The Evolution of Desire: Summary & Review

the evolution of desire book cover

The Evolution of Desire (2016) reviews human relationships, dating, and sexuality from the vantage point of evolutionary psychology.
David Buss, the author, explains why we find certain traits and mates attractive, how and why we cheat, and provides a comprehensive overview of male and female sexual strategies.

Bullet Summary

  • Conflict in mating is the norm, not the exception
  • Strategic interference is the area where the sexual strategies of men and women diverge
  • Human mating strategies are large and highly sensitive to context

About The Author: David Buss is an evolutionary psychologist and researcher, currently teaching at the University of Texas. He is a well-known and respected voice in evolutionary psychology and has written several books, including what’s possibly the most popular university textbook called “Evolutionary Psychology“.


What Women Want

Let’s start with what women want:

Women Want Men With Resources

Women want men with resources.

As a rule of thumb, whenever women can demand resources and men can provide them, then women demand resources.
This is true across the whole animal kingdom, and it’s true for women too.

Says Buss:

The evolution of the female preference for men who offer resources may be the most ancient and pervasive basis for female choice in the animal kingdom

But when are resources important from an evolutionary point of view?
Buss says there must be three preconditions (but I break them up into four as I feel it makes more sense):

  1. Resources must be accruable, defensible and controllable by men
  2. Men must differ in their holding or skills at resource acquisition 
  3. Men must be willing to invest those resources in women
  4. The advantages of committing to one man must outweigh the advantages of being with several men

In humans, these conditions are most often met.

Says Buss:

The marriage patterns in America confirm the fact that men with the most resources are the best equipped to actualize their preferences.
Indeed, the male occupational status seems to be the best predictor of the attractiveness of the woman he marries.

Sexual Differences in Appreciation For Resources

Countless of studies show that women appreciate resources much more than men do.

Women consider resources not as “absolutely indispensable”, but important (a “necessity”, not a luxury). Men consider resources in a spouse as “desirable”, but not very important (a luxury, not a necessity). 
Even with the sexual revolution, women still value financial prospects twice as high as men do. An analysis of personal ads showed women asking for financial resources 11 times more often than men did.

A study asked men and women what would be the minimum percentile of earning capacity they’d be willing to accept in a mate.
Men wanted wives at least in the 40 percentile. Women’s minimum was 78. Such as, they wanted a man who earned at least more than 78% of all other men.

The preference of women for men with resources is a universal. 
In all cultures, religions, and political systems, women placed higher importance than men on resources (roughly 100% more).

There were a few differences.
In the Netherlands, women cared for resources only 36% more than men do, in Japan 150%.

Women Want Resources Even When They Have Resources

Buss theorizes women might seek resources because they have less than men.

Yet, a tribe in Africa where women have more resources than men casts strong doubts on that theory.
Wealthy tribeswomen still want men with resources, and lack of provisioning from the man is one of the most common causes for divorce.

Buss also studied Western women in the high-income bracket, and high-income women placed an even greater value on mates with high degree, professional status, and high income.

Even women right after college, who could be expected to earn more than the average, placed higher priority than the overall female population on male earning prospects.

In short, women with lots of resources prefer men with resources more than poorer women do.

Women Want Men of High Social Status

Women desire men who command a high position in society.

High social status or a high-status job are viewed by US women as only slightly less important than financial prospects. But the two things often go hand in hand, anyway.

Buss indeed says that social status provides a strong clue as to the male’s access to resources:

Social status is a woman’s strong indicator of the man’s ability to invest in her and in her children

David Buss says that women worldwide prefer marrying up, a phenomenon also referred to as “hypergamy“.

To learn more about the science of female hypergamy:

Why Women Want Social Status

Why would even want higher status men?
Just like money, because it’s better for them, of course. But from an evolutionary point of view, women want high-status men because it’s good for their children (and the propagation of their genes).

Children in high-status families, worldwide, typically have better access to health care, education, jobs, etc. And that translated, worldwide, to access to more mates and better quality mates.

Women also place high importance on indicators linked to high social status, including:

  • Education
  • Professional degrees
  • Command respect of the group (social power)

The opposite is also true, with women rating lack of education as “highly undesirable”.

