is less effective as a means of gauging commitment.

    • Tyrrell McAllister

      re: older women. when your sexual desirability has tanked, sex becomes an indicator of relationship commitment.

      But surely not the only indicator, which is what the quoted data would imply if your explanation were right.

  • cournot

    Robin is making a mistake here. Following his own logic: If it’s hypergamy, it’s not the sex the women want, it’s the HIGHER status men. The sex just becomes better with them or a better way to land them. In that case, women want to have sex with higher status men so that they can claim them, marry them, and then STOP having sex with them.

  • My medical/surgical practice was limited to the treatment of male sexual dysfunction. Approximately 10% of the men required penile prosthesis implantation for restoration of erections. While the result was cosmetically and tactilely no different than normal, the rigidity did not dissipate at ejaculation, but only when willfully released. Over the years, I was amazed at the number of long-standing marriages in which women in their 70’s and 80’s changed from chronic disinterest in intercourse to the sexual aggressor, as a result of the quality of their husband’s performance. Some brought flowers to my office in thanks. This post on my blog parses the subject. Perhaps these older women, in whom reproduction is no longer a factor, don’t necessarily want sex from “other better men”, but instead want their husbands to provide better sex.

  • Tyrrell McAllister

    I don’t get how hypergamy explains the data. You say

    unhappy men could be satisfied by more sex from their partner, but unhappy women mainly want sex from other better men. So while it makes sense for men to ask their partner for more sex, there’s little point in women requesting access to other men. So women instead complain about everything else.

    The data indicate that women are unhappy only when their men underperform sexually. So, when you say that the woman wants a better man, do you mean “better” just in the sense of sexual performance? It seems unlikely that women are interested only in that one dimension of betterness. But otherwise, I don’t see how you’ve explained the complete dependence for women of relationship satisfaction on sexual satisfaction.

  • Eneasz

    there’s little point in women requesting access to other men

    This seems like a giant leap, and one that isn’t justified in the text. Why not?

    • Sister Y

      Because men want exclusive sexual access to their female partners – in general. Generally, “requesting access to other men” is equivalent to “ending the relationship.” But, yeah, if women people were not such babies and actually took responsibility for their sexuality, this is precisely what they’d do. And there are plenty of males who can and do happily tolerate female partners’ access to other men. (Yay.)

  • S

    You seem to be saying that high sexual functioning causes women to have good relationships. I suspect that it is good relationships that cause women to have high sexual functioning.
    Firstly the women know that the men want sex and the men are complaining that women withhold it as punishment. This is the same order of causality.
    Secondly women claim to be more sexually interested if the rest of the relationship is good.

  • JG

    This discussion seems to be premised on a strong positive correlation between self-reported subjective satisfaction and revealed preference in the economic sense (i.e. what you give the goods to get). I suppose it’s possible either (i) that there are some kind of unknown genetic/developmental constraints which prevent male and female personalities from becoming thoroughly satisfying to the opposite sex, or (ii) that we are in fact built to be thoroughly satisfying in our ancestral environment, but this doesn’t carry over to industrialized society. However, a much more plausible explanation is (iii) that women tend to complain (experience subjective dissatifaction) about some things that they tend to put out for, and men tend to complain about some things that they devote resources to / don’t break up with.

    Perhaps also (iv) that competing psychological factors have produced relationship ideals that are logically contradictory, something no amount of natural selection is able to satisy for us. (Google “v*rg*n sl*ts” and see how many hits you get…)

    All of this should be kept in perspective, of course. From both sides, there are surely many more traits (even just limiting ourselves to personality) for which subjective satisfaction and revealed preference ought to be strongly correlated.

  • Stew

    Since the title of this blog is Overcoming Bias, I thought I’d chime in on this post:

    I’m not sure it’s necessary to assume that there’s “little point in women requesting access to other men”–of course, I came up in a monogamy-is-the-only-permissible-relationship-model-even-if-it’s-fake-monogamy culture just like I think most of us did, so I see where the assumption is coming from.

    But let’s dissect it: one reason there may be little point in a woman requesting access to other men is that there is little hope that her partner will respond favorably to that request, and, reprehensibly, she has a legitimate fear of a violent reaction. Further, even with an assenting partner, society is ready and waiting to pass judgment and react punitively to women who are perceived to violate the bounds of monogamy–not so much because monogamy is revered by our culture, but because women are expected to exist within a set of constraints descended directly from a historical context in which they were chattel.

    Even if a particular woman happens to have a partner who sees her desires as healthy and non-threatening, and is privileged to live in a context in which she can avoid social scrutiny, she still has a lifetime of social conditioning, including a popular culture of film & literature littered with the bodies of women killed in “crimes of passion”. Heck, “crimes of passion” are a perfect example–killing your lover and/or the person you catch her with is totally understandable, you guys! You were temporarily insane! Slap on the wrist, try not to do it again-k? But hey, at least we mostly don’t practice honor killings!

    Personally, our misogynist, monogamy-only culture really f—ed me up in the head for a long time–I’m still working on it, in fact–and I’m a dude, and was raised in a non-religious household. I can hardly begin to imagine how much stronger the psychological impact is for many women.

    So: tl;dr, when men complain about not having access to enough sex, we might consider that beyond the standard “men and women are super different, and women, due to their innate tendencies, want less sex (and more chocolate and shopping!)” narrative, we may alternatively consider that it is our obsession with monopolizing each other and our widespread oppression of women, that we have to blame.

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  • I think the T.V. show Tool Time nailed it. Tim was complaining about not getting enough sex, and Jill was complaining about their lack of closeness recently. Which resulted in the following exchange:

    Jill: I need to feel close to you in order to want to have sex.
    Tim: Well, I need sex in order to feel close to you.

    Perhaps that is the problem.

  • Ray

    Too much of a leap with that other better men statement.

    There’s just so much involved in that, that needs to be unwound.

    What occurs to me first is that older women are more secure, and the study you cited was looking at those who had been married for 20 or more years. So much of the hormonal fluctuations, along with parenting and the uncertainties that always accompany the first years of marriage, and other such facets too numerous to cover – those are gone in the later years, and we’re left with a secure woman who is of course familiar and comfortable with her mate.

    So this mature, confident woman has been married at least 20 years to the same man, and she equates intimacy with good sex while the man and his decreasing testosterone levels is more apt to hope she will be satisfied with less, because he knows he’s not performing as he did in the past. As far he knows though it’s okay since the younger wife he’s been married to wasn’t always this sexually confident, and now he thinks he’s just on her level.

  • Arch G

    It could just be economics. If you recall the old “supply and demand curves” from high school economics, as demand goes down the “price” of the good goes down too. THis guy actually took the time to make a chart;