Some schools of feminism hate the observation that women’s decisions set the “rules” for dating, sex and marriage. In other words, sexual relations will take place, or not, according to women’s decisions about where to draw the line. And women are inclined to draw lines with attention to the well-being of potential children.

More than a few feminists rather conceive of women’s “power” in the “market” for relationships, sex and marriage, as the ability to have casual sex without strings, and without children.

The problem with their vision, however, is that the evidence is stacked against them.

While today – in a world awash with contraception and abortion, and cheerleaders mistaking both for “freedom” – women will more often talk themselves into casual sex, they have the natural power to do otherwise.

An important article explains this phenomenon: The evolution of human mating: Trade-offs and strategic pluralism,” by evolutionary psychologists Dr. Steven Gangestad and Dr. Jeffrey Simpson, published in Cambridge University Press’ Behavioral and Brain Sciences journal.

The authors conclude that women choose men, in part, based upon environmental conditions’ likely impact upon future children. If the environment signals that long-term bi-parental care would benefit the child, they seek men who will stick around for the long run. If it signals toxic conditions which could hurt the child, they would be more willing to choose men on the basis of their “genetic fitness” to create stronger, healthier children.[1]

And what about men’s mating behavior? “[M]en tracked and adjusted their mating tactics and preferences to the behavior of women.” For this conclusion, the authors cite the additional support of an article by a University of Texas Evolutionary Psychologist, bluntly concluding: “In short, females track the environment; males track the females.”[2]

These findings are supported by research from another discipline, economics, applied to the question of the exchange of sex between men and women. The authors bluntly identify men as “buyers” and women as “sellers” in this marketplace, writing:

The central point to our social exchange analysis of sex is that sex is essentially a female resource. When a man and a woman have sex, therefore, the woman is giving something of value to the man. In that sense, the interaction is one-sided—unless the man gives the woman something else of comparable value. (p. 341).

None of this is intended to reduce human beings to powerless products of evolution, or actors in an economic marketplace. There are so many factors—among them religious and cultural and familial factors—influencing relationships between men and women. But these types of research do point helpfully to women’s power to shape their destinies—and to women’s particular attention to the well-being of their children. 

Helen M. Alvare is a Professor of Law at George Mason University and cofounder of the movement Women Speak For Themselves. This article first appeared on the WSFT blog and is reproduced here with permission.


[1] In science-ese: “If the local environment was difficult and demanded biparental care, women placed more weight on the investment potential of prospective mates and less weight on indicators of their genetic fitness. As a result, a larger proportion of women adopted long-term mating tactics almost exclusively. If on the other hand, the pathogens were prevalent in the local environment…women placed more weight on indicators of the genetic fitness of prospective mates. In such environments, a larger proportion of women were willing to engage in short-term, extra-pair matings, allowing them to gain genetic benefits from men who provided less parental investment at the risk of losing parental investment from their primary mates.” (p. 586).

[2] Citing Del Thiessen, “Environmental Tracking by Females: Sexual Lability”, Human Nature, Vol. 5 (2), 1994.

Helen M. Alvaré Helen Alvaré is the Robert A. Levy Endowed Chair in Law and Liberty at Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, where she teaches and writes in...