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Sex and surveys
January 21, 2013 7:03 PM   Subscribe

"Men across all cultures reported higher sex drives and less restricted sexual attitudes than women, but women were consistently more variable than men in their sex drives. Another important, if not entirely surprising pattern, suggests that these differences are not entirely biological, and are due in some part to social and cultural ideologies." An io9 article looks at the results from a number of sex surveys.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (92 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Its one of the ways the patriarchy hurts men too - we're expected to have high sex drives, and those drives are supposed to be correlated with a high drive to do things, to achieve, to go out and fight and fuck. But I think the culture now expects everyone to have a high sex drive, to always be up for it and to think seriously about getting better and sex and doing it all the time. It's a bit much, and distracts from other areas of life.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:11 PM on January 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


but women were consistently more variable than men in their sex drives.

That's funny, I thought evolutionary psychology proved that men had wider variance on all traits because THE SAVANNAH.
posted by escabeche at 7:16 PM on January 21, 2013 [21 favorites]


That "greater variability in women" is probably caused to a large degree by the pressure on women to underreport the numbers of partners they've had and the urgency of their libidos due to the way being "slutty" is stigmatized, not just in societies where women where burkas, as it's framed in the article, but in Western societies. Evidence: the gap between reported number of sex partners closes dramatically when American men and women surveyed believe they have been hooked up to a lie detector. Yes, men exaggerate, but women play down their sexual experience even more.
posted by DrMew at 7:31 PM on January 21, 2013 [16 favorites]


That's funny, I thought evolutionary psychology proved that men had wider variance on all traits because THE SAVANNAH.

This is a gentleman's club located near UCL.
posted by srboisvert at 7:50 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe the greater variability has to do with differences in the ease of reaching orgasm? After all, they asked these women how often they want sex, not how often they want orgasms.

Penetration does not always equal pleasure.
posted by adso at 8:00 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Maybe if women had a highly visible Horny-o-Meter in their pants like men do we wouldn't have to puzzle over so many studies. Or maybe if we just fertilized eggs in stream outside our bodies like fish do, we wouldn't spend so much time wondering WHO DESERVES MOST HORNY MEDAL????!!

I may have reached my Inherent Gender Differences Study limit. I have Gender Essentialism Fatigue. I do not care about how we fucked on the savannah or what is happening in every person's pants right now and how many points we get when it does and What That Means.
posted by emjaybee at 8:01 PM on January 21, 2013 [34 favorites]


From the link:
Because men are "supposed" to want "it" more, men are also "supposed" to be accustomed to rejection: "it's not me", a man can tell himself, "it's just that women naturally aren't as sexual as men." When our own experience lines up with the myths, we may be frustrated or resentful - but at least we are reassured that we're "normal." Higher-desire women don't get that reassurance. Neither, for that matter, do their male partners.

I feel like this comes up in AskMe a lot, or at least recently.
I wonder if/hope the study that says men want more took into account that women in Western cultures still feel expected to under-report on all of that stuff (as cited by DrMew above).
I would be very surprised if it didn't turn out that men and women were about equal, on average. For one thing, men and women start out the same in the womb. For another thing,evolution seems to have driven humans do what they should do through pure bribery instead of hard-coding like in other species. Women are built to get their bribes the same as men.
posted by bleep at 8:02 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


"these differences are not entirely biological, and are due in some part to social and cultural ideologies."

False dichotomy.
posted by John Cohen at 8:23 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because men are "supposed" to want "it" more, men are also "supposed" to be accustomed to rejection: "it's not me", a man can tell himself, "it's just that women naturally aren't as sexual as men." When our own experience lines up with the myths, we may be frustrated or resentful - but at least we are reassured that we're "normal." Higher-desire women don't get that reassurance. Neither, for that matter, do their male partners.

Yeah, it actually makes rejection a bit harder when I go on Jezebel and see articles about women having databases of hundreds of sexual partners. I think higher-desire women are considered normal now, though... at least in the places I hang out online and IRL I see lots of women being openly lustful. I, and hopefully lots of other people, have internalized the fact that women's sex drives are just as high as men (and the ancient Romans thought they were higher).

But this can drive resentment, since not only are women more likely to talk about it but they can also admit to having the same KIND of drives as men - focusing on looks, for example. Which also drives resentment in less good looking or lower status men.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:41 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


This seemed like a pretty balanced write up, in that it wasn't transparently trying to say "men love fucking more thus porn is evolutionary yayy go men." It made a lot of good points about how these factors manifest themselves in social activity, which is more complex than just want sex more = ... want sex more. It's actually pretty interesting how something so biologically differentiated presents itself in society as relatively more balanced, I guess because of our social norms and negotiation? I don't know.

My boyfriend seems to have more of an immediate, urgent, sometimes inappropriate arousal response to sex yadda yadda and I've always thought of it fondly as a charming male attribute, but even though I don't seem to get as revved up as he does on a dime, we have sex all the time and I enjoy it on a very deep, thigh-trembling level. I've also noticed that I've done strange, male-adolescent-seeming taboo things-- such as playing an interactive hentai game that was painfully arousing for seven hours in one day, because I enjoyed the uncontrollable, mounting arousal so much-- that I would never ever want to admit, and feel deeply ashamed of. It's weird to even admit it here, in fact, but I have compulsive, overpowering sexual habits that I've pretty much cut off at the root because they're too socially stigmatized (in general? for women? not sure).

Charlemagne, I think it's a good thing if men realize more generally how rejection and looks-based prioritization feel, instead of them being something reserved specifically for women that women should just put up with without being viewed with empathy as human beings. I think it's sort of tacky to be brash and dehumanizing about men or women as sexual objects, but I can see how women (including myself at times) delight in it when they realize that they don't HAVE to be the proper, kind, all-accepting feminine ones carrying the torch of sexual morality, and can treat men as brutally as they feel they've been treated. (Or even that a woman can evaluate the attractiveness of a man without immediately having to undercut that evaluation with shame and self-hatred about her own looks.) But then again a lot of men probably just feel resentful and angry without learning a grand lesson about sexual equality, and a lot of women are probably just angry like I am a lot of the time.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:54 PM on January 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


I still want a scientific explanation about the variability of blow jobs before and after marriage.
posted by Chuffy at 9:00 PM on January 21, 2013


This Cracked article debunking bad statistics seems relevant. Being innumerate, I don't know whether the math checks out, but it looks legit.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:04 PM on January 21, 2013


There's that Reddit chestnut making the social media rounds, asking what a visitor from 1950's USA would find most surprising about life in 2013.

I think the most surprising thing is people are looking to Gawker Media's i09 to decipher sex surveys instead of the Kinsey Institute.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:12 PM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I thought Jezebel would have covered this, or even Fleshbot on their odd non-porn post.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:13 PM on January 21, 2013


Its one of the ways the patriarchy hurts men too - we're expected to have high sex drives, and those drives are supposed to be correlated with a high drive to do things, to achieve, to go out and fight and fuck. But I think the culture now expects everyone to have a high sex drive, to always be up for it and to think seriously about getting better and sex and doing it all the time. It's a bit much, and distracts from other areas of life.

It's like that Kurt Vonnegut quote referencing one of Plato's dialogues, in which an old man is asked how it felt not to be excited by sex anymore. The old man replies that "it was like being allowed to dismount from a wild horse."

Personally, I think the more sex, the better. Look at how happy the Bonobos are. However, I think one of the things heterosexual men have to take to heart is that you have to earn it - nobody owes you anything. This is where courtship and romance come in, even in established marriages.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:16 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]



There's that Reddit chestnut making the social media rounds, asking what a visitor from 1950's USA would find most surprising about life in 2013.