Short-Term VS Long-Term Preferences

Women care more for social status in long-term partners and slightly less in short-term dating.

They still value status more than men do in both short-term and long-term mating, and this is true across all world cultures.

Women Don’t Even See Lower Status Men 

Buss tells a fun story of a group of women at a restaurant complaining there were no eligible men around for settling down.
Which was funny, considering they weren’t shy of saying so in front of the whole staff of waiters, all males.
What the women actually meant was not that there were no men, but that there were no men of acceptable social status.

Indeed, women don’t care much about what men think of them when they don’t even consider those men as eligible for either short-term or long-term mating.
See this example from SATC:

Women don’t care of men’s opinion when those men are below them

Age: Women Want Older Men

Buss says that age also provides an important cue as to his resources.

Young men rarely command the respect, power, and social status to acquire resources.

In all the 37 cultures the author analyzed, women always preferred men who were older than they are.
The global median age difference is 3 years worldwide.

But Buss also says that women might prefer older men for reasons other than resources.
Older men tend to be more mature, emotionally stable, and even more reliable in their provisioning.

Buss says that young women tend to go for a few years older promising men rather than much older men because the age discrepancy may increase relationship strife.
Furthermore, sperm quality tends to decrease with age and a much older men might not be around in the case of children.

My Note:
Matt Ridley says that “not being around” for children issue can be overcome in case the man possess so much resources that she doesn’t him personally. 

Exceptions of women going for younger men exist, but they are usually circumscribed.
In China, with very young couples it happened because the younger men were from very high society and had assured social status and wealth. In other cases, it was the woman who had fewer options.

Sometimes it can be for pleasure too, with the proverbial “pool boy”. Nut when settling down, women usually prefer older men and, if they are rich, men with also at least an equal amount of resources as they have.

Young Men Are Evaluated On Personality

In cultures where couples marry young, women sometimes cannot reliably assess social status and resources.

So seek personality traits that are likely to lead to future success, social status, and income.
Traits such as:

  • Ambition
  • Industriousness
  • Intelligence
  • Dependability (assures the continuity of investment)
  • Emotional stability (emotionally unstable men are very costly to women)

In Buss’ study ambition and industriousness were rated as important or indispensable. 
Again, there is a major gender difference here: women regarded a lack of ambition as extremely undesirable, while men didn’t care about women’s ambition. 

Women are also likely to break up with a man if he loses his job, lacks career goals, or shows a “lazy streak”.

How Men Elevate Their Status in Status Hierarchies

Buss’ research lab found 26 distinct tactics that people -mostly men- use to elevate their social status.

They included:

  • Industriousness
  • Deception
  • Social networking
  • Sexual favor
  • Education

Industriousness, such as working hard, prioritizing goals, putting in extra time, etc., was by far the biggest predictor of income and promotions.

What Women Want For Short Term

For short term mating, women value traits such as:

  • Physical attractiveness
  • Desirability
  • High levels of masculinity

These are traits that signal “good genes”.
Women with high mate value are, on average, more drawn to high masculine men.
Buss speculates that, since more masculine men are less faithful, that might be the case because high mate value women have the power to remind those men what they’d be losing by straying.

Women Want Kindness (& Men Too!)

Both men and women the world over value kindness.

Buss says it’s because people depend on other people’s kindness, but not from strangers’ kindness, but from their mates.
Kindness also increases the chance that a man will commit and provide, and make for a better father.
But I believe people seek kindness also because it makes for a much better relationship and because, on average, one expects a kind person to also be more reliable and trustworthy.

Interestingly, in Japan and Taiwan men valued kindness more than women did.

What Women Want? Everything!

The reason why men have been baffled so long by the question “what women want” is simple:

Women’s mate’s preferences are inherently complex, multi-faceted and context-dependent. 

And, I would add, sometimes women even seek traits that are rarely found within the same man.

What Women Don’t Want

First of all is incest.

Incest is more likely to produce defective offspring, and women are more repulsed by incest than men are.
Because an unhealthy child is more costly to a woman, than to a man, since women spend far more resources on each child than men do.

Other traits women don’t want simply end up looking like the reserve of what they want.
No resources, no drive, no status, emotional dependency and immaturity, small size and stature, feminine appearance, meanness, cruelty, etc.

