The Sexual Marketplace: Overview of Intersexual Dynamics

SMP intersexual power dynamics chart

To understand dating and sexual dynamics, you need to understand the sexual marketplace.

Let’s start with a quick definition.
The dictionary of power definitions defines the sexual marketplace as:

The sexual marketplace (SMP) encompasses everyone looking for sex or relationship and who can realistically meet or interact with each other.
In the SMP people offer their sexual value (offer), compete with other members of the same gender, and seek and assess the sexual market value of potential mates from the opposite gender (demand).

While sexual marketplace dynamics are more the theory of dating, this is the type of theory that provides the foundation to better understand and internalize the tactics and strategies.
When you understand the forces, needs, and drives that govern the sexual marketplace, you also increase your mating IQ.
And a higher mating IQ helps you to:

  1. Be a better and more strategic dater
  2. Assess your partners better
  3. Be a better leader of relationships
couple sitting by a table
People enter the SMP to date, and dating is a way to assess each other’s SMV

So let’s start:

It’s A Negotiation

Not long ago the sexual market place concept may have been “fringe”.

After all, an approach based on self-interest, power, and calculative negotiations offers a rather bleak portrait of human nature.

However, it’s also mostly true.
And it’s becoming more accepted.

So much so, that the latest APA Handbook of relationships clearly describes dating as a negotiation:

Both sexes would be most happy with a partner who is high on all desirable dimensions—physically attractive, wealthy, charming, agreeable, and so on (Fletcher, Simpson, Thomas, & Giles, 1999). However, most people are not in a position to attract a partner who is perfect in every way, so they must compromise and make trade-offs. When forced to compromise in choosing a long-term partner, men and women make very different choices. Women prioritize social status and give up good looks

The APA Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 3: Interpersonal Relations

So now that you know that this is a valid model, let’s learn it better.

Sexual Marketplace 101

The basis of most dating power dynamics and gender differences comes down to three evolutionary facts:

  1. Women produce fewer eggs, while sperm is abundant (anisogamy): the female sex cell is larger, more costly, and “rarer”. Male sex cells -sperm- are easier to produce and more abundant.
    Meaning: Women are worth “more” than men when it comes to reproducing
  2. Women invest more time and resources in reproduction, at higher risks (female internal gestation): women are also more vulnerable and have higher nutritional needs during pregnancy.
    Meaning: Women learned to want, seek, and secure supportive men
  3. Women invest more time and resources in child-reading (breast-feeding): on average, babies need mothers for survival but can survive without fathers. That has eventually and likely led to women also developing more feelings and connections with the children
    Meaning: women are worth more when it comes to both reproducing and nurturing future generations

Evolution rewarded those who had the most surviving and reproducing children.
Evolution, working on the above biological differences, led to the following gender differences:

  1. Women are more careful and risk-averse: a reproductive mistake or an unsuccessful child is costlier to a woman than to a woman. That makes women generally more cautious around dating and sex -for example, waiting longer for sex
  2. Women are pickier: since women stand more to lose from mating with the wrong man, they tend to be choosier in their partner selection
  3. Women invest more in children: each child means more to a woman than to a man, so women tend to be more protective and nurturing towards their children

Because of these biological differences, on average: men are always ready and willing to have sex, while women are more careful and pickier.

This is one of the most fundamental laws that govern the sexual marketplace.

1. Men Are the Offer, Women Choose

On average:

  • Men are the offer: because men are generally more willing to add a sex partner, men are the offer
  • Women are the demand: because women are generally more risk averse and stand more to lose, they are pickier and scout and test the offer before choosing

Sexual marketplaces vary in time and place. But because of the biological underpinnings, sexual marketplaces tend to be buyers’ markets, favoring women (with many important exceptions, of course).

So over the whole population, on average, women have more power in dating (heads up for the empowered men reading here: you don’t have to care about the whole population! You’re an individual and you can always buck the trend).

The comedian Bill Maher put it nicely in one of his stand-up jokes:

For a man to walk into a bar and have his choice of any woman he wants, he would have to be the ruler of the world. A woman who wants the same power, does her hair and puts makeup

In other words: when it comes to short-term dating, any reasonably attractive woman has more or less the same power as the (male) ruler of the world.

