Are Women Culturally Monogamous?

We know that women aren’t destined to be monogamous by nature, but how does culture affect our psyches? And how does it shape us for good or ill?

Polygamist inclinations vary from person to person, but today’s Western women are much more monogamous than our Tahitian or American Indian sisters were before European contact. We are also more monogamous in our inclinations than men. 

In surveys, men say they would prefer to have 14 partners over a lifetime. Over that same lifetime, women prefer to have only one or two.

A friend suggested that women were lying because they feared seeing themselves as sluts. Yet women admit to five real-life partners. (Here they are certainly underestimating. The real number is likely 9, given men’s estimate of 12.) But if they’re so worried, why not say they’ve had only 1 or 2 partners?

I was surprised by the low number of “one or two” as the preference, but I doubt women feel the need to go that low just to feel socially acceptable.

Younger women’s preferences may be higher. During the first year of college many willingly experiment with sex – and freely admit to it. But they quickly tire of random sexual contacts. Most drop out of the casual sex scene by sophomore year.

Men, on the other hand, don’t tire of the casual hook up, and want to continue even after college.

When it comes to open marriage or swinging, men are usually more enthusiastic, and more often initiate the idea.

So women seem less interested in casual sex than men. Quite likely because they are more repressed.

I feel that women are more repressed than is healthy. But I’m not sure that some level of repression is all bad.

When I read women’s studies literature, women are often advised to have sex more the way men do: have fun without guilt.

Yet men’s studies, which comes from a feminist perspective, often advises men to have sex more the way women do it. Don’t follow the 4 F’s: Find ‘em, Feel ‘em, F- ‘em, and Forget ‘em. Do not use women as a means of gaining a notch on your belt. Have sex in a context of love and care.

What do you think? How would you describe women’s ways and men’s ways of having sex? What are the positives and negatives of each approach? Is one way better than the other? Is there an optimal in-between? Do men and women tend to have different views on this issue?

I’m interested in exploring the matter. I’d like to year your thoughts, too.

Georgia Platts

Brizendine, Louann. The Male Brain. Crown Publishing Group. 2010
Kimmel, Michael. Guyland. Harper. 2008

29 Responses

  1. I will be the first brave responder.

    From my personal point of view , I may have been more inclined to have sex if the partners were more inclined to be lovers rather than slam bam thank you mam kinda guys !

    I think women get tired of hooking up because they feel like toilet bowl sperm receptacles rather than a lover. I might add most wives who stop having sex do so for the same reason. I have been married 5 times, I might know a thing or two about it.

  2. I will be the second brave responder. And I’m very serious about that. This takes courage.

    Anyway, when I got married at the age of twenty-two, I was a virgin. That’s the way I was brought up.

    We didn’t make it and got divorced after seven years.

    I am now a happily married woman, but in the interum I had two serious relationships, both of which were intimate.

    Here is my confession – two or three times I allowed myself to be picked up at a party or a bar.

    I am still so ashamed of those incidents, Remembering them makes me feel so dirty!

    Thanks for listening.

    • Good for you to come out with the confession but why feel so dirty?

      Were they really consensual or are you saying you allowed yourself to be picked up but in reality it was more like you were conned into it?

      Often we feel dirty because we are made to think we went along when we really didn’t make the choice willingly.

      Think it over – did you really allow it or are you suffering guilt for just being out there as if you asked for it just by being there?

    • Yes, thank you for sharing.

      My guess is that you felt guilty because that is what society has taught women to feel. Men on the other hand, are applauded for the same thing. Do you think this was true for you?

      • The one area men do seem to have it right is that they seem to have each others back. Women don’t. They’re often quick to pile on or stab another in the back.

        I wonder if how we view our same sex relationships plays into how we look at/for relationships outside our gender?

  3. Thank you for responding Jane and Georgia.

    I was never forced into it. If anything, I forced myself. I thought it was expected. You know – times were changing. Everybody did it.

    Being involved in a relationship is one thing, But having a fling with someone I had no feelings for made me feel ashamed. Hard to explain. And it was long ago. I think I felt that if I turned the man down, he wouldn’t call again.

    In between marraiges, I was lonely and always looking for a new and lasting relationship. I now believe I let myself be used by men who were only after a little fun and had no serious intentions.

    Hope that makes sense.