I think the most surprising thing is people are looking to Gawker Media's i09 to decipher sex surveys instead of the Kinsey Institute.



I think they would be much more surprised that we're doing that on our phones.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:16 PM on January 21, 2013


Ten years until the tricorder.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:27 PM on January 21, 2013


However, I think one of the things heterosexual men have to take to heart is that you have to earn it - nobody owes you anything.

One of the corollaries there is that whatever you do, however hard you try, you may not ever find someone willing to sleep with you, and you need to accept that. Which can be hard for guys when convention holds that a man who doesn't have sex is less of a man.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:28 PM on January 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


Which can be hard for guys when convention holds that a man who doesn't have sex is less of a man.

This also applies to women. "So you're surrounded by what you're made to believe are unstoppable lust-hounds who will do anyone or anything, but they won't do you?" It's not a nice thought. Oh, humans!
posted by bleep at 9:33 PM on January 21, 2013 [21 favorites]


That's funny, I thought evolutionary psychology proved that men had wider variance on all traits because THE SAVANNAH.

Men do indeed exhibit greater variance in many physical and cognitive traits, including many (e.g. height) whose social component is practically zero. Two compossible explanations are often offered for this phenomenon. The first is that the reproductive potential of the sex with less parental investment is more variable. (We can measure this in many independent ways, and they all yield the same answer. We can get into this if you want, but I take this as given.) If the variance in reproductive potential is greater for men, than increased variability in other traits can, itself, be adaptive. This is a pretty banal mathematical point, but I'd be happy to elaborate.

The second suggested explanation is that males have an unopposed X chromosome, which can increase the variability of X-linked traits. These explanations are not mutually exclusive; indeed, it is tempting to think that first observation may help to explain the evolution of the second, although I'm not aware of any work exploring that point.

But certainly no one has ever suggested that "men have wider [sic] variance on all traits because THE SAVANNAH [sic]". I'm dismayed to notice that so many dismissals of evolutionary psychology (as though there could ultimately be any other kind...) are long on snark but short on argument and evidence. People who want to make foundational criticisms of evolutionary psychology would do well to read and respond to The Adapted Mind, which is a description of the research program according to Barkow, Cosmides and Tooby, three of its most significant scholars. The sort of flippant "rebuttal" quoted above might be improved by actual acquaintance with the field.
posted by lambdaphage at 9:37 PM on January 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


This also applies to women.

Yeah, I thought of that as I was writing. Convention's greatest trick is disguising itself as its victims' own thoughts.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:38 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


However, I think one of the things heterosexual men have to take to heart is that you have to earn it - nobody owes you anything. This is where courtship and romance come in, even in established marriages.

I reckon it'd be ideal if partners courted each other but also had playful and spontaneous sex; unfortunately, the article suggests this isn't the way the world works.
posted by agog at 9:58 PM on January 21, 2013


The trouble with evolutionary psychology is that a lot of people who don't know anything about it have used it to make a lot of ludicrous claims, so it's hard for us lay people to tell the difference between evolutionary psychology and "evolutionary psychology".
posted by chrchr at 9:59 PM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


evolutionary psychology (as though there could ultimately be any other kind...)

There always have been, and presumably always will be, lots of other kinds.

People who want to make foundational criticisms of evolutionary psychology would do well to read and respond to The Adapted Mind,

Oh, I don't want to make foundational criticisms of evolutionary psychology; I'm not a psychologist. I just want to make fun of clowns who run around saying "because THE SAVANNAH" all the time. The authors of The Adapted Mind are not such clowns. But such clowns exist. One might even say that, in the current social environment, their writing is selected for.
posted by escabeche at 10:02 PM on January 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


I reckon it'd be ideal if partners courted each other but also had playful and spontaneous sex; unfortunately, the article suggests this isn't the way the world works.

Well, yeah, exactly. I guess this is one of the reasons why you should choose your mate carefully, and may be a strong argument for premarital sex.

On the other hand, it's good that the article references how culture plays a role in moderating the sex drives of women.

The common complaint in Japan, for example (and I'm pretty sure Korea is similar) is that it's the husbands who stop wanting to have sex with their wives, and women have a higher sex drive in later life (post 35).

Of course, many men are not always strictly monogamous. They might still have sex, just not with their wives.

I have no idea if North American men have extra-marital affairs or pay for sex, as it's not something that is openly talked about. However, judging by the activities of the Type A personalities I used to work with in government...
posted by KokuRyu at 10:04 PM on January 21, 2013


I reckon it'd be ideal if partners courted each other but also had playful and spontaneous sex; unfortunately, the article suggests this isn't the way the world works.

Wait, how exactly?
posted by stoneandstar at 10:04 PM on January 21, 2013


I still want a scientific explanation about the variability of blow jobs before and after marriage.

You see, as women become more familiar and accustomed to the obnoxious, self-centered, and odious habits of their husbands, they become less likely to want to put their erect penises into their mouths.

Unless you find that explanation as asinine as the idea that everybody has the same one-sided view of women and blow jobs inherent in that tired joke.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:15 PM on January 21, 2013 [8 favorites]




I reckon it'd be ideal if partners courted each other but also had playful and spontaneous sex; unfortunately, the article suggests this isn't the way the world works.

Wait, how exactly?


Are you asking how exactly does the article suggest this? Here was my take:

1. By having sub-headings like Men want it more, succumb to it more, and pay more money for it (i.e., I interpreted that the authors think that men seek (court) and women are sought (courted)--as opposed to partners courting each other, although maybe the authors were being ironic and I missed it).

2. By making statements like Most studies suggest that lustful tendencies — including spontaneous sexual thoughts, uncontrolled or unwanted thoughts and spontaneous physical arousal — are a lot more common in men than in women (i.e., I interpreted, perhaps erroneously, that the authors believe that spontaneous sex is mostly attempted by men and not necessarily appreciated by women).

3. By making other statements like They found that gay men had higher frequencies of sex than lesbians at all stages of relationships and A lack of sexual desire and activity in women is reflected in the phrase "lesbian bed death" (i.e., I thought that the authors were implying that men court and women are courted; therefore, lesbians end up with no courting, so sex stops).

Did I misunderstand? I hope so, because I prefer the ideal I proposed.
posted by agog at 10:46 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I interpreted, perhaps erroneously, that the authors believe that spontaneous sex is mostly attempted by men and not necessarily appreciated by women

Its not the sex, but the thoughts. Those constant, intrusive lustful thoughts.

And the 'men court and women are courted' narrative gain hurts men who aren't forward, who aren't passionate or extroverted or who like to put in effort.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:52 PM on January 21, 2013


Well, shit, that's why natural selection works, does it not? I guess if you sat around all day under a coconut tree, waiting for coconuts to fall into the sand, you might have some chance of a happy, prosperous life, but generally speaking success happens to those who make an effort. It's the fundamental law of the universe.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:56 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the corollaries there is that whatever you do, however hard you try, you may not ever find someone willing to sleep with you, and you need to accept that.

An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates. Telling people facing a life of solitude and their evolutionary dead-ends to "accept that" is both tragic and cruel, only a hair's breadth better than telling someone who is drowning to "just go with it."
posted by 1adam12 at 11:49 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


There always have been, and presumably always will be, lots of other kinds.

What I mean here is that anything that calls itself psychology must be at least compatible with the fact that the brain is an organ with an evolutionary history. If your theory of color perception or facial recognition or kinship terms posits structures that could not have evolved, so much the worse for your theory.