2. Female Beauty Confers Huge Power -& Determines Her Sexual Mores-

Women are better served pairing up with a high-quality man than by sleeping around with lots of guys.

So more beautiful women are more able to secure high-quality men and, generally speaking, prefer securing a relationship with them.
Hence, more beautiful women are more often in relationships than less beautiful ones.

monica bellucci in Malena
Beautiful women command lots of power and are better served to find a high-quality provider

Higher SMV Women Have More Relationships

Women’s overall value impacts their dating choices and behavior.

Less attractive women have fewer chances of securing high-quality men. So they may lower their standards and be more willing to engage in short-term sex.

Obviously, they’d also prefer sleeping with high-quality men.
And since men are more willing to go for quantity, they may be able to get a short-term fling with a man who is generally higher quality than they are.

For the same reason, less attractive women might also pursue a quantitative strategy, such as giving birth to more children with comparatively less providing.
It’s rare indeed to see a very beautiful single mother and single mothers seem to cluster in the lower rungs of society.

3. But There Are Limits to Beautiful Women’s Dating Power

So, women have power, and men just parade and hope to get picked?

Well, no.
Here is another rule of the sexual marketplace: general rules are poor at explaining the dynamics of the sexual marketplace. The general rules most often apply to the middle of the bell curve for average men within normal distribution environments.

But where selection really gets interesting -and where there are most rewards to be reaped- is at the extremes.
Taking sexual market value as an example, and to simplify:

SMP intersexual power dynamics chart

More exceptions and contingencies to the general rule of female power in the SMP:

  1. Dating is not only short-term, and men also get pickier for long-term
  2. Women don’t want any man but truly crave higher-quality men
  3. Female dating power is highly dependent on age and looks

Finally, the most powerful players in the sexual marketplace are the very top men.

4. … And Top Men Have Top Power

At the very top, men have so much power, status, and resources that they can attract and take care of many women -together with their children—more than any other average man could.

The women know it, and they all queue up.
When those guys are also attractive or have overall high fitness, they are the complete package. And women queue up even more.

At the top of the pyramid, power, status, and resources matter more than looks in terms of his power to sleep with lots of new women, especially in the ancestral environment in which we developed.
But if you think about it, it’s also true today.
If it were a race for more casual sex, few male models could beat an average-looking tycoon.
And that’s even more true with fame and celebrity status.

Remember the difference in reproductive effort that, on average, gave more power to women in dating?

Well, at the very top, since men don’t have to wait more than a year to reproduce again, the power dynamics invert, and anisogamy also gives power to men from a genetic point of view.

The evolutionary proof that top men have more power than top women is in the babies.
Very powerful men tend to have more sons than daughters.

5. Women Want Money & Commitment (MPI Theory)

Male parental investment is crucial to understanding human dating.

In simple terms:

Parental investment, first theorized by Robert Trivers, defines how much parents invest in their offspring. Male parental investment (MPI) defines how much the males of a particular species invest in their offspring.

Human males are relatively high in parental investment compared to many other species in the animal kingdom. But they are not nearly as high as human females. Such as: men don’t invest in their children nearly as much as women do, but they do invest quite a bit.

For clarity, when we talk about “investment” in humans we refer to generally sticking around and helping each other, both emotionally, financially, and with daily actions.

So, how does male parental investment affect sexual dynamics?

In nature, the females of species who cannot expect any help from their male counterparts (ie.: no male parental investment) only mate based on male genetic qualities (fitness) as displayed by certain fitness indicators (ie.: looks, plumage color, physique, dancing prowess, and any other symbol that the particular species developed as fitness indicator).

Meaning: that when females cannot get any help to raise offspring, men bring only themselves to the table (no future help or resources), and females mate based on attraction.

Conversely, when women can get resources they will also look and screen for resources (and their availability to them).

In humans, most women can secure support for child-rearing -or, at least, the promise of it-. So, when women are choosing long-term relationships and, even more, starting a family, they will also want men who will help and support them (with child-rearing and household finances). And they will tend to discard those who are not able or willing to invest anything (that is not necessarily to say that the man who helps and supports them is the biological father of her children, though).

This is especially true for high-quality women. High-quality women can more easily pick and choose among several men who are willing to help with child-rearing (men get in exchange a high-quality partner, good genes, and a social status boost).

man with flower
Flowers and gifts are a sign of his willingness to commit and provide

6. Women Want Commitment & Devotion (Future Signaling Theory)

Sure, the man having resources is good and nice.

