If you have heard the “lover vs provider” dichotomy, I wish to elucidate its implications.
Assuming that women’s sexual preferences are optimally adapted genetic success, there are exactly two distinct things that heterosexual woman will want romantically from a partner.
First, a woman will desire a man with good genes, so that she may pass those good genes onto her children, enhancing their chance of success. I will call this quality of men “charm.” Charming qualities are wit, confidence, physical frame, status, and so on, so far as the capacity for these is heritable.
Second, a woman will desire a man who can provide resources. This does not just mean money; the primary resource a man provides is spending time with the woman, followed by to emotional support. I will call this act of men “commitment.” A woman wants commitment mainly so that she can be assured that she will have enough resources to properly raise her children.
Of course, it’s almost never either-or; properties come in degrees.
But haven’t humans adapted past our primitive sensibilities? Maybe, but we are still apes, so it is useful to explore what evolution rewards. Women seek out honest signals of high-status and commitment.
Women want sex with a charming man as an end in itself. She will offer sex to a committed male, but in exchange for said commitment in the context of a devoted relationship. You may object to this characterization, where a relationship is depicted as transactional. That objection is a useful social norm. The integrity of friendships/relationships/etc. depends on the premise that they have this sacred, ephemeral quality, and that members do not tally up their helpful deeds in hope of reimbursement. My job, however, is to scrutinize the socially acceptable notions.
But of course, I’d recommend against committing just for sex. She’ll know, and as I’ll further explain, it’s a bad deal.
The above pattern of women’s behavior is reflected in menstrual cycles. Fascinating research shows that when a woman nears ovulation, she becomes (without knowing it) more attracted to masculine, high-testosterone characteristics. She wants for her kids the genes of dominant men, so she is programmed to time sex with them for when it counts.
Meanwhile, when not near ovulation, a woman prefers the features of less masculine men. They can be forced into commitment, and she doesn’t care about their sperm.
Most women desire both charm and commitment to varying degrees. The inability to acquire both from the same man is an incentive for infidelity.
The biggest difference between charm and commitment, insofar as I can bring insight to this topic, is this: your commitment is zero-sum, fixed, and disposable, your charm is not.*
Time is the main limiting factor of commitment. I corrected this article to include time among the list of zero-sum resources. Everyone has the same fixed number of hours in a day, an oddly equalizing force.
If the latest male sex icon attempted to commit himself personally and emotionally to every woman that desired sex with him, it would obviously be unsustainable. Commitment divides, charm scales.
Consequently, a society that emphasizes and values commitment more will be more monogamous (sex opportunities more evenly distributed), conversely, a society that emphasizes and values charm more will be more polygamous (harems for some men).
A woman will be much more sensitive to infidelity on the part a men committed to her that of one who merely charm her. Commitment must reduce as it is split multiple ways. Charm has no such property.
It sounds good to be charming huh? You can have many romantic conquests, who embrace you enthusiastically, and at little cost to you. Your romantic conquests may not even mind your sleeping around.
The non-charming man will be able to secure one woman who “provides” sex less enthusiastically and only by virtue of enormous commitment on his part. You may desire this monogamous life, but unless you’re as charming as I am, her biology will ask her to cheat.
Unfortunately, some men get bitter when they realize the inequality of the sex landscape. I don’t endorse this, but I can explain it.
To the extent all woman want sex with the man with the very best genes, they will all want the same man, and they can each get him, but only the hot ones, and only for a night each. How do we know this? We know a lot about sexual behavior from dating site statistics.
Recall that societies the put more emphasis on commitment will be more monogamous. In recent history, the west has changed in various ways to value commitment less.
Commitment is in higher demand when people are desperate for any support to make ends meet. The productivity gains of the industrial revolution made it more affordable for women to support themselves and therefore be less dependent on male commitment.
Compounding that change, the industrial revolution allows the western world to afford a generous welfare state, which makes poor women more dependent on the government, and even less dependent on men.
This might explain why communities with higher welfare consumption see more promiscuity, and why countries that can’t afford welfare tend to be more traditional with sex and marriage.
But the biggest change comes via the birth control pill. When all sex risks childbirth, it is imperative for women to nail down commitment first. Hence the institution of marriage. With he pill, sex it no longer linked to childbirth, reducing the importance of commitment.
Currently, pure charm-seeking is discouraged by slut-shaming, mostly perpetuated by other woman as a form of quasi collective bargain.
But taken as a whole, the birth control pill, coupled with the productivity grains from the industrial revolution and the welfare state created the sexual revolution. Feminism would not be sustainable without Capitalism.
Why should we care? These recent trends might mess with the incentives built into the structure of society. Traditionally, hard work and stability would usually earn you a devoted wife and kids. That was useful. If sex is contingent on being a diligent and hard working person, men will do that. If not, who knows what will happen.
Armed with this knowledge, you can understand things supposedly divorced from sex in these terms; you may, for instance, theorize about the effect of redistributionist economic policies.
Also, if you are wondering whether a similar duality exists for what men want, the answer is yes: hotness vs beauty.