That’s our real biological imperative
I once spent an entire airplane trip fantasizing about the guy in the seat in front of me across the aisle who had amazingly muscular arms. It was fun to think about what it would be like to have them wrapped around my naked body and it made the trip whiz by to think about it. I really love big arms and broad chests on men. However, I’m also often very attracted to slim, slight men who embody an entirely different kind of masculinity.
The photo above is of our friend and lover Lane, who keeps fit by hiking and doing yoga. His arms may not be bulky, but they are strong. He can do a mean handstand and I find him incredibly sexy, in part because of who he is as a person, but also because of how he looks, which is entirely different than airplane arms guy. In fact, I’m attracted to all sorts of men, and to more than a few women.
The notion that women are programmed by evolution/biology to only be attracted to big, strapping traditionally masculine men is just bunk. It’s a story that comes straight out of patriarchy — a social system that is only 6–9 thousand years old — and one that is firmly based in a dominance hierarchy. A patriarchal dominance hierarchy isn’t just about a power imbalance between men and women. It’s an entire system of pecking order, maintained by might makes right, so being big and tough looking is an advantage.
Prior to the onset of patriarchy, there were no class systems or gross wealth disparity. In fact, there was very little social stratification of any kind. Human beings lived in communities where enforced egalitarianism was the primary survival strategy. Paleolithic hunter-gatherer bands of about 20–50 grew to become proto-agricultural enclaves such as Çatalhöyük, which existed for almost three thousand years with no leaders and no hierarchy.
Women had equal status to men, and contributed to the family and the community in a way that belies our modern notions about male “providers” (also a patriarchal development). Sociologist Rae Blumberg has pointed out that it is only for less than 3% of human history and with one particular type of agrarian society, that women have become fundamentally dependent on men. Plowed agriculture turned on its head the prior dynamic of women as competent, self-sufficient producers who had a lot of autonomy.
In other words, there is no biological or evolutionary reason for women to be attracted to men who look a certain way. In fact, it makes a lot more sense for women to be attracted to all sorts of men, since that is what nature provides. It’s a much better evolutionary strategy to not be pigeon-holed into only desiring one sort of man. Natural selection is an adaptation that allows for a better response to current conditions. It rarely favors the biggest or the strongest, but it does tend to favor the most adaptable.
Natural selection doesn’t favor traits that are somehow inherently superior. Instead, it favors traits that are beneficial in a specific environment. Traits that are helpful in one environment might actually be harmful in another.
It is only in a patriarchy, where women (until very recently) had no ability to feed themselves and their children and are 100% dependent on only one man to do so that a strong and able provider becomes an asset. Prior to just a few thousand years ago, everyone contributing to and taking care of their clan was how people survived and thrived. Families as we now think of them, are a relatively recent development.
Despite the belief that monogamous male-female bonding is how mothers and children were supported and thrived, the anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy and others believe it was actually female cooperative breeding, or alloparenting — ‘sharing and caring derived from the pooled energy’ of a network of ‘grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, distantly related kin, and non-kin’ — that shaped our evolution.
So, in other words, there is no real biological reason to only be attracted to one sort of lover or mate. Diversity is what ensures the best access to sperm that is likely to be both genetically compatible and fertile. Being big and tough looking is no guarantee of either.
Ancient males didn’t compete for mates like rams or elk do, by butting horns, and otherwise displaying their physical dominance. In a patriarchal hierarchy coercion and bullying are routinely used to establish pecking order but it has little bearing on how people in an egalitarian culture find mates, which is what we had for the vast majority of human history.
We have sex because it feels good, but there is an evolutionary incentive to do it in a way that best propagates the species. Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, that isn’t through mate competition prior to the act, it’s through sperm competition from a variety of inseminators. The coronal ridge on the human penis is designed to scoop out semen left there from other genetic competitors. It wouldn’t be necessary if that competition had already taken place prior to coitus. And because you don’t want to accidentally scoop out your own semen, it’s typical for men to become flaccid after ejaculation and to need that refractory period before they can go again.