But it’s not enough.

Women also seek signs that he will make those resources available to her.

How does she do it? Commitment is one way.

In part, commitment is the measure to which a man promises to make his resources available to her.

And of course, she wants to see “proof” that the commitment is true and not just verbal. Enter gifts, dinners, wining, and dining, picking her up, investing time in her, etc., etc.

Some evolutionary psychologists say that feelings developed as a way to make men stick to a woman to help raise the children. And that’s why many women also want to see “proof of love” to make sure that he will stick around and help.

We can also speculate that women evolved a set of tools and behaviors apt at controlling their relationships so that they could more easily control men, together with their support and resources.
Check out this article for that:

Female Domestication: How Women Control Men & Relationships

Sexual Market Place Power Dynamics

Alright, let’s get into some proper sexual power-dynamics now.

We will quickly review a typical date progression and analyze where the power lies:

1. Before Sex, She Has More Power

Sex is a huge milestone in any budding relationship.

Be it short-term or long-term, before sex, women have power.
If he is spending time with her outside of obvious friendships and professional partnerships, it’s almost a given he would like sex with her.

This holds true, on average, even in the case of high-quality couples.
Sure the woman is excited around him and might really want him, including sexually. But she still has the power of denying and is still holding the most important card: sex.
This is why men must always be careful, and smooth, in the lead-up to sex, no matter their SMV. Indeed, a botched-up escalation is often taken as evidence of a much lower SMV.

How the man acts to being rebuffed is also important
See here an example of smooth handling of a rejection:

“No problem”, perfect tonality to handle rejections like a boss

2. After Sex, He Has More Power (& She Needs to Chase Commitment)

As we have seen, human males are often happy and willing to “nest up” and stick around.

But still, not all men commit and stick around.
And when they don’t, it could be disastrous for her.

That’s why while men seek sex, it’s usually women who care more about commitment.
Especially after sex.
Because when sex begins, the woman is more and more at risk of getting pregnant. And if she hasn’t secured his commitment by then, that could be a costly mistake for her.

Of course, some men do chase for commitment.
But that’s not ideal from a power dynamics point of view.
When men enter a relationship after chasing commitment, they lose all their power and enter the relationship as the needier party.
They cannot maintain the initial attraction, she loses respect, and it’s bad for all.

3. After Commitment, She Has More Power

After commitment, it should hopefully be more about teamwork than power.

But still, we are analyzing power dynamics here, and the question of “how has more power after commitment” has a definite answer: she sees a power resurgence.


Think about it: who gains more with commitment?
The woman.
Sure, he also gains much with commitment, including exclusive access to her reproductive system. But while a man maximizes his potential with lots of casual sex, a woman is better served to raise children with the help of a committed partner.

And that’s why commitment is more of a win for women.
The woman has no higher upside potential than a commitment to a high-quality man. But a man has a much higher potential for outside commitment.
That’s why, with commitment, the man is giving more and the woman is taking more.
In some cases, men sub-communicate with a commitment that she is worth more than him, and commitment serves to make up the difference.

Purely from a mathematical point of view, as we saw, she is worth more than him because his reproductive contribution is cheap, while hers is high-maintenance.

Still, a man might still be better served by letting her go after the commitment.

man proposes to woman
He proposes and professes endless love… And gives away all his power

4. After Children, He Has More Power

After the children are born, the man has more power.

Because the woman is more invested in the child.
Because since women invest more in children and can have fewer children in their lifespan, a child is worth more to the mother. Furthermore, a child needs the mother to survive but doesn’t need the father.

That means that the father could walk away and the mother would still have to take care of the child… On her own.
So right after the child is born, women need male help and provide more than the man needs the woman.

Ironically, it’s the mother’s greater commitment that allows the father to potentially neglect the children even more.
Breaking up with young children is the ultimate game of chicken, and it’s usually the woman who swerves first because, if she didn’t, the child would die.

A completely amoral man could abandon a woman when she needs him the most and seek another woman to impregnate, having his cake and eating it too -from a genetical point of view-.

Most modern nations have instituted laws and regulations to force men to at least provide financial support to children.

For more, see:

Relationship Power Dynamics 101

Bargaining in the Sexual Marketplace

Remember the social exchange?