What Men Want

Men Want Young(er) Women

Men solved the problem of finding fertile women, in part, by looking for young women.

Men universally prefer younger women than themselves, although how younger also depends on culture.

However, as men get older and older, the age difference they seek a wife for increases.

The only exception is for young adolescent males who prefer older women. But older women don’t want these younger men (on average).

Men Want Women With Good Physical Appearance

Men rate physical appearances much higher than women do.

This does not mean that the search for physical attractiveness has been fixed during the ages.
Indeed, the premium both men and women -but men more- place on physical attractiveness has increased steadily during the 20th century, most likely the product of TV and fashion magazines.

Physical appearances include:

  • Full lips
  • Smooth skin
  • Clear skin
  • Clear eyes
  • Lustrous hair
  • Good muscle tone
  • Symmetrical faces and bodies
  • Waist to hip ratio 

Some parts of considered beautiful do change with culture, but many others are common. 
Men of different cultures and ethnicities all agreed as to which faces were the most and least attractive of each other’s “races”.

Culturally Determined Standards of Beauty

Among the culturally determined standards of beauty:

  • Plumb VS dark body built
  • White or dark skin (but white is usually superior)
  • Eyes, ears, buttocks, and genitals 
  • Most men prefer large firm breasts, but some cultures like long pendulous breasts (!)

The slim VS plumb body built is the most culturally variable standard of beauty. 
Men don’t seem to have an inbuilt preference for a rigid amount of fat and go for what is considered “higher status” in their culture, which in turn seems to be connected with the amount of food available.

Averages Look Good

Facial features that are considered attractive often look like the average of the population.
Composite faces were rated as more attractive than individual faces because it tends to eliminate the irregularities.

Men Like Youthful Behavior

Buss says that our ancestors had access to two types of observable evidence of a woman’s health and youth: features of physical appearance and features of behavior.

Feature of behavior includes:

  • Bouncy youthful gate
  • Animated facial expressions
  • High energy levels

My note:
This part seemed to be a generalization. I struggle to see a 70 years old rich man going for the “bouncy gate” of a 19 YO and he might rather seek a slightly more mature woman in her 30s. At least for a relationship… 

Beautiful Wife = Status Boost

Men value a woman’s attractiveness also for the status boost it grants them.

Men do place a lot of importance on “rank”, and a beautiful wife helps them rank higher in social hierarchies.
So, yes, the “trophy wife” is a thing.

The trophy wife is especially important for unattractive men, because people infer that if he is with an attractive wife, he must have a high social status.

Why Do Men Commit?

Why would want even want to commit at all?

It’s a fair question, so let’s find the answer:

  • Women demand it (least they might deny sex)

Some women might require investment and proof of love and commitment before even consenting to sex.
Men who refused to give might have not found a mate at all, or struggled to mate with the best ones who also have more power to demand resources.

Basically, women’s demands made it costly for men to pursue a short-term dating strategy only.

  • Increasing the odds of paternity

Focusing on short-term dating only is not very likely to produce children because it takes many sexual intercourses to conceive.

Men who committed and got constant sexual access to a woman increased their odds of paternity.

  • Increasing the odds of children’s survival 

Children are more likely to survive with a father.

  • Increasing the odds of children’s mating success

Children are more likely to be successful in the dating market if there is a father who helps them develop (and accrue resources)

  • Increased social status and social network

If you’re single you might have missed on the “social status” boost that married men get.
Just think of this: how many single presidents have been running your country recently?
Chances are that most of them were married.

A married man can also leverage a larger network of people and the extended family, both of which can be helpful.

Men Want Chastity & Loyalty (to Secure Paternity)

Faithfulness and sexual loyalty are the most highly valued traits.


Because paternity is uncertain for men, male dating strategies also evolved to ensure paternity.
The right strategy starts by picking the right partner, and that’s why men place a premium on:

  • Virginity / low partner count
  • Partner’s loyalty (see Madonna/whore)

The value on virginity and partners’ count is highly cultural though.

Men did adapt with the times and as premarital sex has become more common, so the premium on virginity, once very high, has decreased precipitously.