    • Of course it makes sense, I think there is a lot to what Jane said. You did feel forced ( if I didn’t he wouldn’t call again)- ( I let myself be used by men who were only looking for fun…) then ashamed!

      Many women fell into the trap of liberation. They were brainwashed into believing if they had the same right that men had they would enjoy it as much only to realize they were no more than a toilet bowl or conquest.

      To those who did actually find a decent lover – hats off to you! Most women were used! Liberated to make it easier for men to get laid more often and with less resistance.

      Dora is honest enough to tell us how it felt then and still feels now. Good for you Dora- beeen there done that ! It sucks!

      I am sorry to disapoint but sex aint all its cracked up to be and it may be time for women to admit that. Many may hide the shame and humiliation they feel by saying they liked it. But I am willing to bet Dora is NOT ALONE.

      Who likes to be used as a sperm bank?

  4. I think we are culturally monogamous because from a procreation standpoint it’s the better choice for offspring. Having a 2 parent household makes it easier to raise a child. You can pool resources.

    However, perhaps it comes down to our work ethics. A purely physical relationship requires little to no work. You don’t have to concern yourself with messy thoughts or feelings beyond the immediate moment. It’s somewhat shallow and one dimensional. I think it’s hysterical that men would claim bragging rights over such behavior.(Seriously guys, it’s like bragging about the fact you can breathe.)

    Real relationships(ones that last beyond two hours under a blanket)takes depth(looking at someones worth beyond pretty eyes, nice butt, and teeth) It requires courage(who likes to be rejected when they put out their thoughts, feelings or opinions. It hurts. So yes it takes courage to put your full self before others and risk caring more than they do). It takes self awareness and honesty(you have to know what you want in a partner and be able to express it-all the while trying not to tread on someone’s feelings)

    I think the better question to ask might be why do men desire quantities of shallow relationships with women over a quality relationship or two(like women)?

    Thought provoking post, I’d love to have some male views.

    • I would like to have some male views too! More female views might provoke a deeper understanding and get gals to let some truth out.
      I was certainly poked to open up by Dora! I hope she comes back and keeps us going with this!

      • Discussing this at TC and Dak and DT have the opposite of what the study suggests.

        I wonder if even an anonymous survey could be swayed by someone weighing in with cultural expectations.

        I invited them over but I guess they’re shy.

        • Thank you for trying – perhaps they will come- perhaps we should do a show on this – if you think they are shy now imagine that?

          Still can you imagine a live show on this topic?

          Hmmmmm- I put that challenge out there! If we can get several brave souls to contribute (annon of course) we will do it!

          We have 4 brave souls right here – we need at least 2 -4 more?

        • Not shy. I just got caught up in everyone’s music video links over there. I’m happy to share.

          • As I said over at TC where cwaltz mentioned it, I seem to be a bit different than the study, but then so are most males I know. And then so is Dak and her female friends. So we’re starting to question the study itself.

          • Oh thank you for coming – we appreciate your input. We realize just as all women are different so all men cannot be put in the same box.
            We look forward to your comments.

        • Thanks for the input. Maybe everyone else knows what TC, Dak, and DT are, but I’m not familiar with them. Could you tell me a little about these groups? Georgia

  5. I must be repressed. Sex for me is not a contact sport or casual recreation. There is a reason that sex and intimacy are often considered in one thought, the sexual act for a woman by virtue of physiology alone. requires intimacy, casual, recreational sex means you are literally letting a stranger “inside.”

    That requires more than a drink, a dinner and an attractive guy. I want more. Call me repressed.

    But even now as an old lady, getting laid is an easy thing, when I was young and good looking, I could’ve done on a daily basis.

    I am happily repressed, I don’t feel the need to earn approval, never did, not for my looks, not even for my intelligence. What floated my boat is respect. I like my privacy and am selective about who gets into my circle. If I’m not vested enough to share my secrets, my dreams, my hopes, my confidences why in in the world would I share my vagina?

  6. I’m not sure that it has as much to do with repression as it is that women prefer depth, romance, quality in a relationship. She knows that the closer one is in spirituality, emotions, etc, the better the sex. She needs that depth in order to be fulfilled. She is into quality, not quantity.

