Why Are Men More Promiscuous? It's in the Genes, Says a Psychologist
"I don't enjoy making people upset; it bothers me." So says psychologist Richard Hagen, whose book The Bio-Sexual Factor (Doubleday; $9.95) was intended to "relieve some of the tension in the so-called war between the sexes. It looks," he admits, "as if I have done the opposite." Hagen's thesis is that male aggressiveness and female coyness, among other standard concepts of sexual behavior, are fairly well locked into human genes as a result of evolution and are not easily altered through socialization. Feminists have taken umbrage, denouncing the book as "a power trip" and declaring, "The section on rape has set us back 200 years." One Doubleday editor who read the manuscript, Jackie Onassis, argued that it had something to say, but admitted, "It made me absolutely furious." Hagen, 44, put himself through Moody Bible Institute, the American Conservatory of Music and earned a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Illinois before becoming a professor at Florida State University. Divorced in 1978 after 20 years of marriage, he has an adopted 14-year-old daughter who lives with his former wife. His 12-year-old son, also adopted, lives with him. Hagen's current girlfriend is an FSU psychology graduate student. "There's some embarrassment about my going with a 21-year-old," he says, "but I think I'm secure enough at this stage to pretty well be me." Hagen discussed his provocative socio-biological thesis with Sandra Hinson of PEOPLE.
Why do you say that evolution has given men a greater sex drive than women?
It's a matter of genetic logic. Going back thousands of generations, those males who were easily and frequently aroused would have more kids than those who weren't. Evolutionary theory, then, insists men should have been selected for arousal and orgasm.
Why is this not true for women?
Because they don't have to be aroused, nor must they have orgasms to reproduce. Although Masters and Johnson suggested in their 1966 study that female arousal may facilitate conception, one thing that's certain is that the female orgasm is not necessary. To put it in Darwinian terms—and this is not a value judgment—sexual arousal in women was not as crucial for the survival of the species as it was in men. So it has not been "naturally selected" over the ages to the degree that it has in men.
How do genes affect feelings?
This is no more mysterious than the fact that drugs and medicines affect feelings. Genes produce enzymes that in turn flood our bodies with hormones, and hormones affect feelings, among them the pleasurable feelings of sex.
How do hormones play a major role in determining sex drive?
Contrary to what researchers such as Shere Hite (The Hite Report) have written, hormones play a very big role. Androgens, the male hormones, and estrogens, the female hormones, are present in different amounts in both sexes. Males have more androgens; females more estrogens. During the past two decades it has become clear that androgens heighten sex drive in both sexes; estrogens do not. Now here's the kicker: Males have ten times more circulating testosterone, which is an androgen, than women do.
What makes men "philanderers by nature?"
The monogamous male is limited by the number of children his mate can produce. The promiscuous male is only limited by the number of copulations he can achieve. In the Guinness Book of World Records, the most children ever borne by a single woman was 69. The Guinness record for most children sired by one man is 888. In terms of evolution, the male who built a harem or ran from cave to cave is more likely to have his genes survive than the male who finds sex satisfying with just one woman. By this time in our history, the genes of promiscuous males should be widely influential.
But women are full of "faithful genes"?
Whereas men produce millions of sperm daily, women usually produce only one egg a month. That makes it economically rare and precious, especially when you consider the time and energy involved in gestation and nursing. In a primitive society it is clearly to the woman's advantage to become sexually aroused only when the relationship with her mate is secure. Thus the female protects her investment and enhances her genetic survival when she makes sure her offspring survive to maturity. One way to do that is to get a male to help raise the children, to protect and provide for the family, and to stick by him through thick and thin.
So female coyness has a genetic origin?
Coyness may have a functional value in determining which mate will be most faithful. Also, the female presumably withholds herself until she can evaluate the male in terms of skills that directly relate to his own survival and his potential as a provider.
Then why do men condemn women for being seductive?
They condemn women, not for being seductive, but for not following through. Men often think of this as a form of teasing and even have derogatory labels for such women. I point out that men are wrong in making such a judgment. If a woman follows her deepest instinct, she will probably be seductive but hesitant. It's a strategy to give her time to evaluate the male. That's not meant as teasing. That's just being realistic.
How do you view girl-watching?
Perhaps it's a functionless, spontaneously generated custom, but one could reasonably argue that if three males are swapping yarns on a grassy hillside, the one who becomes aroused when a female walks by at fifty yards will have a better chance of capturing that egg and getting his genes in the gene pool than the one who only becomes aroused at ten yards, or ten feet. Studies have shown that men today are far more sexually responsive to visual stimuli than women are.
Does that include pornography?
I think pornography is valued because men find it sexually arousing. It's sheer nonsense to maintain, as Susan Brownmiller does in Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, that a man who buys a skin magazine is doing so in order to dehumanize women. Some feminists have asked men not to write about the female experience because we can't know what it is. Well, we ask them not to come up with silly explanations of the male's penchant for looking simply because they don't enjoy looking themselves.
Do men buy sex for pleasure or power?
Pleasure. Andrea Dworkin, in Woman Hating, described prostitution as a means of subjugating women, but that's gibberish. That view just illustrates the difference between the sexes. She simply can't imagine how anyone could want sex so much they would pay for it.
What about taking sex by force?
Throughout evolutionary history men have been able to steal precious eggs from women, that is, through rape. It's reasonable to suppose that those for whom sex was highly pleasurable would take greater risks in forcing sex than those for whom it was so-so. Their genes would more likely be passed on. Rape is largely a sexual crime and not a crime of violence, but it has serious consequences. For the female, the rapist obviously won't be around to help and protect her; she may become devalued in her mate's eyes, and she has no idea what quality of genes the rapist brings to the union. I think men rape because the act has value to them, and that the value relates to pleasure.
Aren't you condoning rape?
No. Rape is a terribly tragic thing. My attitude is that rapists ought to be castrated. I really feel that strongly.
Do you endorse adultery?
Just because we have various instinctive propensities doesn't mean we have to act on all of them. Our system of ethics should, and does, exert controls on how we behave.
How can your concepts relieve sexual tensions?
I hope that men and women learn to accept the reality of their sexual differences. To name only a few, that women realize that men who seem to be interested only in sex are following a basic biological drive, not personally insulting them. That men recognize that seductive women are playing a probably unconscious selection game. That men stop feeling guilty at being labeled sexual beasts, and that women relax and realize they don't have to achieve the same orgasmic level as their husbands.
What's your advice for non-orgasmic women?
Don't define yourself as neurotic. You have much feminine company. Don't worry about it. Many women enjoy coitus without orgasm. Enjoy that aspect of sex.
How would you counsel men?
If your wife tells you every night that she could never even look at another man, and you've been exercising your eyeballs all day, don't feel like slime. Just know that you have a lot of male company. Accept yourself.
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