If one enjoys reading the misogynist corners of the Internet, one often sees people saying things along the lines of “women can get hotter men for casual sex than they can for dating, so they all get used to dating hot men, and then this leaves them unable to love the less hot people they end up marrying!”
Now, regardless of the accuracy of the causal reasoning here, I found the premise interesting. After all, it does make theoretical sense: if there are more men than women who want casual sex, one would naively expect the women to pair with the top men. Nevertheless, in my own rather extensive experience of casual sex, I’ve noticed no particular trend of women’s casual sex partners being more attractive than their life partners; indeed, the trend goes rather the other way.
(Throughout this blog post, I will be assuming that fewer women than men are interested in casual sex, for whatever biological or sociological reason. Standard feminist claims– “women are afraid of being attacked,” “women are less likely to orgasm during casual sex,” etc.– are perfectly compatible with this analysis. The reader who disagrees with the original claim is invited to peruse Craigslist Casual Encounters.)
(I will be mostly talking in this blog post as if ‘attractiveness’ is a thing everyone agrees on. This is, of course, not true, but most of my thoughts still hold even given the wondrous diversity of human sexuality. Consider it a simplifying assumption.)
How do we resolve this puzzling dilemma?
One aspect of the solution, of course, is that attractiveness for casual sex is a different thing than attractiveness for long-term relationships. The former is mostly based on charm, looks, sexual abilities, etc.; the latter incorporates things like life goals, values, conflict resolution style, and not having any personal quirks so obnoxious that by two years into the marriage you would sacrifice some of your less necessary body parts to get them to stop. Naturally, casual sex partners are less attractive on axes people don’t care about.
But often people’s life partners are not just kinder people but also hotter than their casual sex partners. How can we explain that? The answer, I think, is found in the concepts of satisficing and maximizing. Maximizing is holding out for the best, while satisficing is settling for the good-enough.
Consider Alice. Alice maximizes. She goes on OKCupid and tries to have casual sex with the most attractive man she can. The good news about this strategy is that Alice gets to have casual sex with significantly more attractive men. The bad news is that Alice doesn’t get to have a lot of casual sex. If Alice hits on men, she’ll have to spend quite a bit of time working down the ‘attractive men’ hierarchy until she finds one she’s willing to have sex with. If– as is more likely in our sexist society– Alice instead waits for her inbox to be filled, with each attractive man Alice faces the dilemma: should she hold out for a more attractive man, or is this the best she’s going to get? Either way, Alice puts a lot of time into identifying the most attractive men and figuring out her rank on the attractiveness scale.
This is obviously unsatisfactory if you like casual sex.
Now consider Eve. Eve satisfices. When Eve is in the mood for casual sex, she opens up OKCupid and sets up a date with any guy who has a reasonably attractive picture and a profile with a minimum of spelling errors. This means that Eve gets to have casual sex quickly, and often the same night. Eve gets to have considerably more casual sex than Alice. On the other hand, Eve’s paramours are less attractive. In fact, Eve’s paramours may be less attractive for casual sex than they are for dating, because she’s considerably less lazy if she actually has to talk to the dude.
Alice and Eve are extreme ends of the strategies, but they trade off against each other: in general, the more attractive you want your partner to me, the more effort you will have to put into finding them.
What are the implications? If you are an Internet misogynist worried about being compared to a casual sex partner, I would strongly advise dating sluts. Being a slut is a strong signal that she has had casual sex with people less attractive than you. On the other hand, steer clear of women who mostly have sex in relationships; they may be executing a maximizing strategy for casual sex, and thus have had casual sex with ‘alphas.’
In addition, the distribution of casual sex among men is different if women are mostly maximizing, compared to if they are mostly satisficing. In the former case, extremely attractive men get as much casual sex as they want, attractive men have to decide between sleeping with unattractive women and not having casual sex, and unattractive men do not have any casual sex at all. In the latter case, the distribution of casual sex is very random. Lots of men have had casual sex once or twice, but few have had a lot of it; many of the men who have had casual sex have had it with women more attractive than themselves. In the former case, being more attractive is a more important strategy, while in the latter case putting in more effort is the more important strategy; the more you hit on women, the more likely it is you’ll catch them on a horny day.