  7. The question – I think- is are we culturally monogomous?

    Georgia brought up that women might lie about the number of lovers a woman might have because she is labeled a slut unlike a man who can screw around without that concern.

    Some of us seem to think – that is not the case at all- if we lie it is because we are really ashamed that we allowed ourselves to be used or fooled into believing we could be like men and screw anything in sight for the hell of it.

    I have heard from some women that they enjoy casual sex- but in 62 years I have heard far more say they haven’t enjoyed any sex let alone casual – meaningless sex.

    I agree – its not cultural at all – it’s intimacy with us! And intimacy must be grown.

    But I am still waiting for the rush of women who can honestly tell us about all the hot meaningless sex we have been missing! I’m all ears?

    • Meh

      Sex without intimacy is a mixed bag.

      Sometimes you get someone who knows what they’re doing. Sometimes you wind up disappointed.

    • On the flip side men might be lying too since the cultural expectation for them seems to be to go for quantity rather than quality.

      I know I met both kinds of guys whe I was dating(In the military single for 5 of my 10+ years in) I met guys who seemed almost downright anxious to connect on a deeper level and guys who would liein a NY minute if it thought it would get them into my pants faster so they could move on to the next girl.

  8. Interesting topic. As a lesbian I have a perspective that is completely woman oriented. I personally have had more than one lover at a time and found it to be difficult since I was always trying to explain why I was leaving to visit someone else. One always seems to love more than the other. When I was with men I had men who wanted to be with me more than I was willing, and in fact I married one who pestered me into it. I have wished that women were more relaxed about hanging out but usually it gets more involved. I came out of the feminist 70’s and this conversation seems a little dated. Really we can do whatever we want to do and who cares? If you can’t have sex without getting involved then you should be sure that you really have a real relationship before being intimate. Serial monogamy is satisfying to most of us. Number of partners is sort of irrelevant, I think. Men will screw just about anyone who says yes, so caveat emptor!

  9. Men think with their pants and women think with their brains..

  10. With this day and age whether you are a man or woman you have to be careful..There is nothing with being sexual..Men tend to want to have one night stands because they’are affraid of commitment

  11. I had some interesting experiences in my life. After my divorce I tried having some casual sex and ended up feeling really bad about it. I think it was because the sex itself was not very good – you now, you get a guy out for a quickie bit of fun and he has no investment to bother with much effort. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am! It usually wound up feeling empty, and yes, dirty and like a wasted effort. Not because I was co-erced so much as the feeling of being discarded soiled Kleenex instead of the feeling of equality as a partner. The perception by men was that if women were casual about sex, then men were free to treat us anyway they wanted.

    My current significant other came here to lvie with me 8 years ago next month. Before that I was totally celibate for years after a failed relationship with a much younger man that resulted in a son to raise by myself.
    I doubt very seriously I’ll ever get married again. I tend to believe that monogamy in women is caused by the way men treat us if we are perceived as “loose women” instead of ladies requiring marriage. There are times when I’d like to be married and other times when I am very glad I am not. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule when it comes to women and sex and relationships.

    Today they had Katharine Hepburn movies on all day on TMC and a documentary about her life with interviews all through it. Her father was a doctor and her mother was a feminist who participated in events to win the vote for women in 1920 and was a feminist activist who worked to get women the right to practice birth control. It was illegal for many years. It’s called
    “All About Me” and it is full of insights right along the lines of this question. She lived more like a man than probably any women, especially of her generation. I am in awe of her courage and bashness. And I find it interesting that I saw that documentary played today with this question before us.

    • Linda,
      You put into words exactly what i was trying to say – so did Rosa. While we are free to do what we want, what good is the freedom to do so when you feel used and discarded? That is how Dora wound up feeling and blaming herself simply for having the right to find out of she exercized her right she would pay for it and apparently still does- just as many of us do. Some feeling dirty, some with a child , some resentful.

      As Rosa said, women generally like momogomy. I know I do – it feels safer and more comfortable while most men it seems simly don’t mind screwing around anywhere, anytime and with anyone.

      Sorry men- prove us wrong. I have only seen a few men who would not behave as though their dick were God’s gift to women and the only women I have seen run around like that are forced to perform out of montary need, have been trafficked or mentally unstable .