For the human female cervix, like that of a promiscuous macaque who may breed with ten males or more in rapid succession, actually serves not so much to block sperm, as was previously believed, as to busily filter and assess it, ideally several different types of it from several different males, simultaneously. It evolved not as a simple barrier but to sort the weak and bad and incompatible sperm from the good, suggesting by its very presence that there was a need to do such a thing — i.e., that females were mating multiply.
Martin, Wednesday. Untrue (p. 145). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.
My husband James has been working out a lot lately and his arms are getting really big and cut. I’m definitely liking what I see, but I’m also still really turned on by Lane’s physique as well. I’m also attracted to guys who embrace androgyny and wear eyeliner or dresses. I like the confidence it takes to openly be a gender-bender and a smoky eye is sultry on just about everyone — just think about Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow or Jason Mamoa as Khal Drogo.
I’m also sexually attracted to many women, which doesn’t make any sense from the perspective of a narrative that claims that women are just hardwired to be attracted to only one type of man. I’m more into guys than I am women, but I really like having sex with women a lot and kissing women is one of my favorite things. How does that fit into this story about what all women who aren’t lesbians are attracted to?
Sex is a social, emotional, and energetic connection as well as a potentially procreative one. Reducing it down to a Standard Narrative (which is full of holes) but that supports “survival of the fittest” stories that come straight out of dominance hierarchy based social Darwinism is just the patriarchy justifying itself. Until the onset of patriarchy, less than 10K years ago, most cultures traced lineage through the mother. Cooperative breeders living in small bands of 20–50 people would have cared for all the children of the tribe regardless of who the father was. In fact, they all cared for each other, because it was in the best interest of the survival of their clan.
And since meat was only a small part of most Paleolithic diets, women had little incentive to align themselves with one provider. For the most part, they were providing as much or more sustenance to the tribe. The cultural conditions that we have been taught to think of as timeless and inevitable are actually the byproduct of specific conditions that took place in particular geographic regions in the relatively recent past.
It is only when women were no longer allowed to provide for themselves and were forced indoors to only care for hearth and children and when they were dependent only on one man for their survival that the importance of a good provider becomes a factor. Big, tall, strapping men are attractive to many women. They certainly are to me, but I once had a crush on a shorter guy with pale white skin and a lot of freckles. I know a lot of women like me, who find a wide variety of body types attractive.
In many places in modern-day South America and some parts of Asia, partible paternity and even polyandry are still practiced. Cooperative breeding, with several fathers taking responsibility for the welfare of children, doesn’t mesh with what we’ve been taught about the Standard Model of Human Evolution, which says that “A woman having sex with another man is always a threat to the man’s genetic interests, because it might fool him into working for a competitor’s genes.” It also doesn’t mesh with what many have been taught about women seeking to align themselves with an alpha. That’s a patriarchal construct as well.
Primatologist, Meredith Small notes that seeking novelty is the single most observable trait among all the sexual behaviors, preferences, and drivers of female primates. Female primates are actually the complete opposite of how we’ve been taught to imagine them — as reluctant breeders or seekers of “intimacy” with a single “best” mate or only seeking to mate with the alpha. Why would humans be the only primates to be different?
Give me novelty, give me variety. Give me men with big arms, and ones with slight builds. Give me men who look like lumberjacks, and men who wear eyeliner. I’m not interested in every man out there, so please don’t take this as an invitation, but I am interested in a wide variety of different types of man, and a certain number of women as well. Most women crave novelty and variety, whether they ever act on it or not. That’s our true evolutionary legacy.
© Copyright Elle Beau 2021
Elle Beau writes on Medium about sex, life, relationships, society, anthropology, spirituality, and love. If this story is appearing anywhere other than Medium.com, it appears without my consent and has been stolen.
Çatalhöyük — Ancient Land Of Peace And Egalitarianism
Current knowledge of this settlement reveals a lot about human history
‘Women Want Providers, Men Want Beauty And Compliance’
This isn’t sociobiology; it’s culture, and rather recent culture at that