In this episode Dr. Wendy discusses the double standard between men and women when it comes to sex. Why is it that women traditionally have gotten shamed for sexual experience, and men get applauded? And, are things changing as we witness the economic rise of women? There’s an evolutionary answer to it all. Listen to Find out!
EPISODE: The New Double Standard
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Welcome to Mating Matters, I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh, with producer Brooke Peterson. Okay, this week I just want to talk about something that happened to me. I was on Facebook and there was actually something I’d posted all the way back in 2013. I think it was a blog I wrote or something about nude pictures, women posting nude pictures. And I asked the question, is it a sign of female empowerment? And there was a bunch of back and forth from people.
But then somebody now, however many years later, suddenly post something and I get a notification. It was a man, and here’s what he wrote:
It’s interesting, I would think that as women become more financially independent, they would actually start holding men to a higher standard, because they have their own money and they don’t have to rely on a man. They could easily decide to leave him if he doesn’t treat her right. Instead, it seems to have led women to becoming more promiscuous and easy.
Ooh, it got to me. But you know, I’m a scientist, so I have to think about it, really what was happening there. And I came up with this idea to take this apart, to talk about the sexual double standard. I know, the hair curls up on my spine when I hear, “Ooh, she’s promiscuous, she’s easy.” And really ask the question, are women supposed to be more moral? Do we judge women more if they are so called less moral?
Well, what I want everyone to know is that our sexual behavior has evolved based on reproductive costs. So historically, reproduction was very, very, very costly to human females. Think about it, a huge percentage of us died in childbirth. Too many children could make a woman fall deep into poverty. The 18 years of burden of raising kids made it very, very risky for her to have sex.
And so out of that evolved group norms, morals, customs, anything in our culture to help support the fact that sex was a really high risk hobby for women. As a result, women were very, very choosy with who they mated with. Because there wasn’t birth control and while many women practiced infanticide in private, there wasn’t abortion. So if you ended up becoming pregnant by the wrong guy, the guy who wasn’t going to stay around and help, you were looking at a hard life in the future.
But what we’re really seeing today is the cost of reproduction has been going down, the risks of reproduction. Women have access to birth control. Women are able to make their own money – maybe not quite as much as men. As far as childcare is concerned, we’re seeing more and more affordable available childcare to women so that she can keep working while she has kids. Women can even extend their fertility window while they’re busy stockpiling money by freezing their eggs. So the costs of reproduction have slowly been going down for women.
So let’s go back to the question, are women supposed to be more moral? The gentleman in the comment on Facebook was basically saying, “Wouldn’t you think women would be more picky about who they mated with?” Well, actually no. They’re going to be less picky because the risks are less.
What used to happen in the past is women would make men sacrifice. The more they sacrificed, either by delaying the onset of the sexual relationship, or by wastefully showing a lot of resources; paying for expensive dinners, gifts, diamonds – the more it proved to her that he was going to stay around and he was going to be a great dad, and he would have extra resources. If he was wasting them on things like diamond rings (that’s a huge waste of money), it basically says, “Baby, don’t worry. There’s more where that came from, or I know how to make more. So I’ll be able to feed that baby.”
But today, we don’t need to hold men to a super high standard. We don’t need to make them sacrifice. Women can have all kinds of relationships. They can have short term relationships, they can have long-term relationships. They can have relationships that involve reproduction. They can have relationships that are deeply emotionally intimate and connected. Or they can have relationships that are light and fun.
The problem is, like the man who wrote in the comment on Facebook, men are still carrying around an old fashioned sexual double standard in their head. Now, remember the sexual double standard? It’s the one that gives men points for sexual experience and awards women demerit points for the same sexual experience.
The sexual double standard was invented by men. It was invented so they could control women’s sexuality. Why? Because we have hidden eggs, we have concealed fertility. There are only three days in any given month where a woman can become pregnant. So his best way to make sure that he has paternity certainty, to make sure that any babies that come out of her are his, is to keep other men away. And one of the best psychological tricks that men use to keep other men away is to say, “Hmm, you’re not a good girl if you have sex with other men.” They beat up women’s self-esteem with this idea.
But there’s something else I want to ask: why do we expect women to be more moral? Yeah, partly it’s that old fashioned double standard still being drug around from our past. But remember, women were part of a village. Women needed other women almost more than men, to raise kids. And when a woman violates one of the codes of the village, when she lies, cheats, steals, breaks a rule – we get particularly upset when women do that. We do think women should be more moral because when everybody follows the rules of the village, then more babies get to survive.
Speaking about that baby surviving and what traits women look for in men, recently somebody asked me who my big celebrity crushes were. And I had to stop and think about it because I really like, I don’t have a purely visual fantasy of having sex with some celebrity.
