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November 03, 2010


John Meredith

Hmmm, a bit of confirmation bias going on here, isn't there? Is it really the case that taboos against female sexual freedom are weaker in poorer societies? I think a peek outside of UK social norms complicates things a bit. I recommend a trip to the Hindu Kush for Mr Greenwood.

Luis Enrique

norms repressing homosexuality have also changed, and we cannot appeal to the cost of raising children or contraception there. Perhaps it was just a 'spillover' from what happened in hetero world, or perhaps other forces than economic and technological conditions are at work.

Luis Enrique

(sorry, want to add: I wouldn't dispute that things like contraception and the economic consequences of children affect related social norms)

CS Clark

There's something a bit odd about measuring sexual desire in terms of pre-marital sex. Surely you can't really tell until you've tried it, substitutes aside.

What about the sexual desires of women who have experienced sex? It seems more that it's the upper class woman who are freer in practice even if the social norms are stricter, because their position and access to wealth helps them achieve their desires, and a greater education helps them ignore the strictures that keep the lower-class woman who believe in them under control. Look at ancient Rome. Look at modern Rome, for that matter.

Regarding illegitimate children borne by a married woman, who you might imagine come about as mainly an accidental result of her sexual desire (other factors affecting opportunity etc., and I'm ignoring whether it's some deep-seated breeding outside the pack urge), I'm pretty sure there's research showing the same percentages across class, in the modern era at least. And in the past, bearing the bastard of a noble seems to have been a decent career choice for a well-bred lady.

I'd also add in passing that economic and technological conditions - child benefit and DNA testing, for example - also affect men's desires. I wouldn't want to feel left out.


@ John - neither I nor Greenwood is saying that taboos against sexual freedom are weaker in poorer societies. They are not.
The theory predicts that are greater where the costs of raising children are greater. This might well be true in poorer societies than richer ones.
I was referring to the traditional experience within the UK. A child is not so costly if you can put it into a factory at six years old, but it is if you send it to Eton. Hence the stronger norm against female sexuality among the rich in the UK.


"this norm would be stronger where the cost of raising children is greater"

1) Isn't that relative ? A millionare pays the Eton fees but a working man might struggle to fund the school trip. IMHO He's just as highly, if not more invested in terms of disposable income.

2) non-monetary investments. Upper-class families often didn't spend much time with the kids. Our working man hasn't got nannies and boarding schools.

Think of the Edwina Mountbattens, Jennie Churchills and Dorothy McMillans.

Did I ever drop this Charlotte Allen link ?


"Evolutionary psychologists postulate that the same physical and psychological drives prevail among modern humans: Men, eager for replication, are naturally polygamous, while women are naturally monogamous—but only until a man they perceive as of higher status than their current mate comes along. Hypergamy—marrying up, or, in the absence of any constrained linkage between sex and marriage, mating up—is a more accurate description of women’s natural inclinations. Long-term monogamy—one spouse for one person at one time—may be the most desirable condition for ensuring personal happiness, accumulating property, and raising children, but it is an artifact of civilization, Western civilization in particular. In the view of many evolutionary psychologists, long-term monogamy is natural for neither men nor women.

All of this is obviously pure speculation, if imaginatively rendered and bolstered by anthropological observations of hunter-gatherer societies today... Yet evolutionary psychology offers a persuasive explanation for many things that we are supposed to pretend are culturally conditioned: that the natures of men and women are fundamentally different and that, pace Naomi Wolf and the cougar-empowerment movement, women don’t get sexier as they get older, at least not in the eyes of the man sitting on the next barstool. Youth and beauty are markers of fertility. As Mystery wrote in his book, it may be sexist to say out loud, but women are well aware “that their social value can be rated largely on their looks” or they wouldn’t devote so many hours to toning muscles and adjusting makeup.

Evolutionary psychology also provides support for a truth universally denied: Women crave dominant men. And it seems that where men are forbidden to dominate in a socially beneficial way—as husbands and fathers, for example—women will seek out assertive, self-confident men whose displays of power aren’t so socially beneficial. This game of sexual Whack-a-Mole is played regularly these days in a culture that, starting with children’s schoolbooks and moving up through films and television, targets as oppressors and mocks as bumblers the entire male sex."

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