Win or Woo Returns: Debunking the Sexual Exploitation Theory

Boy, am I ever excited to write about this!

Over the last two weeks there has been a little internet spark surrounding a pair of interesting academic pieces that address “sexual exploitation theory.”

The theory states that human males have evolved an ability to seek out females that are more vulnerable, and therefore more prone to being “bedded” (for lack of a better word).  In order to test this, researchers from the first article (full paper here) got a bunch of college kids at UT Austin to make a list of what attributes indicate a woman who is more receptive to being hit on.  Then they showed a different batch of UT Austin guys photos with said attributes to see which ones guys prefer.

Guess what? Photos where the girl looks “immature,” “easy,” “intoxicated,” “reckless” or “promiscuous” were more attractive to the guys. Shocker, right? And another shocker – photos where the girl looks “intelligent,” “shy,” “old” or “anxious” were less attractive. (Makes you wonder if grad students are running out of things to research…)

The second article, also from psychology grad students at UT Austin (full paper here), extended the first study and found that guys who are more promiscuous and have less empathy are more attracted to these “exploitable” girls. Again, I don’t think any of us need an academic study to prove this point, we see it happening every night we go out.

Interestingly, there has been a lot of web chatter about these papers, most recently in Slate and in Gawker.  But because I am such a fan of the biology/evolution of dating, I had to share my thoughts with you about this.

As I wrote previously, from a biological/evolutionary perspective, it is typically the female who chooses the male. The males either try to win over the woman through their physical strength or woo the females through charm. In birds, mammals and most primates, it is the female who chooses the mate because the males will “bed” anything that moves, not the other way around.

Let’s say “sexual exploitation theory” is true, that males choose the dumbest female of the species because they are the easiest to mate with.  That would mean the offspring from that pairing would be dumb, and so would the following generation and so forth.  This contradicts almost everything we know about evolution: The strongest and smartest survive, not the dumbest.  Humans evolved from primates because of increasing intellectual capacity from generation to generation, not the other way around.  It’s survival of the fittest, not extinction of the inadequate.  Therefore, I don’t see any biological basis for the academic papers.

Secondly, back when we were all hunter/gatherers, females and males both had to work hard to survive.  There were no Ladies Nights and free shots of tequila thousands of years ago, and vulnerable females quickly perished.  So I don’t see any evolutionary basis for “sexual exploitation theory” either.

Therefore, I think the authors of the academic papers are missing one key ingredient in their hypothesis:  This whole phenomenon of “sexual exploitation theory” is a totally new cultural construct:  Guys today have been trained to think this way.  Blame pornography, blame the internet, blame Brittany Spears’ music videos, but The Modern American Male of today has it engrained in his head that certain women are more “gettable” than others.  They think that just because a girl is out having a drink with friends she is “easy” because society today has trained him to think so.

And so, ladies, what is the moral to the story?  Guys who only hit on drunken sloppy girls should be avoided at all costs because they have the highest correlation to being insensitive douchebags.

Now where is my honorary doctorate from the psych department at UT Austin?