Things do change both with culture and with the cyclical swings of gender dating power, though.
Women do compete more on chastity and loyalty signs when they are more dependent on men and men do seek those signs more when they have more dating power.
That’s not the case in many Western countries where governments provide women with much social support.

As a rule of thumb: men value chastity if they can get it and if it’s common in their dating environment.

Even more important than chastity though is loyalty.
Says Buss:

The actual amount of prior sexual activity in a potential mate rather than virginity per se would have provided an excellent guide for ancestral men who sought to solve the problem of paternity.
Indeed the single best predictor of extramarital sex is premarital sexual promiscuity. 
People who have many sex partners before marriage tend to be more unfaithful than those who have few sex partners before marriage.

Casual Sex

The simple fact that men seek casual sex means that, at least sometimes, women were willing to engage in casual sex.

Says Buss:

One of the keys to ancestral women’s sexual opportunity was a lapse in mate guarding. 
Hunting provided a window of opportunity because men went off for hours, days or weeks.

There are many cues as to our history of “monogamy with exceptions”, including:

  • Sexual dimorphism

Sexual dimorphism usually is a sign of female choice and non-monogamy. Humans don’t have huge dimorphism, but some physical differences are obvious between genders.

  • Males’ testes size

We are in between polyamorous chimpanzees and gorillas, but slightly closer to gorillas (gorilla females only sleep with the alpha male).

  • Increased male ejaculation after not seeing the partner for a while

Suggesting that ancestral men who “flooded” their mates were protecting against possible infidelities.

  • Men enjoy variety

The Coolidge effect shows that men are turned on by new women more than by older ones.

  • Standard relaxation for “acceptable partner” in short term mating

In short term women seek slightly different traits, while men relax their standards and sometimes invert the traits they seek.
For short term, men dislike women seeking commitment and prudish women. They are not bothered by her relationship status, and prefer high sex drive, sexually experienced women.

Basically, the traits men seek to increase the chances of casual sex and limit the chances of women extracting resources from them.

Men also often relax standards of beauty, allowing them to have sex with more women.

  • Female orgasm: the tool of mixed strategy

Says Buss:

Orgasms may facilitate a mating strategy of getting the best of both worlds: investment from one man and good genes from another man.

And about men, in general:

Men have evolved a powerful desire for sexual access to a variety of women

Read more in “Sex at Dawn” and:

Men Whores & Whores: Socio Sexual Orientations

Both men and women have a whole repertoire of mating strategies which are also context-dependent.

However, there do exist somewhat stable individual differences sometimes called “socio-sexual orientations”.
In simple terms: some men and some women are more likely to engage in easy sex and cheat more.

For more read:

Men Want More Casual Sex Than Women

There is plenty of evidence that men seek casual sex more than women do.


  • Sexual fantasies: women rarely change sexual partner, men most often do
  • Men sometimes devalue the partner after sex (more common in men seeking short term strategy)
  • Prostitution catering to men
  • Pornography mostly catering to men
  • Women’s fantasies focus more on feelings (57%) than men (19%)
  • Men seek extramarital affairs more often (and commit more extramarital affairs)
  • Men rarely have hookup sexual regrets, women do so more often
  • Following hookups women are more likely to want a relationship, men are more likely to want more hookups

These are general trends, of course, and men and women can sometimes act opposite of their gender average.
But, on average, that’s how it goes among humans.

Says Buss:

The human female is much less interested in a variety of partner.

Biologically and from a “selfish gene” perspective, that makes a lot of sense since women have much less to gain from a variety of sexual partners than men do.

Women advantages in casual sex

What are the benefits for women in casual sex?

They include:

  • Access to resources

This is true even today, when women value four characteristics in short term mates: spending lots of money in the beginning, giving gifts from the beginning, extravagant lifestyle, and being generous with the resources.
Also read “Ho Tactics” and “A Gold Digger’s Guide“.

  • Evaluate potential husbands

Short term for women must not remain short term.
What can start as a quick fling, some women can turn into a long one. If that’s the case, women seek the same qualities in short-term mates for long-term ones, and devalue a man for focusing too strongly on a short-term strategy.

  • Enlarging the support network

Short-term mates can provide support and protection.

  • “Back-ups” and potential replacement

A lover can provide a potential replacement in case the official husband dies, deserts or loses social status.
In these cases, women might even be OK going for lower quality men than their husbands.