I just want to make fun of clowns who run around saying "because THE SAVANNAH" all the time

I don't understand how this wouldn't also license scoffing at transfinite arithmetic "because INFINITY", then retreating to the claim that you weren't talking about ordinals, but rather "ordinals", i.e. as appearing in a book dictated by Deepak Chopra during a vision quest. But de gustibus, I guess.

Honestly, though, the only instances of "because THE SAVANNAH" I've ever seen were from detractors who would rather "because X" than engage. Maybe we just frequent different corners of the internet.
posted by lambdaphage at 11:53 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm dismayed to notice that so many dismissals of evolutionary psychology (as though there could ultimately be any other kind...) are long on snark but short on argument and evidence.

That's the problem with confronting a mountain of bullshit; you don't know where to start shoveling, or why you should bother.
posted by fleacircus at 1:59 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm reaching a stage of my life where I've concluded that sex is just more trouble than it's worth, but I still have a raging libido. I am also realising that this is not a good stage in life. I'm almost looking forward to getting off the damned horse.
posted by Decani at 2:09 AM on January 22, 2013


Well, shit, that's why natural selection works, does it not? I guess if you sat around all day under a coconut tree, waiting for coconuts to fall into the sand, you might have some chance of a happy, prosperous life, but generally speaking success happens to those who make an effort. It's the fundamental law of the universe.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:56 AM on January 22 [+] [!]


I don't know if that holds up at all. All that is necessary for evolutionary success, as far as an individual goes, is that you get to breed before you die. The theory then suggests that generations will develop in response to environment depending on the heritable characteristics of those individuals that live long enough to breed. Effort really doesn't come into it, largely because "effort" is a purely human concept - however we might like to anthropomorphise them for moralistic purposes, ants don't make an effort, neither do bees or beavers: they simply are. Closer to us and the possibility of choice (and therefore effort) are gorillas and chimpanzees and ourang outans, and their lifestyle is as close to sitting around under coconut trees waiting for lunch as one can get. They'd be doing perfectly fine if it wasn't for the human beings intent on slaughtering them. Do you think they should be trying harder to repel the human boarders?

There are tremendous advantages - especially psychological and social - for human beings in making an effort, certainly, but the natural world doesn't conform to those rules.

I'm sure you disagree, but can you give specific examples?
posted by Grangousier at 2:35 AM on January 22, 2013


News flash: sexual desire and sexual actions have mostly biological causes, but culture makes its contribution as well.

And, note: non-exhaustive dichotomy.

Biology and culture are not--and not by a long shot--the only determinants of human behavior and action. Evolution hands us some more specific inclinations, but also lots of general capacities, including the capacity to reason, appreciate beauty, modify our own inclinations and actions, and so forth. By the time we're adults--the more reflective of us, at least--we've modified many of our own inclinations including sexual inclinations, in response to, e.g., what we think is moral, what we find degrading or interesting, individual experiences, and so forth. Evolution does not micromanage all of that, and neither does culture. Sex is less subject to reflection and individual variation and control than many things...but it isn't immune.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:30 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm dismayed to notice that so many dismissals of evolutionary psychology (as though there could ultimately be any other kind...)

For someone who is accusing others of not understanding arguments, you very casually conflate "the fact that human psychology is subject to selection pressure" with "the explanations for observations that evolutionary psychologists come up with". A person can accept the former enthusiastically, while laughing at the latter for being half-baked science at best, or warmed-over cultural stereotypes at worst.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:14 AM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


> An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates. Telling people facing a life of solitude and their evolutionary dead-ends to "accept that" is both tragic and cruel, only a hair's breadth better than telling someone who is drowning to "just go with it."

This analogy makes no sense to me. If you see someone drowning, you help them. If a society has no prospects for mates, it is up to the individuals of that society to get to another society. You can't really help them with that. Nobody has the right to any sex except with themselves. It's not cruel to tell someone to accept something when it would be the right thing.
posted by ysangkok at 5:24 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I mean here is that anything that calls itself psychology must be at least compatible with the fact that the brain is an organ with an evolutionary history.

In that sense, sure. It must also be compatible with the fact that the brain obeys the laws of physics. This does place some useful constraints on the theories you can make, but only in a very weak sense would it make sense to say that psychophysics is the only kind of psychology.

I don't understand how this wouldn't also license scoffing at transfinite arithmetic "because INFINITY", then retreating to the claim that you weren't talking about ordinals, but rather "ordinals", i.e. as appearing in a book dictated by Deepak Chopra during a vision quest.

That kind of scoffing would certainly be licensed if it were widespread! I heartily endorse scoffing at people who say "because ENTROPY" or "because GODEL," both of which you actually do see from time to time.
posted by escabeche at 6:01 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates. Telling people facing a life of solitude and their evolutionary dead-ends to "accept that" is both tragic and cruel, only a hair's breadth better than telling someone who is drowning to "just go with it."

I said people need to accept the possibility of failure. The world will not dispense sex or money or power or your father's love upon receipt of some number of effort coins. You may fail in every part of your life, no matter how hard you try. Take it philosophically, and don't use your frustration to excuse violence and murder.

That's what I was saying.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:13 AM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I still want a scientific explanation about the variability of blow jobs before and after marriage.

Married dudes get lazy and stop washing off their junk stench. There were no BJs on the savannah because no showers and also it doesn't optimize the number of healthy offspring.

Man, writing this stuff is easy. Ask me another one.
posted by emjaybee at 6:59 AM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Some of the surveys referred to in this article are obviously of dubious validity (like the BBC self-selected online survey).

But is there anyone familiar with social science research that can explain how the better surveys of this kind are validated? Why should we believe that what men and women tell us in surveys about their sexual thoughts and behavior is true or accurate?
posted by straight at 7:34 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Men also spend way more money on porn [...]

wait wait wait people are spending money on porn?
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 8:04 AM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Are you asking how exactly does the article suggest this? Here was my take:

1. By having sub-headings like Men want it more, succumb to it more, and pay more money for it (i.e., I interpreted that the authors think that men seek (court) and women are sought (courted)--as opposed to partners courting each other, although maybe the authors were being ironic and I missed it)... (i.e., I interpreted, perhaps erroneously, that the authors believe that spontaneous sex is mostly attempted by men and not necessarily appreciated by women)... (i.e., I thought that the authors were implying that men court and women are courted; therefore, lesbians end up with no courting, so sex stops).

Did I misunderstand? I hope so, because I prefer the ideal I proposed.


I thought that one of the best things about the write-up was that they were fairly clear that despite men feeling more random, urgent, intrusive lustful thoughts and wanting sex more "spontaneously" (however that was evaluated in the studies), this didn't necessarily translate directly to social or intimate behavior-- in my personal experience, men and women court each other, and men and women both appreciate spontaneous sex. There might be an imbalance either way due to variable sexual desire within sexes and social factors, so that extrapolating these general trends to the behavior of couples is not particularly useful.

I'm also a little confused about the spontaneous sex thing, since obviously sexual intercourse is uncomfortable when a woman is not aroused, and so I wonder the degree to which women are kind of like "ehh" when confronted randomly with the possibility of sex vs. being confronted randomly with some sexy touch/suggestion. This is less a suggestion of research methodology than one for intimate behavior, I guess. It's still spontaneous, isn't it?
posted by stoneandstar at 8:59 AM on January 22, 2013


An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates. Telling people facing a life of solitude and their evolutionary dead-ends to "accept that" is both tragic and cruel, only a hair's breadth better than telling someone who is drowning to "just go with it."