Well, it’s the same here.
Imagine dating as a big exchange.

And as we have seen in the sexual market value overview, there is a plethora of traits that people seek and exchange.
Especially for men, those traits are many and varied, often with only a tiny limited overlap among each other.

This means men need to master more areas of their lives to reach their full potential.
But that also gives men more freedom and more potential for power because they can make up for one trait’s lack with another trait’s abundance.

1. Value Exchanges In The Sexual MarketPlace

The rule of thumb:

People tend to pair up around the same overall value.

That’s why self-development is crucial to sexual success.

The self-assessment of one’s own sexual market value is a mix of self-esteem, confidence, sexual marketplace feedback, past sexual success (or lack thereof), and of course, temporal and environmental variables (ie.: the competition and normal mood swings).

Of course, the assessment varies somewhat but, overall, people tend to have a relatively good grasp of their value and an unconscious idea of what they can realistically “get”.
Porper value targeting and matching helps reduce rejection and wasting time on unobtainable mates. But it’s also important to the health of the relationships, and since the health of the relationship is also important to make and grow healthy children, it does make sense to target people who are going to be happy with us.

However, partnering up with the same overall value is not the same as “being similar”.
Most couples do end up looking similar, that’s true, but most couples look similar only because most people are not excellent in any single trait.

Enter what the “disassortative bartering” is.

2. Couples Match Total Value (Disassortative Bartering)

Because the sexual marketplace matches different intra-gender needs and wants, it’s very possible to end up with very different couples.


With disassortative bartering.

The general rule is that the more value you have, the more you can ask back.
But since there are different traits that are being exchanged, a subset rule is that the more of a certain type of value you have, the less you can give in a different type of value.

Biologists for example report that in some species of birds more attractive males work less and care less about the children.


It’s because a huge amount of value in one trait (physical appearance) allows those birds to give less -or nothing- in another trait (caring and support).
But the couple still forms because she is still getting enough total value.

3. Sexual Bartering in Humans

The same is true in humans.

Since the currencies that both sexes appreciate are different, you can get couples who look much different.

For example:

  • The young woman who’s trading her looks and reproductive years for his resources
  • An unattractive but powerful smart man pairing up with an attractive woman
  • Handsome black man pairing up with an overweight white woman

These exchanges are perfectly valid because, albeit uneven on a specific currency, they still match up on the total value.
Or so at least think people who enter those relationships.

The only ones who complain, of course, are more average people who are not very valuable in any specific currency.
So instead of looking at themselves –or, mind you, to the obvious fact that the couple was happy enough to enter into a relationship-, they prefer finger-pointing and acting “offended” and “scandalized”.

For anyone who wants to see, disassortative bartering is everywhere.
Women demand higher income to date races they don’t like, billionaires marry young women (Pollet et. al., 2013) and psychopaths court older women to monopolize their finances (Brown, 2009).

hugh heffner mit girlfriends
Power allows for the bargaining sex in exchange for opportunities

Relationship Structures & Power Dynamics

Culture and environment have huge impacts on dating power dynamics.

For example, in environments with scarce resources, for a woman, it’s better to be the 10th wife of a king than the only wife of a struggling peasant.

What does it all mean in terms of power and dating?

It means that polygyny -many wives for each man- is best for women in environments with scarce resources.
And it means that strict monogamy reduces the power of highly attractive and successful men.

Because that super top guy could otherwise freely and openly have his own harem.

Conversely, monogamy increases the power of attractive women because there will be lots of pressure on their highly successful male counterparts to commit to her (plus the legal system helps her in case of separation).

Monogamy is also good for average men because average women will spend less time eyeing high-quality men who, on average, end up with high-quality women (instead of banging and providing for several women).

Monogamy is better for poorer and generally lower-value men. But low-value men fare poorly in almost any relationship system.

Many Western societies are not monogamous anymore. Not even on paper. Some authors defined Western society as “serial monogamy”, or “soft polygyny”.
There is also plenty of room for men living in big cities to be fully polygynous (whether that’s polyamorous, such as with the consent of all, or hidden).


The sexual marketplace follows many of the economic rules of supply and demand, with operators trying to get the best deal for themselves.

This post gave you a quick overview of some of the most fundamental rules that govern the sexual marketplace.

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