Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Female Pleasure 3

A controversial study claims that a woman finds lovemaking more fulfilling if her partner is wealthy. Wealthy men give women more orgasms (The Times, 18th January 2009) Why rich men are better in bed: Women have more orgasms with wealthy partners, study finds (Daily Mail, 20th January 2009).

Another bit of pseudo-science from the evolutionary biology brigade.

The study is based on a survey of some 1500 Chinese women, and appears to show some statistical correlation between prosperity and pleasure. Here are some of the possible explanations discussed by the Daily Mail, a paper popular with women who have (or would like to have) wealthy partners.
  • Women who have frequent orgasms tend to overestimate their partner's income
  • Women with 'high powered' partners exaggerate how much they enjoy sex
  • Women who are highly susceptible to orgasms select partners who are wealthy
  • More desirable mates cause women to experience more orgasms
In evolutionary biology, the game is always to find an explanation that shows how some trait has evolved to yield some reproductive advantage. Thus Thomas Pollet, who has just completed a PhD at the Center for Evolution and Behaviour at Newcastle University, speculates that a woman's 'capacity for orgasm' could have evolved to help her discriminate between males on the basis of their quality. In an earlier paper, Sexual Selection as a Mechanism for Conspicuous Consumption (pdf), Pollet implied that women discriminated between mates on the basis of leisure activity and expensive gifts, so his views have obviously matured with experience.

Note that the Daily Mail mostly prints explanations based on female choice, because this flatters its female readership, and overlooks explanations based on male choice - for example, rich men choose randy girlfriends and dump them if they stop being randy. I'm not saying that this explanation is any better than the ones the Daily Mail prints, I'm just saying that the Daily Mail is being selective about the rubbish they print.

In contrast, The Times gives wealthy men the credit for "giving" women more, and interprets Pollet's findings as "suggesting that women are inherently programmed to be gold-diggers". Obviously pandering for a male readership then.

Finally, in the comments to the Daily Mail article we can find a more down-to-earth explanation. "There is nothing like money worries to dampen your sex drive." (I think there is something in one of George Orwell's early novels about this effect, but I can't seem to find it.)


Just found an excellent blog called Lust in Paradise, making similar points to mine. It concludes as follows.

"The point is that studies like this one are conducted in a socio-economic context that simply did not exist in prehistory, when all this evolving supposedly took place. Yet the central conceit of mainstream evolutionary psychology is that these findings reflect some eternal truths about men, women, and the allocation of resources. The fact that there's a gaping hole in the center of their narrative doesn't stop them telling us what female orgasms are saying though..."

1 comment:

mylifewiththemarines said...

I'm glad there is a clear-headed male scientist who can point out the weird assumptions made by those reporting on this study. I came over from Pleiotropy where I was disappointed with Bjorn's summary. IF the study can be believed (as he said, self-reporting isn't exact), the explanations are numerous and probably much more complex than "EVOLUTION!" Nature and nurture, blah blah blah.