  12. […] Comments from: Blogs: BroadBlogs, BroadBlogs, and FreeMeNow My Facebook site Various lists responded either to the list, or to me via email Student […]

  13. cwaltz asked: “I think the better question to ask might be why do men desire quantities of shallow relationships with women over a quality relationship or two(like women)?”

    While I can only speak for myself I have found that a lot of my inclinations are shared to some degree by my male friends, colleagues and acquaintances, married and unmarried. As to why some of us might have the attitudes we do, I have thought about subjects surrounding relationships and sex for some time and will share some of those thoughts here.

    I am by no means a Neanderthal or philistine and consider myself to be an intelligent and discerning individual with a good appreciation of art, culture, music and other intellectual pursuits. I say this because it is often assumed that people who are not looking for long term intimate relationships must be, as the question implies, superficial and lacking in depth in some manner, not that this acts as proof for the contrary but I thought I would mention it anyway.

    To answer the question posed by cwaltz, the reason why I like quantity is incidental. It’s not quantity for its own sake. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone or even counting for that matter. Quantity arises as a result of desiring many. Where does that desire come from? It comes from my sexual appetite and my sexual attraction towards many women. I cannot say I’m an expert on how women experience attraction, but imagine for a second the person you have been sexually most attracted to in your life, then imagine having that same feeling with a different person each day. That’s more or less the experience of this man and I think many others.

    So, what about quality and love? I think quality is subjective to some degree, but not entirely. I don’t by any means believe brief encounters or casual relationships entail poor quality categorically. I think you can have good and bad quality relationships regardless of their longevity. For me to even entertain the idea of a sexual encounter with a woman I have to, at the very least, be sexually attracted towards her and secure in the knowledge she is of sound mind. Provided the quality is there in these areas, little can go wrong.

    On the matter of love, I don’t happen to believe this is some metaphysical all conquering phenomenon. Love has many different meanings for many people, but for me it simply means strong affection for another, which in itself will have degrees. It doesn’t mean you are prepared to sacrifice your life for that other or do many of the things the movies and art suggest are obligatory. On top of this I am not sure if love is what is taking place in most romantic relationships. Material and emotional security, validation and sexual attraction seem to be the more pertinent commodities. When one of these suffers, the relationship often suffers and eventually ends. How consciously aware people are of all this is another question.

    It was a revelation to me the degree to which a lot of my female friends and acquaintances desired our popular conception of romantic love. I was surprised because it had never been a desire of mine as a cognizant adult. I say as a cognizant adult because as a child I too was influenced by all the romantic movies about undying romantic love and probably believed myself to be in love with a number of girls, when I now know it was sexual attraction. Naturally, some of that influence stayed with me as an adolescent and young adult, but as I became more aware in my 30s it increasingly began to evaporate. It was not love which drew me to women, it was sexual attraction. Had I been gay, I would have been drawn to men in the same way and seen the non-existent qualities we often imagine we see in those we are sexually attracted to.

    So basically it comes down to the frill of being physically intimate with a woman I find attractive, which is many. There is something very fulfilling and liberating about this, as opposed to being tied to one individual towards whom the attraction may begin to wane. I am honest with any women I approach or who approach me and will let them know I am not interested in anything serious. I also do not disrespect or look down on women who have and like casual sex. It should be the same for them as it is for men. I don’t consider casual sex to be shallow or poor quality either. It all depends on the participants and in many cases even a casual affair may last a long time or be exclusive. I think the quality or depth some believe exists in serious long-term relationships is often imagined, but serves the purpose of giving those involved a sense of security that often does not exist as they imagine. We see examples of this everyday with the likes of Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I recall reading some research some time back which said that the relationships most likely to survive were those where the individuals involved had a higher opinion of their spouse than the spouse in question had of themselves. This suggests to me that there are a lot of illusions surrounding people’s assessment of their romantic relationships.

    As a final thought I will say that theoretically I am not opposed to the idea of developing a long-term relationship with someone, but it is not a goal and it would have to appeal to me more than my current outlook. This would require an extraordinary set of circumstances beyond your typical relationship, which does not appeal to me at all. For me, life is to be lived and that means enjoying the fruits and pleasures the world has to offer, in addition to helping others and making positive contributions where I can. At the moment this requires me to be free from the confines of an exclusive, serious, long-term relationship. A lot of others come to this conclusion too late after they are already tied up in such a liaison.

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