So I thought for a moment and I said, “Well, it used to be Tiger Woods until he brought the germs of 13 mistresses into the home of a breastfeeding mother.” And the person who asked me said, “Oh well when you put it that way …” You see there are only four bodily fluids that carry the HIV virus – a little health psychology for you. They are blood, semen, vaginal secretions and yes, breast milk – not saliva, not sweat, not earwax, not boogers, none of that, okay? Just a little health lesson for you.
And so the thought that there was a breastfeeding mother in the house actively breastfeeding her kids and he’s bringing in potential germs from other partners, that turned me off him. And then I said, “Well there’s always Harry Connick Jr.” And my friend said, “Well, he’s good looking.” Oh I go, “I know, but he’s been married to that cute supermodel for 25 years. They’ve raised three daughters, they’re still together.”
And he’s like, “Wait, so your fantasy of having sex with a celebrity is based on if they’re a good person.” I’m like, “Hell yeah, because I’m a woman and this is how we choose. This is actually in our DNA. To not just look at physical characteristics, unless of course, we want a really short relationship.
So don’t think that women are always moral or that we are supposed to be the ones holding men to a higher moral standard. One treacherous female mating strategy is to extract genes from one mate and resources from another. Yeah, that’s the wealthy housewife having sex with the pool boy or the massage therapist or the trainer. Yeah, I know, it’s not pretty, but we do it.
I think what we really are seeing here is the genders becoming a little bit closer; closer in sexual behavior, closer in sexual freedom. Not close all the way, let’s not mince words here. Motherhood is still an enormous burden, and until we have the entire village coming together to find ways to support mothers – that would be enacting public policy that gives free childcare in every workplace, gives women and men longer parental leaves.
Until we have those supports in place, we’ll never really be even. Because even though you hear, “Oh well, women are making 77 cents on a man’s dollar,” not if she’s a mother. If she’s a mother, she has to tear that 77 cents in half and give half of it to another woman to take care of her kids while she’s at work.
So the real question is why aren’t women being more choosy about mates? I think they are. I think women use different mating strategies depending on what kind of relationship they’re looking for in a man. If they’re looking for a short term fun hookup, they make sure that their birth control is intact and they just have fun.
If they want a long-term relationship, maybe they’re near the end of their fertility window in their thirties, and they really want to make sure they have a guy who’s going to stay around a lot, they’re going to use old fashioned mating strategies. They’re going to make them sacrifice. They’re going to make him pay for a few things. They’re going to see what he can provide to her to demonstrate that he’ll be there in the long run, that he’ll be there to help take care of his offspring. So I think we all need to check ourselves when it comes to using the double standard as a way to shame women or men for that matter.
The research shows that men can fall in love just as easily as women, that men can become as attached as women can through sex. I mean, they often have a blunting of the oxytocin effect – that cuddle hormone, the bonding hormone that helps people fall in love. They often have a blunting of it by a big charge of testosterone. So yeah, there are some big bald, high testosterone men who do not fall in love through sex. But plenty of other men do and can, and may not even feel safe expressing their feelings about it.
So I will say that women should not forget those days when they were played by a playboy and how much it hurt. So if you are having a short term relationship with a man, it is nice to take the high road and explain to him that that’s what this is.
There was research done by Dr. Sandra Metts at the School of Communication at Illinois State University. Her study was called The Passion Turning Point Study. And she looked at onset of first sex in a new couple. And what she found is that that first sex could be a positive or negative turning point in a relationship, depending on one conversation that happened beforehand. And the conversation was simply, “What is this? What are we? What do we expect from this sexual encounter?”
Believe it or not, most new couples don’t have that conversation until after. And sometimes, one person thinks it’s a stepping stone to a real relationship and another person thinks it’s a hookup. And that’s when it becomes a negative passion turning point.
So, having good communication about sex, not judging anybody of any gender for their sexual behavior, always using good protection and loving your partner enough to make sure that you protect them as well – then I say go for it. There are no rules. I think we’ve passed the no rules relationship revolution, and we can enjoy the pleasures of our bodies, both to connect with others and to show our love and connection, or to get a little high from the dopamine, oxytocin, norepinephrine or to create a long lasting bond, one where you may raise children or simply support each other for years. All relationships are possible by human beings.
Thanks for listening to this episode of Mating Matters. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh, with producer Brooke Peterson. Next week – Slow love. It’s not what you think.
Mating Matters is produced in partnership with iHeartMedia. It is researched, interviewed, and written by me, Dr. Wendy Walsh. And it is edited and produced by Brooke Peterson.
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