[Note: This post was revised from the original published version. Hence some of the comments below may be responding to an earlier, slightly different draft.]
Women complain about how unfair it is that men are called studs when they sleep around, yet women get called sluts for the exact same behavior. It’s actually not a double standard though, because both scenarios are pretty different in terms of circumstances and consequences. I can think of at least four crucial differences:
First, sleeping around is easier for women. Regardless of how you feel about promiscuity, we can all agree that a guy who manages to rack up a lot of sexual partners has to have some skills. It’s challenging for men to rack up partners, even for good-looking men or men with low standards. A man needs social intelligence, interpersonal skills, persistence, thick skin, and plain old dumb luck. For women, though, a vagina and a pulse is often enough. Whenever an accomplishment requires absolutely no challenge, no one respects it. It’s just viewed as a lack of self-discipline. People respect those who accomplish challenging feats, while they consider those who overindulge in easily obtained feats as weak, untrustworthy or flawed.
Second, women have potential to do more harm by sleeping around than men do. Say a man sleeps around with a bunch of different women. He’s definitely doing harm to these women if he pretends to be monogamous while sleeping around. He may cause them emotional pain by his promiscuity. He may cause unwanted pregnancy. He may spread VD. When women sleep around, however, they can cause not only all these same ill effects but one additional crucial ill effect: the risk of unknown parentage.
If one guy sleeps around with five women, each of whom is monogamous to him, and they all get pregnant, it’s a safe bet as to who the father is. If you reverse genders and have one woman who sleeps around with five men who are monogamous to her, and she gets pregnant, the father could be any of the five men. And if one of those men is tricked into raising a baby that isn’t his, he’s investing time, money, estate and property to provide for a child that isn’t carrying his DNA into the next generations, a costly mistake from an evolutionary standpoint.
Our two basic primal drives are to survive and to reproduce, and promiscuous women traditionally make it hard for a man to know for sure whether he is truly reproducing or is secretly raising another man’s child. Men stand a lot more to lose from promiscuous women than the other way around. And it’s no picnic for the child to not know who his real father is either. And it’s a mess for the women carrying on the deception as well. Or just look at any random episode of the Maury show if you don’t believe me.
Since the DNA test and the birth control pill didn’t exist until recently, there were no reliable ways to prevent pregnancy or prove parentage for most of human history. For this reason society developed a vested interest in preventing promiscuity among women, and society accomplished this by creating the slut stigma. And even though the creation of birth control and DNA tests have made this less of a risk than the past, longstanding traditions and customs are not easy for society to break so the slut stigma remains.
Third, men have evolutionary reasons to be programmed to sleep around more. A lot of women roll their eyes when they hear that men are “hard-wired” to sleep around. But from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes total sense. If the two primal drives of humans are to survive and to reproduce, nothing leads to maximum reproduction like one man sleeping with multiple women. If one women sleeps with many men in a nine month period, she can only get pregnant just once. Nine months of rampant promiscuity would give the same result as nine months of highly sexed monogamy: one pregnancy. Now if one man sleeps with many women during a nine month period, you can get many pregnancies during that period. The more women he sleeps with, the more possible pregnancies.
So from an evolutionary standpoint, there are more concrete advantages to men being promiscuous compared to women being promiscuous. This doesn’t mean that women have evolved to be strictly monogamous. Women have evolved to be somewhat promiscuous too, something men badly underestimate. However they haven’t evolved to be as rampantly promiscuous as men.
Fourth, promiscuity poses more risk to women than to men. A woman has more to lose from choosing bad sex partners than a man does. She’s the one who gets stuck with going through a pregnancy and taking care of a baby alone if she chooses a deadbeat. For this reason, promiscuous women throughout history have historically been viewed as being a vastly more irresponsible risk takers than promiscuous men, who rightly or wrongly could always run away from the consequences of unwanted pregnancies easier than women could.
These four reasons explain why the longstanding tradition came about of men being rewarded for multiple partners while women get socially punished for similar promiscuity. Of course all this is gradually changing, but we’re up against millenia of evolutionary and cultural conditioning here, so don’t expect any dramatic overnight reversals.
Understand that I’m just explaining why the so-called double standard came into existence and not condoning or condemning it. This is not an attempt to pass judgment or be self-righteous in any way. It’s just an explanation of why the two conditions are treated differently.
- Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles by Robin Baker
- This book is mind-blowing and will totally change the way you look at female promiscuity. Highly recommended.