I sometimes hear from my friends that a man who has many female sexual partners is regarded as macho. But on the other hand, a woman with a lot of one-night stands is thought to be easy and desperate (without even mentioning harsher words).

So what's the reason for this? What are the psychological roots? I would say two most important factors are biological and social but how do they affect our opinions on this matter?

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    $\begingroup$ In terms of reproductive advantage, female mammals can only get pregnant once every 9 months, but males can get several females pregnant in 9 months. There are probably many more factors, but this seems like it would play a role in sexual selection. $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2014 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ In terms of humans (not mammals in general), yes, assuming the pregnancy goes "full-term." I'm reasonably sure that was the intended point, and it is relevant in evolutionary theory (which is not the only relevant theory by a long shot). Do try to phrase your comments constructively @caseyr547. $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2014 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ Before you take people's answers, make sure to read the article on examples of polyandry (settings where it is not socially atypical for one woman to have many husbands) so that the social and not-cross-cultural nature of your observation is clear. $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2014 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ @caseyr547 you are assuming a lot about what Nick and Keegan meant, just because a social answer can be given (as my comment and your answer demonstrate), doesn't mean that biological considerations are completely irrelevant or uninteresting. Of course, for a clear-headed discussion of the biology without all the social-norms baggage, it is better to go to the biology stackexchange and ask about variability in non-human mating strategies; fun example would be to contrast the classic Chimp to Bonobo to Gorrilla to Orangutans. $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2014 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ @ArtemKaznatcheev but women are still capable of having sex while they are pregnant so it has no bearing on their desire or ability to have multiple partners. it is my understanding that there are biological factors which cause some men to crave multiple partners that might be relevant but sexuality certainly doesn't end when someone becomes pregnant. $\endgroup$
    – user3832
    Jan 10, 2014 at 20:04

2 Answers 2


There are two very broad domains of theory that commonly address the double standard regarding promiscuity. Haven't got the time to lay it all out at the moment (would be happy to edit later to elaborate if you like; just comment on what aspects you'd like expanded!), but as you suspected, both biological and social factors pertain in ways that are essential to consider. In some senses the theories that focus on each oppose each other, as is a common consequence of any myopic discussion of an issue this complex and multidetermined. One answer focuses on one aspect, another answer focuses on another aspect, conflicting explanations and predictions arise, and hopefully the debate incorporates this...but unfortunately often, the original theorists who focus on one (their) side of the issue become invested and entrenched in their perspective, and dismissive of others (another example with which I'm personally familiar arose as the person-situation debate). Keep this in mind if you choose to read further into the literature on these theories. The best answer is often the one that is informed by both, or more accurately, all sides.

ary psychology is the side that argues for explanations in terms of biological factors. Evolutionary theories pertaining to polygny and monogamy are not hard to find; even from a male perspective, there are competing motives to address here. Meanwhile, has a lot to say about the influence of culture on social norms regarding promiscuity, particularly in women's studies. Again, a quick Google search on "women's studies sexual double standard" will give you more than you have time to read about that perspective. Bear in mind, these two are not the only ways to address the issue; they're just the most popular and most inclined to address this issue as a focal topic.

Enjoy, stay open-minded, and "trust no one [completely]!" :)


Anthropology is the study of cultures what learned behaviour we receive from our environment and the physical biology of cultures and subcultures. (The show Bones on television is a forensic anthropology based drama that gives many interesting facts mostly centered on the biology side.) Culture includes things like music, art, religion, social structure. Norms are the behaviours which are acceptable for a person fulfilling a role in a culture. Gender roles are the set of norms acceptable for a gender. Now within America or any other nation there is a mainstream culture which is shared by the majority and subcultures which exist inside mainstream or outside of mainstream. Some subcultures are even counterculture. Holding a completely different set of norms than the mainstream culture.

Our culture as Americans in a male centric because of our root in Western European countries. Likewise it's also the reason the mode of our music is scaled and its the reason we still find female breasts sexualy attractive. Until World War I, men worked at a job while the women were required to work in a less appreciated role mainly child care, food and house management. Women were not allowed to study beyond a certain level. They could not even vote until suffrage was granted in 1929. If you think that was bad the history of female sexuality is more harsh. While mainstream American culture did at one time require men to be somewhat chaste but never to the degree which women were required. Throughout all American history female prostitutes have played an hidden and despised but accepted role in society. Only recently have male prostitutes become available for women. In the 1920s casual sex become available for women but it was very counterculture.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s changed mainstream America in many ways. It normalized casual sex and many other things. It brought feminism and other changes for female and male sexuality. At that point women who had multiple partners were no longer social outcast or had to keep their sexuality hidden for fear of complete ostracism. Still though there remains a stigma to female sexuality as it is not as liberal in mainstream culture as male sexuality.

In female centered cultures, (Matriarchal rather than Patriarchal) female sexulaity is treated very differently. The Mosuo Matriarchy in southern China have a very liberal sexual attitude where sex is very frequent they have no marriage (except that which is used as a threat to children). They sometimes have monogamous relations as long as they love each other then they move on to other partners.

Other functioning societies have non monogamous relationships with a single woman and multiple male husbands called Polyandry.

Biology gives women many incentives to have multiple partners. Women are far more evolved than men in terms of ability to have multiple partners and receive pleasure. Males have only the primary sexualy pleasing organs of penis, scrotum and prostate. Women have their breasts, labia, G-spot (vagina) and the highly evolved for pleasure clitoris. Most men are physically incapable of multiple orgasms without sexual stimulants like viagra because of the biologically mandated refractory period. Women have an undetectable refractory period and after they have one male partner they can easily be stimulated by another. You can read this psychology article about the comparative feelings of the pleasure organs.


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