The hell are we supposed to do about it? Have mercy sex with violent men we don't want to have sex with so they don't kill us? You can't control people's mate selection and no one owes anyone sex. You can, however, buy it, so maybe you should start a charity for these evolutionarily frustrated men.

Its not the sex, but the thoughts. Those constant, intrusive lustful thoughts.

And the 'men court and women are courted' narrative gain hurts men who aren't forward, who aren't passionate or extroverted or who like to put in effort.


Despite not having as many as men according to the above surveys, women have intrusive, distracting, frustrating lustful thoughts. It is a pain. There are times when I'm talking to a man (or woman) where I can't focus because I'm too attracted to them and have to struggle to be professional and coherent and not stare. There are times when I'm so attracted to (attractive) strangers in a seemingly compulsive way that I feel like I would have sex with them in a closet if they asked. The worst thing about these studies (but something I thought the write-up might mitigate) is that people are confirmed in thinking that men have lustful thoughts, sexual frustration, buy porn, &c. while women don't, when really they just do less, on average. (Though someone pointed out some of these aggregated surveys are kind of questionable so I don't really know much about what's going on with the data.)

I am a woman and I have courted men before, despite being introverted and often underconfident and insecure in the past. No one is "hurting" men who aren't forward-- they need to adapt, just like any shy person usually has to adapt socially to live a less complicated life.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:09 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


no one owes anyone sex

I kind of can't believe this needs to be said over and over again and yet here we are.


An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates. Telling people facing a life of solitude and their evolutionary dead-ends to "accept that" is both tragic and cruel, only a hair's breadth better than telling someone who is drowning to "just go with it."


Because seriously, who is being cruel in this scenario and what is your solution?
posted by sweetkid at 10:45 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates. Telling people facing a life of solitude and their evolutionary dead-ends to "accept that" is both tragic and cruel, only a hair's breadth better than telling someone who is drowning to "just go with it."

But I don't agree this hypothetical group is in fact facing that life. Some of them are gay, after all. Some will be fine with little or no sex. Some will not and will migrate to another place with better prospects (because presumably the no-sexual-partners thing is also tied to economic deprivation, so they have a large motive to migrate). Presumably, all of them have a) access to a hand and b) a body that will age out of the most-hormonal/needy time of life.

Nobody ever died of Not Getting Any
. If what you are actually concerned about is the anguish related to an inability to find friends and lovers and live a peaceful, productive life, then we are talking about much larger issues than just sex. And in a truly deprived situation of malnourishment/violence/struggling to survive, sex is not going to be the prime motivator.
posted by emjaybee at 11:05 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates.

Ah, I dunno. I was that sort of man (I guess I still am, except I got lucky) and, as is typical of the sorry breed, I hung around with a lot of such men. We didn't respond that way at all. Any violence that occurred was self-directed and borne of self-loathing. We mainly got stupidly drunk and sat around listening to loud, bitter music. Because we knew it was our fault. No one else's.
posted by Decani at 11:15 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd add another reason why I'm not convinced that large numbers of unfuckable, hopeless males leads to violence. Gorillas (and many other mammals). You've got your dominant, successful males and the rest. The rest tend to skulk around being pathetic; not indulging in frustrated, rage-fuelled violence sprees that threaten the rest of the group. The successful males won; the rest mope and sulk.
posted by Decani at 11:18 AM on January 22, 2013


An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates. Telling people facing a life of solitude and their evolutionary dead-ends to "accept that" is both tragic and cruel, only a hair's breadth better than telling someone who is drowning to "just go with it."

The hell are we supposed to do about it?


There is nothing you can do about cities on fault lines either or other places prone to natural disasters but we as a society need to be ready once it hits.

This is not a hypothetical situation. China starting from the 1980's have imbalance between the sexes. There are tens of millions of more men than there are women. What are the consequences? Nobody really knows but it could be dire. Trafficking in women and increased rates of crime (Edlund et al. 2007, Hvistendahl 2011) could be one of them. To simply say "what the hell are we supposed to do about it" or to accuse anyone bringing it up as suggesting that some group of people owe others sex is...burying head in the sand.
posted by 7life at 11:33 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess I still am, except I got lucky.

Ba-dum - psh!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:58 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is nothing you can do about cities on fault lines either or other places prone to natural disasters but we as a society need to be ready once it hits.

Clearly it's time to start stocking a fleshlight in my earthquake survival kit!

Nope, sorry, I call bollocks on this. The difference between natural disasters and hordes of angry, horny young men is that we can't expect Nature to have any appreciation of its own morality as part of a community. How about we expect these hypothetical dudes to chill out and be functioning members of society rather than promising some dystopian future where WOMEN WILL BE REALLY SORRY FOR NOT SLEEPING WITH US.
posted by jess at 11:59 AM on January 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


I guess I still am, except I got lucky.

Ba-dum - psh!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:58 PM on January 22


What?
posted by Decani at 12:07 PM on January 22, 2013


There was a double entendre in "I got lucky," so I threw in a rimshot.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:13 PM on January 22, 2013


I threw in a rimshot.

Fnaar fnaar. While we're on the subject of double entendres.
posted by Grangousier at 12:18 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


hypothetical dudes to chill out and be functioning members of society

This is not hypothetical. As I mentioned China is having that issue and according to Edlund et al. 2007 study, there was a corresponding rise in women trafficking. And China has yet to feel the full brunt of the imbalance.



"dystopian future where WOMEN WILL BE REALLY SORRY FOR NOT SLEEPING WITH US".


again - nobody is saying this. I am not encouraging women to sleep with these sexually frustrated men. I AM saying that there is such a group and so far it seems to be causing some trouble. And it will get worse for a while (40 million gender imbalance by 2020). To pretend this does not and will not cause issues is irresponsible.
posted by 7life at 12:32 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


We also mock the men as being too pathetic or unlovable to 'get any', which increases the humiliation.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:06 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


We also mock the men as being too pathetic or unlovable to 'get any', which increases the humiliation.

Ok, well stop doing that then, rather than trying to encourage some sort of dramatic reaction (which again is what?) to the oncoming danger of undersexed men and the (what?) that we should be worried they are going to do.
posted by sweetkid at 1:21 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


1adam12: An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates.

I'm always a little bemused by the fact these statements about violence are always about men, but they ignore that there is at least a larger population of women with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates, at least in the US. The 2011 US Census says that 53% percent of women were unmarried versus 47 percent were men. The numbers say women have more of a problem finding mates and that we will continue to based on sheer numbers, but the rhetoric is all about the poor men who will become violent if they don't have unrestricted access to womens' time, attention, and vaginas without regard for those women's opinions on the matter.

Honestly, I'd be much more up for casual sex if I thought I'd get orgasms out of it. Sadly, the self-reported fantastic lover I tried was shocked when I orgasmed before he did once I gave up on him helping and just took care of things myself. I can't pull up the survey on human sexuality which asked for rating hypothetical partners (it was within the last couple of years), but familiarity and expectation of pleasure both were weighted more heavily in womens' willingness than in mens, I would opine based on realistic assessments of both how likely a woman is to end up in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation (and blamed for it due to her actions) and how likely a woman will have an orgasm. I know after my experience with the self-proclaimed fantastic lover (who so wasn't) I pretty much decided to never repeat the experiment (there were other socialized things, like feeling "dirty" afterward, too; cortexes are complicated, yo).