  • Mixed strategy: superior genes

A woman might get better genes from casual sex on the side and have another man provide for the children.
In this case, she would go for a higher quality man than her husband. Women indeed are more exacting for physical attractiveness when it comes to short-term dating.

Buss surprisingly doesn’t add, so I add it my own:

  • The pleasure of sex / relationship

I don’t see why the pleasure of sex shouldn’t be an important criterion for women to engage in casual sex or extramarital sex.
Same goes for a committed relationship going stale, with the new one possibly being more emotionally satisfying and having better chemistry.

Costs of Short Term Mating

All sexual strategies have possible advantages and possible costs.
For casual sex and extramarital sex the possible costs:

  • Sexual transmitted diseases
  • Developing a reputation of “easy woman”
  • Developing a reputation for a man who never invests
  • Payback / revenge from official mate
  • Withdrawal of resources from official mate
  • Carrying unneeded risks with sperm that will not lead to a child
  • Break current bond with heavy costs for existing children

As Geoffrey Miller said:

One healthy child is worth 10 sexy liasons in the bushes

Finally, the overall wealth of a nation and its social safety nets can also increase cheating because they lower the costs of breaking up, which is especially for women.
And some other legal systems can increase the benefits of breaking up, think for example a husband getting rich and the wife being able to demand half of it.

Tactics for casual sex: display of wealth works

Surprisingly, immediate displays of wealth are more effective to attract short-term mates than long-term ones.

  • Bravado / display of confidence

Confidence works both long and short term, but anything looking macho or bravado can become a drawback for long term and is high risk (including any super overt approach like half-naked bodies, dick pics, very direct openers, etc.)

  • Generosity of resources

Generosity of resources, days Buss, is critical in both short-term and long-term dating.

  • Good/expensive clothes

Good and/or expensive clothes also work in both long and short term.

  • Satellite strategy

The satellite strategy is simple: you don’t need to be the richest, most handsome, highest social status man in the club.
You only need to be right next to him.

Finally, displaying fake long-term traits and feigning openness to a relationship can also help to rack up many short term lovers.

Also read:

And for an overview of manipulation:

Tactics for long-term dating

Among the effective tactics for long term:

  • Persistence
  • Kindness

Leaving large tips, for example, shows both kindness and availability of resources.
Showing liking for children and animals also works.

  • Investment
  • Displaying commitment
  • Loyalty and fidelity
  • Openness and honesty
  • Demonstrations of love

My Note:
Some of these techniques work if the two are of around the same value or if she perceives him as being an overall “not so bad option”. Otherwise, they only look desperate and/or stalke-y and further decrease his appeal.

Mate Poaching

Attractive mates are always in short supply, making mate poaching a real strategy to acquire mates.

People who acquire highly sought-after mates tend to guard them attentively, and whenever they are single they tend to be quickly removed from the dating pool.

For each age bracket in monogamous societies, shortages get more and more severe as time passes by, while in polygynous societies female mates are scooped up right after puberty. 

In such a dire dating environment, mate poaching is often the only real solution. 

All the techniques and traits discussed so far are equally effective in mate poaching, with the addition of:

  • Temporal invasion: changing schedule to be more often around the target, especially when the current partner is not there
  • Driving a wedge: boosting the target self-esteem, indirectly derogating the official partner 

On average, men’s jealousy is mostly sexual and mostly targeted to men who have status and resources.
Female jealousy is mostly about feelings and the risk of losing his investment, and it’s targeted to sexually attractive females.

Men tend to guard their mates more closely, while women tend to be more focused on the competition.

Techniques to keep one’s partner

Some techniques to keep one’s partner include:

  • Jealousy and triangulation
  • Aggression towards potential suitors 
  • Making them feel guilty
  • Condescension: it lowers a partner’s self-esteem and sexual value self-assessment (men do it twice more often)
  • Submission and self-abasement as emotional manipulation (men do it 25% more than women do)
  • Concealing the mate
  • Public signals of possession (rings, holding hands, kissing, etc.)
  • Threats / violence / punishment / abuse

Crazy as it may sound, Yamamano women regard husband’s abuse as a sign of their love.
This is something Casanova also noticed in Russian women -and he obliged to the custom-.