Having a high sex drive and being female sucks socially, though; we aren't supposed to, talking about it is embarrassing and not bragging, slut-shaming really hits home hard, and the consequences of even slightly risky behavior will almost always mean if we are abused and/or raped it will be seen as something we were asking for. Also, once you watch enough porn, your search engines always think you're a guy (in my case, an elderly guy).
posted by Deoridhe at 2:30 PM on January 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


Back in the day, this interested me a lot. Now I'm old.
But, as an teacher at a university, I am used to classes so stuffed with pheromones it is literally useless to teach. You can smell it, and also they will openly arrange dates and negotiate terms during class. We do individual tutorials instead, most of the time.

Today, I actually thought of this, because some of the women had this heavy predatory attitude which I'd have associated with the men earlier. To be honest, I think a lot of the male/female inbalance is cultural, and it's changing at a speed we can't even contemplate.

BTW, my students are from all corners of the world, and you'd be surprised who are doing what.
posted by mumimor at 2:36 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The 2011 US Census says that 53% percent of women were unmarried versus 47 percent were men. The numbers say women have more of a problem finding mates...

The source doesn't say that 53% of women are unmarried; it says that of the unmarried, 53% are women. Since the definition used in that statistic includes those who are divorced or widowed, I would expect the longer life expectancy of women to have something to do with that.

If you look at those who have never married by age 35 (see Fig. 2 on these slides [pdf]) you see that more men than women have never married ever since we've started keeping track.
posted by lambdaphage at 3:15 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looking further down the pages, it looks like often the difference (when people are compaired by age) is of a few percentage points. And oddly, on the age 45 and older by sex graph, the male/female lines meet partway through. All the way through, though, the differences are about 2-3% over 45, and 4-5% age 35, which isn't exactly hordes more men than women starving for "a mate" and spoiling to wreck havok on society.

So why are single men the violent ones who have despaired of ever having a relationship and so must somehow be appeased?

And why is it assumed widows and widowers don't despair of ever having another relationship, no prospect for a mate, which is apparently "excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society"?

I'm questioning the gendering of the violence here, and the assumption of existential despair on one side and apparently nothing on the other: men as (threatening) actor, woman as "mate".
posted by Deoridhe at 3:48 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Philosopher Dirtbike,

For someone who is accusing others of not understanding arguments, you very casually conflate "the fact that human psychology is subject to selection pressure" with "the explanations for observations that evolutionary psychologists come up with".

To be clear, I'm not accusing others of not understanding arguments; that would be speculative. I'm accusing others of declining to give arguments in favor of burning anonymous strawmen. I think I've been reasonably clear about what I think constitutes good scholarship in evolutionary psychology but, strikingly, no one seems to have anything to say about that.

For example, there are many currents in (say) sociology which I think are badly mistaken, plainly ideologically motivated (even when I sympathize with the ideology), embarrassingly quantitatively naïve and generally exemplary of poor scholarship. But if I were to offer that opinion as a proposition I wished others to adopt, well, I'd expect to have to argue for it. Furthermore, I wouldn't expect anyone to conclude that the very notion of studying human societies is bankrupt because I have shown that there exists badly flawed scholarship.

The fact that none of this ever seems to get hashed out in online debates of this sort (i.e. evolutionary psychology is just assumed to be something all right-thinking people abhor) leaves me puzzled about whom the detractors (of what, again, specifically?) are trying to convince.
posted by lambdaphage at 4:01 PM on January 22, 2013


An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates. Telling people facing a life of solitude and their evolutionary dead-ends to "accept that" is both tragic and cruel, only a hair's breadth better than telling someone who is drowning to "just go with it."

I think this is an excellent point. Just look at the Middle East for a glaringly obvious example of this. Because one-way polygamy (where one man can have many wives, but not vice-versa) is practiced there, wealthy and powerful males tend to get all the most desirable females. The end result is a society with a lot of frustrated and angry young men who are willing to strap bombs to their chests if it means going to the bizarre fantasy afterlife where you get to hook up with 66 nubile virgins.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 5:25 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lotta Time Magazine readers in this thread.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:03 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates. Telling people facing a life of solitude and their evolutionary dead-ends to "accept that" is both tragic and cruel, only a hair's breadth better than telling someone who is drowning to "just go with it."

I think this is an excellent point. Just look at the Middle East for a glaringly obvious example of this. Because one-way polygamy (where one man can have many wives, but not vice-versa) is practiced there, wealthy and powerful males tend to get all the most desirable females. The end result is a society with a lot of frustrated and angry young men who are willing to strap bombs to their chests if it means going to the bizarre fantasy afterlife where you get to hook up with 66 nubile virgins.
posted by wolfdreams01 An hour ago [+]


Wow, what a stunning misunderstanding/misreading/deliberate troll of the issues affecting the Middle East today.
posted by sweetkid at 7:13 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow, what a stunning misunderstanding/misreading/deliberate troll of the issues affecting the Middle East today.

That's right - I troll the ignorant with scientific studies demonstrating my point. What can I say? When it comes to "trolling," I just like to be thorough.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:23 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


A response to same.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:33 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


A response to same.

Are you serious? I cited you arguably the most comprehensive study of polygamy and the institution of marriage, researched by multiple professors from UBC, UCLA, and UC Davis... and in return, you cite a rebuttal by some random blogger? You've got to be kidding me, right? I mean, this "Stephanie Zvan" doesn't even have the name of her college listed on her Facebook page. Please tell me this is a joke, and you are totally yanking my chain right now.

Wait, let's look up the personal bio she cites on her blog. Surely this will validate her credentials. "Stephanie is also one of the hosts for Atheists Talk, a radio show and podcast produced by the Minnesota Atheists. She speaks on science and skepticism in a number of venues, including science fiction and fantasy conventions. Stephanie has been called a science blogger and a sex blogger, but if it means she has to choose just one thing to be or blog about, she's decided she's never going to grow up. In addition to science and sex and the science of sex, you'll find quite a bit of politics here, some economics, a regular short fiction feature, and the occasional bit of concentrated weird. Oh, and arguments. She sometimes indulges in those as well. But I'm sure everything will be just fine. Nothing to worry about. Nothing at all."

...OK, now I know you must be joking. Good one! You totally had me there. :-)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:13 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Deoridhe,

I'm not making any normative recommendations whatsoever about "appeasing" low-status men who can't find mates. Whether having a bunch of angry young men with no reproductive prospects hanging around tends to foment violence (as it seems to do) is an entirely separate question than what, if anything, we ought to do about that.

I'm questioning the gendering of the violence here

Violence is gendered. Properly speaking, it is sexed: in all known societies, in cultures isolated by tens of thousands of years, human males commit the vast preponderance of physical violence. The effects of sex hormones on the propensity to engage in physical aggression are well-known, and there is no other possible explanation I'm aware of for the brute facts of human dimorphism, including a ~1.15 body mass ratio, increased concentrations of clotting factors in the male bloodstream, and upper body strength distributions that are practically non-overlapping (!) These observations suggest that the near-monopoly men have on physical violence is not merely a cultural artifact. Does this imply anything about the dreaded specter of "biological determinism"? No. Violence is bad, and culture has done a remarkable job of reducing its rate of incidence relative to centuries and millenia past. But it is simply false to suggest that cultural factors alone are responsible for the relative popularity (vis-a-vis women) of violent conflict among men.

All the way through, though, the differences are about 2-3% over 45, and 4-5% age 35, which isn't exactly hordes more men...
What, were you expecting 100%? You claimed that more women never married than men. But that turns out not to be the case, so I pointed it out. Whether that difference is large enough to generate significant social dislocations is another point (that others in this thread have addressed...)
posted by lambdaphage at 10:19 PM on January 22, 2013


[wolfdreams01, please dial back the theatrics and just discuss normally.]
posted by taz at 11:35 PM on January 22, 2013


Assuming that the diagnosis is correct - and most of the scientific evidence collected suggests that it is - then it seems to me like the most rational prescriptive solution to sexual scarcity and the violence which stems from it lies at the intersection of technology and porn - ie, "sexbots," for want of a better word. This technology is already being worked on (with capitalism as the driving impetus, since anybody who can perfect such technology stands to make a lot of money), so it's not even like anything needs to be done - just wait for the technology to be perfected and production costs to get cheap enough for those societies to afford it. I don't see either how this "appeasing low-status men" idea got attributed to anyone here - the only people who brought up that nonsensical suggestion seem to be the very people who are arguing against it.

And Taz, I'm really sorry, but when people are quoting "Random Blogger with Ideas!" as their rebuttal to a detailed scientific study, it's sort of hard to know how to respond to that seriously. But sure, I'll try to dial my sarcasm down a notch. :-)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:42 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wolf, the study shows a correlation between social discord and polygyny. I'll concede that, and I'll further concede that my response was asinine. The study doesn't show that

The end result is a society with a lot of frustrated and angry young men who are willing to strap bombs to their chests if it means going to the bizarre fantasy afterlife where you get to hook up with 66 nubile virgins

is an accurate picture either of Middle Eastern politics or of suicide bombers' motives, which point drove you to link to that study in the first place.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:24 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're absolutely correct. There could be other reasons as well: in fact, there probably are. Life is complicated, after all, and usually nothing can be attributed unarguably to just one source. What I was just demonstrating is that there is a very strong correllation, not necessarily that it's causal. The reason why I'm doing this is that sweetkid so glibly dismissed my answer as trolling when in fact there's quite a lot of well-researched data to prove a strong connection (if not causality) so I just felt like I'd just rub that point in his/her face a little. I don't think your response was asinine - if I seemed a little short-tempered, it's only because I think a lot of people on Metafilter don't research their sources for credibility and it's a pet peeve of mine. I apologize if you felt personally insulted - you're a nice person, and that certainly wasn't my intent.

Another reason I think it's important to hammer my point home about the correlating evidence is because I think that there's a certain trigger-happy response in effect here, wherein some feminists feel threatened by the idea that lambdaphage brought up (and are attacking him/her for it) because they feel it could be conceivably be used to justify misogyny, whereas it feels to me more like lambdaphage is simply trying to do a dispassionate evaluation of relevant data (regardless of the unpleasant implications that said data might have), and the attribution of a hostile political motive is thus unwarranted.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:45 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't engage in hand-on-forehead melodramatics in response to points I take seriously. I said "asinine" because your behavior suggested that such was your opinion.

Anyway.

There are a couple of problems in the back-and-forth between lambdaphage and others. One is that there are a lot of people online who use evolutionary psychology to absolve men of individual responsibility for violence, particularly sexual violence. They tend to be ignorant of the actual science, unlike lambdaphage, whom I don't accuse of this. Lambdaphage has been evenhanded, as you say, and attacking them because other people advance scummy opinions is unfair.

(Evolutionary psychology may be little better than phrenology, but I don't know enough to judge one way or another. All I know is that a vulgarized version is frequently abused.)

On the other hand, the society under discussion (I may have misunderstood, thus talking past everyone else), that of the United States, or at least that of the rich world, is not like those of China or the Middle East, the cloth specters that get waved around the most. The enforced norm here is serial monogamy, even in relationships outside the sanction of marriage, and the gender distribution is fairly even: The last U.S. Census drew a ratio of 105 men for every 100 women, decreasing as age increases. As far as I know, the ratio elsewhere in the rich world is similar.

The UBC paper itself argued that serial monogamy (admittedly, serially monogamous marriage) acts as a pressure valve that prevents widespread violence on this account.

Neither of these conditions, as far as I know, is expected to change soon, but I would be happy to read better-informed predictions.

Which brings me to my own part of this debate: my comment here, which prompted 1adam12's response. My country's even gender distribution, coupled with its norm of serial monogamy, leads me to believe that, if someone here can't find someone to sleep with, the fault belongs either to them or to pure bad luck.

I want those people to do the best that they can, but they, like everyone else, should keep in mind that the potential for bad luck is well-nigh infinite, and it can't be changed. Better to improve oneself, changing what can be changed, than to become violent.

And I won't be told that this position is morally close to the refusal to save a drowning person. It is not. I have not taken offense at anything said to me here but this.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:44 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really refuse to panic about undersexed men until there is a clearer correlation than has been presented in the evidence here. Never underestimate the internet's conviction that shy awkward men not getting sex is the human rights issue of our time.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:55 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't engage in hand-on-forehead melodramatics in response to points I take seriously. I said "asinine" because your behavior suggested that such was your opinion.

Yeah, I'm sorry about the theatrics. I was aiming more for sweetkid's jugular, but yours got in the way accidentally. Mea culpa: that was definitely not my intent. :-(

And I won't be told that this position is morally close to the refusal to save a drowning person. It is not. I have not taken offense at anything said to me here but this.

Your point about 1adam12s comment is well taken, and I agree wholeheartedly. The first part of his comment "An excellent way to guarantee widespread destructive violence in a society is to create a large group of men with no mates and no prospects for ever finding mates" is what I would agree with, and that is the half of his comment that I was supporting - the pragmatic diagnosis that is backed by research. His telling you that your position was morally wrong absolutely does seem inappropriate - I agree with you there. And I think we can all agree that nobody should ever have to sleep with anybody they don't want to "for the sake of society."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:10 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of interested in the framing here, because 1) there being an imbalance of men and women in a society that results in increased sex trafficking is a much much different thesis from some male individuals of a society being unable to successfully woo women and therefore becoming dangerous and violent, which is where this discussion began and sounds more like a frustrated teenager ranting about what he wants to do to the hot girl in Chemistry class, and 2) is the issue really that in polygynous societies, rich powerful men marry all the desirable females? Are men killing people because they have to marry and have sex with only ugly women, or is it that they can't find partners at all? Because the cited study only maintains the second of those possibilities, and it's much more of a structural problem in society (related to social status, the institution of marriage, and false scarcity of wives) than just some male sexual frustration.

I mean, I would be more willing to have these conversations if they weren't laced with misogynist assumptions and veiled threats that are "supported" with unrelated evidence. It's interesting and compelling to think that polygamy and intra-sexual competition can lead to this kind of violence, but it has almost nothing at all to do with shy, introverted, even socially inept men not being able to find women to have sex with... and actually potentially a lot more to do with intrenched class and gender inequality that leads to fierce male competition and treatment of women as property.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:50 AM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


One is that there are a lot of people online who use evolutionary psychology to absolve men of individual responsibility for violence, particularly sexual violence. They tend to be ignorant of the actual science, unlike lambdaphage, whom I don't accuse of this. Lambdaphage has been evenhanded, as you say, and attacking them because other people advance scummy opinions is unfair.