Also read:

The High-Quality Way to Keep One’s Partner

A greatly effective defense against mate poaching is remaining a high-quality mate, meeting the partner’s needs, and developing a strong bond and happy relationship (especially for men).

Enhancing and keeping their beauty is also an obviously effective technique for women since men value beauty both in their partner and for social status reasons.

Also read:

Gender Differences in Keeping One’s Mate

Men tend to guard women harder when they are at their peaks of reproductive abilities.

Since men retain their reproductive abilities for longer, women over time need to invest more in the relationship.
If the man also moves along in life and earns more, then the divide might grow even bigger.

Is Rape Truly About Power?

Rapists target young and fertile women, so for sure it’s not all about power.

However, what’s interesting is that men with a high partner count and men who rate their future earning potential as high were also more likely to use force.
That invalidates the “mate deprivation theory”, such as the theory that mostly men of lower socio-economical conditions resort to rape for lack of options.

Men most likely to rape are:

  • Hostile towards women
  • Endorse the view that men secretly want to be raped
  • Impulsive, low empathy, low agreeableness, hyper-masculinity, general hostility

Mate Switching

Three events made mate-switching worthwhile:

  1. Current mate becomes less desirable
  2. Increase in one’s own value
  3. New compelling alternatives become available

Buss says that since these three scenarios were likely common during our evolution, it is reasonable to expect that humans developed psychological mechanisms to evaluate the costs and benefits of the current relationship in comparison to alternatives.

Indeed, happiness in a relationship is partly measured by one’s partner mate value and the value of alternative mates in the local environment. The decision to stay or leave the current relationship depends on these unconscious measures. 

Strategies to End Relationships

People are rarely honest about ending relationships.
And they never say their “market value” has increased or that “there are too many new valuable options”.
Instead, they:

  • Violate their mate’s expectations
  • Infidelity (either one’s own or spread rumors about the partner)
  • Stop sharing resources
  • Cruelty, unkindness, escalating arguments
  • Stop offering sex (mostly for women)
  • Telling the partner they  should start seeing other people

Ending relationships can carry costs and possible revenge, which is why people try to soften the blow. They might say, for example “it’s not you, it’s me”.
Escalating fights also provides an obvious excuse. “It doesn’t work, honey, we always fight”.
It works well, especially when they get angry, as that proves again that it’s not working.
See an example:

Instigating fights and blaming the breakup on the constant fighting is very effective

Why People Divorce

The most common reasons for divorce are, in the order:

  1. Infidelity
  2. Infertility

Most societies have stricter norms and stronger consequences for female adultery than male adultery.

Very common as well: 

  • The man fails to contribute, or to keep up

The divorce rate in the US is 50% higher when the woman earns more than the man.

Coping With Breakups

Breakups are some of the most emotionally distressful experiences.

It can carry costs via revenge, loss of social network, loss of respect for losing the relationship or for ending.

Some try to remain friends to decrease the chances the partner might seek revenge, or to maintain access to the mate’s social network.

Women are more likely to go shopping and do other activities that increase their physical attractiveness.
Some ruminate and stalk, which usually only prolongs the pain. 
Both genders sometimes seek sex with other, as one woman interviewed said: “the best way to get over a man is to get under another one”.

On average, it’s much easier for men to remarry after a breakup at an advanced age.

Women Cheat Most Towards The End of Their Reproductive Years

Some author’s assumption is that women, deploying a mixed sexual strategy, should cheat when they’re most fertile.

But in fact, women cheat the least when they’re most and last reproductive valuable.
Most affairs are clustered towards the end of their reproductive years.
The same is true for extramarital orgasms, clustering towards the end of the reproductive years.

There are several explanations fielded as to why that’s the case.
One is that the costs of straying are lower as men are less jealous of aging wives. Another one is that women might seek to get one last child, or switch mate before it’s too late.

Around Half of the Male Population Seeks Cheating Opportunities

Around half of the male population seeks some extramarital opportunities.

For those who keep moving up the social ladder, cheating opportunities often arise. 
It’s often attributed to weak ego, immaturity, or “midlife crisis”, but it’s actually a pretty normal adaptation -but that’s not to say that it’s right or fair game-.