I appreciate the vote of confidence. The conversation has drifted a bit from its original moorings, and I worry that a position might have been imputed to me that I don't hold in re chronically mateless men. The literature I've seen on this question strongly favors the view that marriage exerts a civilizing effect on men, in the sense that married men are less likely commit violent crimes (even after controlling for age and the fact that extremely low-status men might both more likely to commit violent crime and less likely to get married.) (Courtwright, 1996), (Sampson, Laub & Wimer 2006) Whether that is true or false, though, is orthogonal to the question of whether monogamy ought to be legally enforced. My own view, FWIW, is that it is morally repugnant to forbid people to enter into whatever voluntary romantic relationships they see fit. I need not deny that such a policy might have negative social consequences elsewhere. But distinguishing social science from ethics is step zero in getting either right.
posted by lambdaphage at 9:56 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The literature I've seen on this question strongly favors the view that marriage exerts a civilizing effect on men, in the sense that married men are less likely commit violent crimes

Correlation is not causation.

Lower levels of violence may be correlated with married men (as is a lot of other positive things for those men, like longer lives) but we don't have any indication of the causative directions. For example, there may be a confound in "properly socialized" which causes both the men to be more likely to form relationships with women (in contrast with the population of men who tend to speak about and treat women as commodities to be bought and sold via a variety of means) and less likely to be violent - that is a reasonable confound to suggest for the correlation.

The fact that correlation is not causation is very, very, very, VERY important to take into account in soft sciences like psychology and sociology because by definition well-generalizable information cannot be created in an experimental laboratory situation - and it's impossible to create when comparing two pre-determined categories of people like men and women. There are a lot of possible causes for why men are more violent, many of which include a variety of means by which men are socialized to view violence as a way to establishing masculinity, particularly within homo-social environments (which tend to be more common in patriarchal polygynous societies like the one referenced above, as women are explicitly excluded from society, even within a family unit), thus leading men to be more violent not due to OMG Y CHROMOSOME but rather due to OMG SOCIALIZED MASCULINITY.

In terms of evolutionary psychology (which is nearly always crap, sad to say) the only way to establish something is genetically caused is to remove all possibilities of socialization as a confound, and that is damn difficult to do, and becoming more difficult as fewer and fewer societies are separated from widespread, patriarchal Western society (which includes wide variety of unconscious socialization which passes down via implicit learning in children). One interesting example are the six universal expressions, which were tested in a wide variety of societies and seem to have a large amount of involuntary response involved. By and large, though, humans are not instinctual creatures; we don't spontaneously produce mating songs when raised in the lab (and even with birds, some species have instinctive songs and others are taught), and any studies to remove all socialization from an infant would never pass the Human Research Ethics Board - because they would be so unethical it makes my head spin.

Humans are very, very good at learning via observation and learning implicitly. Harvard's Project Implicit is gathering significant and wide-ranging evidence that unconscious biases color everything when it comes to large populations we assume have shared characteristics (like men and women, or different races). It is both unethical and unskeptical and frankly wrong to not take into account that our opinions have implicit biases when comparing genders and so any conclusions that men are "more violent" than women due to a biological cause really needs a lot more evidence than a census.

So yes, marriage is very good for men (less good for women, given correlational studies between married and single women), but there is no basis to claim that marriage makes men different; it is equally likely that different men can marry in a society where women are allowed to refuse partners.
posted by Deoridhe at 8:06 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Correlation is not causation... we don't have any indication of the causative directions...
correlation is not causation...


I have to admit I'm a bit disappointed by this, when the answer to your objection is literally in the first sentence of the abstract of the paper I cited:
Although marriage is associated with a plethora of adult outcomes,
its causal status remains controversial in the absence of experimental
evidence. We address this problem by introducing a counterfactual lifecourse
approach that applies inverse probability of treatment weighting
(IPTW) to yearly longitudinal data on marriage, crime, and shared
covariates in a sample of 500 high-risk boys followed prospectively
from adolescence to age 32. The data consist of criminal histories and
death records for all 500 men plus personal interviews, using a lifehistory
calendar, with a stratified subsample of 52 men followed to age
70. These data are linked to an extensive battery of individual and
family background measures gathered from childhood to age 17—
before entry into marriage. Applying IPTW to multiple specifications
that also incorporate extensive time-varying covariates in adulthood,
being married is associated with an average reduction of approximately
35 percent in the odds of crime compared to nonmarried states for the
same man. These results are robust, supporting the inference that states
of marriage causally inhibit crime over the life course.
In light of this, what should I make of the fact that you would apparently rather spend 500 words explaining Day 1 of Stats for Social Scientists to me than find out whether the authors are actually guilty of the error you accuse them of committing? I am trying to interpret that charitably, somehow.

The philosopher Harry Frankfurt once famously argued that we should reserve the term "bullshit" (sorry mefi mods...) for a very specific type of untrue speech: we ought to use the term "bullshit" only to describe the speech of those who are not even lying so much as talking without regard to whether what they say is true or false. So, when I cite a paper whose first sentence concerns the authors' aim in controlling for confounders, and you reply with "correlation is not causation", do you have a specific point to make about the authors' use of IPTW? Or do you worry, as I do, that Frankfurt's distinction might be apt here?
posted by lambdaphage at 12:17 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The fact that the scientists note this in their study, as they should and I would have expected them too, does not change the simple fact that you drew a causal link when you said: "The literature I've seen on this question strongly favors the view that marriage exerts a civilizing effect on men".

No, the literature doesn't favor that. The literature says that correlation is not causation. YOU say that. I'm not speaking to the authors, who as social scientists should note the simple facts of the case up front. I'm talking you you, who claims they say that their literature favors the view that marriage "has a civilizing effect" on men - that is claiming marriage CAUSES civilization in men.

I expect the scientists to know their stuff. I'm "disappointed" that you, having read that correlation is not causation, would misrepresent them and then chide me for pointing out the flaw in your statement.

Your inability to engage with me outside of a "gotcha" maneuver is noted.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:38 AM on January 26, 2013


No, the literature doesn't favor that... I'm talking you you, who claims they say that their literature favors the view that marriage "has a civilizing effect" on men - that is claiming marriage CAUSES civilization in men...you...would misrepresent them

From the very same abstract I quoted you:
...These results are robust, supporting the inference that STATES OF MARRIAGE CAUSALLY INHIBIT CRIME over the life course.
I really don't understand what you're doing here.
posted by lambdaphage at 1:17 AM on January 26, 2013


These results are robust, supporting the inference that STATES OF MARRIAGE CAUSALLY INHIBIT CRIME over the life course.

There's a correlation, but is is causation? I mean the state of being married implies a certain degree of resources and stability and these marriages are not taking place in a vacuum, they come with certain expectations, rights and consequences that vary by culture.

I think what people are debating here is that whether or not loads of unemployed, dissatisfied men are a bad thing, the cultural assumptions have troubling "women, she civilizes!" language following it around. And the counter observation that loads of single women seem to be harmless- retirement communities are not hotbeds of little old lady violence. And the sex surveys here, along with certain things like an uptick of female violent crime do suggest that the genders aren't some sort of separate species required to come in contact to mate. In personality studies, for example, males and females can point easily to gender stereotypes, but use the same adjectives to describe themselves regardless of gender, at least on average.

The data I've read on health outcomes backs up that dudes who marry keep them sane, happy and healthier than the ones who make it to the other side of forty without someone to love them, but that women are not as effected, but it doesn't look at how our cultures might punish these guys or how you might end up with a feedback loop... or how access to women might be an inherently awful thing to have at the root of stability because of the role it gives us.

"66 virgins" is a really dismissive way to talk about it, among many things because it's often about a sense of fulfillment and belonging but it gets characterized as how it's just horny idiots. but if we're talking about the civilizing influence of a wife it's probably better to talk about the whys in more terms than gender reductionist "dudes get rocks off, equals content". Monks, for example, aren't known for being more violent than men at large and they aren't all banging dudes.