More Wisdom

  • Sexual orientation is more flexible and fluid in women and more fixed in men, rarely changing over time. Men tend to be either strongly hetero or gay, while it’s more blurred for women
  • The ability to assess thousands of mates online sometimes paralyzes our ability to decide for “the one”
  • Humor works: men prefer women who laugh at their humor, and women prefer men who make them laugh
  • Sexual harassment depends a lot on the status of the harasser: low status men are more likely to be labeled as harassers 
  • Short term invites are more likely to be labeled as harassment than pursuits for long-term relationships
the evolution of desire book cover


A scientist cannot wish away unpleasant findings

On female choice shaping men:

Men are one long breeding experiment, run by women

On beauty being in the eye of the beholder:

Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder, but those eyes have been shaped by millions of years of evolution

On mate switching:

Those who stick through thick and thin with an undesirable mate might receive our admiration, but their kind didn’t reproduce as successfully and are not well represented among us today.

On desirable people:

Desirable people are always outnumbered by those who desire them.


  • Too resource-centered?

Somewhat I feel that David Buss’ analysis of the sexual marketplace ends up being too resource-centered. 

And by this I don’t mean that resources are not important, they obviously are. 

But genes quality is equally important and, most of all, the two are not mutually exclusive.
As a matter of fact, the two things are also heavily interlinked: the ability to acquire resources correlates well with genes’ quality.
Buss mentions it, but I felt it was too small a note on such an important aspect of the sexual marketplace.

  • I don’t buy the “protection hypothesis”

Buss says that women sought tall, fit, and resource-rich men because of the protection they could afford, and because of the protection of the household resources.

Again, we go back to the “resource-centered” view.

I’m not convinced by the protection argument.
Sure, it might be part of it, but I don’t think it’s the main reason.
Strong men are also better batterers and there is no amount of strength that will keep wild animals or organized incursions from another tribe. Or even from even a fraction of one’s own tribe, for that matter.

  • Women want similar men so that they keep providing

Buss says that women sought men who were similar because that guarantees a longer-lasting bond and a longer period of male provisioning.

This is quite a jump in the dark to make and, again, it’s very resource-centric.

  • Sometimes paints women as too conservative?

The author says that “for most women, sex after just one hour is a virtual impossibility”.
Well, I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. Especially for lower quality women.

  • Some of the data in “what works” was questionnaire-based

Some of the data on what works to attract mates was based on questionnaires on what people reported would be effective on them and/or what they would use themselves.
There are obviously some major drawbacks of questionnaires.

  • Sometimes seems slightly stuck into “monogamy mode”

The author says that “it would pay for both men and women not to wait until their mate’s death to start evaluating other alternatives”.

That sentence seems to suggest our evolution was mostly monogamous. Other sources suggest relationships tended to be much shorter, and somehow I am also skeptical about these “super long term” relationships.

  • Denial of male “united front” to keep power against women

The author says that the leftist and feminist accusations of men trying to hold to the reins of power cannot be true because men are also stacked against other men.
This is a common stance among many evolutionary psychologists, and I wholly disagree here.
Of course men -or a majority of men to be precise, not all- have much to gain by keeping women away from power and resources.

Of course, men are also pitched against other men. And so are women. But that doesn’t deny the fact that genders can band together to offer a bigger win to most of their members.
Just like unions do.

  • Sometimes I wished it presented the discordant evidence for some of the proposed theories

Unluckily, some of the biggest names in modern evolutionary psychology, including Steven Pinker, seem to have gone too far with the denial of cultural importance.

But culture does also matter.
For example, how would Buss explain that most German men consider emotional betrayal more painful than sexual one? 
Could it be that attitudes towards sex, such as open and liberal attitudes do impact how men and women view sex, including cheating? 

It sure seems it does… 

That does not constitute a rebuttal of Buss own findings. And, in my opinion, it remains possible, and maybe even likely, that overall men still fear sexual betrayal more than women. 
But it’s not all nature, and culture plays a role (and, as well, sexual experience plays a role, in my opinion).


“The Evolution of Desire” is a monumental work on sexual dynamics and sexual power dynamics.

As a matter of fact, it’s the best analysis of sexual dynamics I have read so far.

Check out the:

Or get the book on Amazon

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