The problem with deciding that access to women is a stable society essential is it's like accepting that, is is true in some cultures to the day, having servants is an acceptable middle class thing. It's sometimes built on some very unhealthy dynamics. We stop getting to be people and start being the wifeandkids, the stable domestic package people deserve the way they deserve flush toilets.

It's not a wife, it's everything to do with the married state. It's not having a someone, it's having structure and some sort of family. For example, monks, like married dudes, have stuff to do with their time. While there are warrior monks, they're a relatively non-violent group. But nobody worries that there's not enough monasteries to go around the way that woman gets thought of as a problem solver, as if we were some sort of social worker.
posted by Phalene at 5:39 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem with deciding that access to women is a stable society essential is it's like accepting that, is is true in some cultures to the day, having servants is an acceptable middle class thing. It's sometimes built on some very unhealthy dynamics. We stop getting to be people and start being the wifeandkids, the stable domestic package people deserve the way they deserve flush toilets.

Phalene, I fully agree. But you are inappropriately getting your morality mixed up in somebody else's science. The only thing that belongs in data analysis is scientific objectivity. If the data leads you to a conclusion that is not ethical (as in this case, where it strongly suggests that society might be more stable if there was more marriage) then you can simply decide not to act on that conclusion, since the human cost obviously outweighs the societal benefits. However, attempting to undermine a legitimate and exceedingly thorough study (as Deoridhe is doing) simply because the data is troubling and one worries about what prescriptive remedies might be derived from the conclusions of the study is not the right solution and it feels to me like it only weakens your position in future arguments, because it implies a willingness to deny objective reality when said reality turns out to be unpalatable.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:16 AM on February 2, 2013


I am not debating the conclusion, wolfdreams. This is not an "emotional" thing. This is the flip side of social research. Please do not persist in calling me irrational. MeTa it if you think there is a problem with my writing.

I am simply saying that a mistake in social research of all kinds is to look at a correlation and not look at the whys and the wherefores. For example participation in a church has a number of social benefits: looking at the average population of church goers and non-church goers, when you look at metrics like being accepting to racial/ethnic diversity. One might conclude that religiosity breeds tolerance.

And yet, religious people who don't regularly participate in churches are less tolerant, and the study was only done on certain populations, namely American ones.

As far as marriage goes: Offhand, I know of two cultures where "marriage" is on serious decline. Swedes and Quebecois both don't get married in high rates. Neither area is particularly violent or filled with gangs of roaming young men. For the most part French Canadian and Swedish men fall and love and pair off easily as any first worlder; they and their partners just are not choosing to marry. So when we say marriage and talk about women shortages, are we looking at (mostly)monogamous pairings, access to genetic offspring, social support networks or even the ability to have a family home? Are unmarried men showing poor health results because they can't get a wife, or is it because the circumstances that make it difficult to marry also make one suspect to mental and physical health problems?

There is also a demonstrable trend where these sorts of discoveries tend to turn into discussions of women as social utilities. This is both an obvious reporting bias and it colours anything we did up in a way that makes using it constructively more difficult.

If we don't examine the conditions and assumptions around these sorts of studies, it would be like conducting experiments in the physical sciences without checking the accuracy of your measuring tools and for cross contamination. Again, I don't dispute the result that married dudes don't get up to as much havock. I'm talking about framing and false correlations. After all, marriage means anything from co-filing taxes with your homosexual partner, to being someone's legal property.
posted by Phalene at 5:57 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a correlation, but is is causation?

Did you read the exchange with Deoridhe above? Could you please state, in your own words, how the authors attempted to address this point with their method (IPTW) and what, if any, specific criticisms of it you have?

I think that elsewhere in your reply you have perhaps attributed views to me that I do not hold, but I'm reluctant to get into that if we can't straighten this first point out.
posted by lambdaphage at 9:23 PM on February 3, 2013


However, attempting to undermine a legitimate and exceedingly thorough study (as Deoridhe is doing) simply because the data is troubling and one worries about what prescriptive remedies might be derived from the conclusions of the study is not the right solution and it feels to me like it only weakens your position in future arguments, because it implies a willingness to deny objective reality when said reality turns out to be unpalatable.

Way to strawman me.

The point that correlation is not causation is that there is no social study where men are assigned a marriage to a random women, then their tendency to commit violence is tracked. That is because this is unethical.

What that means is that there is literally no way to draw a causal conclusion because this is not an experimental study (where people are randomly assigned to experimental groups with balancing for poteential confounds which might show up despite randomization) but a quasi-experimental study, where one literally cannot correct for all confounds.

I am not making an emotional plea because my feminist ladybrainz are somehow horrible and so I can't think all rationally like you, Master wolfdreams01, with your omnipotence and ability to identify all of the millions of confounds in a study, and so I'm perverting science for my own nefarious and irrational reasons.

I am literally pointing out a basic, social studies/sociology/psychology 101 fact of experimental design.

I learned this in stats and had it emphasized again in experimental design. I do actually have a degree in this, you know, complete with reading all kinds of studies and identifying their implicit conclusions - like that we'll be able to tell an experimental design from a quasi-experimental one due to how subjects are assigned to their study categories. My professiors repeated it over, and over, and over, and over again because the drive of humans to draw causal conclusions is really strong, so if we wanted to be even halfway competant clinicians we needed to be aware of that bias.

I'm sorry that Experimental Psychology 101 undermines your attempt to take a quasi-experiment and draw causal conclusions from it, but the problem isn't feminism - it's science.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:21 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Accusations of arguing in bad faith go to MetaTalk; as ever, please focus comments on the issues and not on other posters.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:03 AM on February 16, 2013


[No really. Discuss the issues directly or skip it; this is not about interpersonal point-scoring. This may mean ignoring some prior comments that nettle.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:38 PM on February 16, 2013


I'm surprised to see this thread is still active. I can't help but notice that there is still no discussion of the IPTW technique (due to Robins et al. [pdf]) that Sampson et al. employ in order to cope with the fact that they obviously cannot conduct a randomized controlled trial. Instead, we seem to be reiterating the argument that nothing short of a RCT can ever tell us anything about the world.

If it is utterly obvious that causal inference is impossible in the absence of an RCT as a matter of "basic, social studies/sociology/psychology 101 fact of experimental design", isn't it rather odd that three trained statisticians (two from Harvard, one from UW) managed to sneak it by three reviewers at the Journal of the American Statistical Association?

I'm really not trying to engage in an argument from authority, here. I would much rather discuss marginal structural models and their application to this argument, but I somehow despair that that is ever going to happen. Failing that, I'd like to ask what is more likely: (A) that a bunch of trained statisticians made a "basic... 101 mistake" that somehow landed in a top journal and got cited more than a thousand times, or (B) that it sometimes really is possible to control appropriately in longitudinal studies in order to make reliable causal inferences, perhaps even through the use of methods that are not taught in Stats for Sociology 101 (but are described plainly in Robins above if you would care to read).

I am not, please note, arguing that the model must be appropriate given that some high-rollers published it in a snazzy journal. I am arguing that if anyone thinks that there are such trivially apparent errors in the work, they should be busy writing it up for submission to JASA or Criminology instead of arguing about it on the internet.

I would be glad to respond to specific criticisms about the authors' methods of controlling for confounds. Generic qualms about correlation and causation are addressed in the papers I cited.
posted by lambdaphage at 9:01 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


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