Chapter 15: Flowers look different through different eyes

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

各花入各眼
gè huā rù gè yǎn

The previous chapter explained the importance of physical attractiveness in mate selec­tion.[1] It argued that men were seeking beauty for purely reproductive reasons, as it consti­tutes the strongest and most obvious visual markers of fecundity. Hence, the male brain is pro­gram­med to recognise and pick out the healthiest and most fertile mates, those most like­ly to produce the fittest children. As such, this preference for pretty women is the result of thou­sands of years of evolution and therefore should be considered as innate to all humans. According to this explanation, shapes, faces, smells, and ages of the mates people choose are apparently influenced by patterns set millennia ago, which makes them much more pre­dicta­ble than one would think.[2] Now, this represents quite a contradiction to the truism that beauty is an entirely subjective concept. Thus, the purpose of this chapter is to question the common view that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and to introduce the notion that beauty is not as arbitrary as it seems. It also explores whether there might be some objective criteria with which beauty can be measured, or least made explicit. Stated differently, the next few pages will attempt to elucidate why we find some physical charac­teristics graceful and others ugly.

When looking at the idea of “physical attractiveness”, one notices that it also includes a strong sexual component, i.e., that it is a lot about oomph and desirability. For Allan and Barbara Pease, beauty and sex appeal are basically the same, with the word beautiful signifying “sexually stimulating”. Beauty has the simple purpose of ensuring that people (possibly of opposite sexes) are attracted to one another so that they can procreate. So if somebody finds a person pretty, it means nothing else than that he wants to have sex with her, of course only from a biological perspective. A man will then consider a woman as attractive if she displays a number of qualities indicating that she will help him to success­fully pass his chromosomes to the next generation. Similarly, a man will be deemed attractive to a woman if his looks suggest that he can provide food and safety for herself and her chil­dren.[3] By the way, this does not only apply to animals but also to other living organisms. In particular, flowers are beautiful because they have to stand out in the meadow. Through their appearance, they communicate information about themselves to insects and animals around them, disclosing their growth stage and what kind of nutrition they can offer.[4]

One would be tempted to think that uniquely beautiful people have more chances to be cho­sen as mates because their extraordinary, or rare, features make them more attractive. Preci­sely not. When sexual creatures are looking for a partner, they actually prefer that mate not to sport any unusual, peculiar or otherwise deviant attributes, for fear that these could be due to mutations – thereby proving that humans are not the only ones to be scared of X-Men or of X-Beings in general. In fact, they are rather drawn to those individuals possessing predominantly com­mon or conventional features.[5] This strategy, called “koinophilia” (a com­bi­nation of the Greek terms koinos, i.e., “the usual” or “common”, and philos, i.e., “fondness” or “love”), allows organisms to ensure that their offspring will inherit a set of exhaustively tried and tested characteristics, and will, therefore, be right more often than it will be wrong. “Averageness” as an indicator of physical of beauty was originally disco­vered by Francis Galton in the 1870s, a half-cousin of Charles Darwin, who while trying to generate a prototypical criminal face, came across the idea to overlay photographic images of several faces. He then found out that the composite portrait became increasingly attrac­tive with the addition of each new face, getting closer and closer to the “ideal” image. More than 100 years later, Judith Langlois and her colleagues came to the same conclusion using computer generated face averaging tests: Not only is the average of two human faces rated more favourably than either of the individual faces involved; the more faces (of the same gender and age) are included in the averaging process, the more appealing the resulting average face is perceived.[6] It is also this insight that inspired famed psychologist Robert Sternberg to exquisitely describe attractiveness as “a kind of golden mean of the faces we have seen”.[7]


Notes

[1]    See chapter 14 “Fair lady is what gentleman seeks”.

[2]    Brizendine (2006), pp. 59, 63

[3]    See chapter 17 “Finding a good job is nothing compared to finding a good husband”.

[4]    Pease / Pease (2002). pp. 195-196

[5]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Averageness

[6]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koinophilia

[7]    Sternberg (1998), p. 107

Chapter 14: Fair lady is what gentleman seeks – Part 4

Women, conversely, rarely bring up physical appearance as paramount in their ideal partner, at least not explicitly. It may be desirable for them, but certainly not very important. That being said, it is worthwhile to remark that female attractiveness does not only matter in the context of sexual selection, but it is also becoming increasingly important as a way to assert oneself in society at large. For instance, it has been established that both men and women con­si­der good-looking people as smarter, friendly and competent, and are more likely to want to get to know them better than it is the case for less attractive people.[1] Likewise, attrac­tive people are automatically and unconsciously ascribed positive traits such as honesty, intelligence, kindness and talent. It might be politically correct to deny that attracti­veness affects our decisions, but, whether we like it or not, there is evidence that the brain is programmed to respond to the physical appearance of others. This can also have positive sides since it is relatively easy to alter (that is, improve) some of the factors influencing our looks.[2]

And this is precisely what millions of women are doing every day when they dress up, fix their hair, go on a diet, take aerobic or yoga classes, and so on. These rituals and habits reflect women’s motivation to do whatever is necessary to appear young, healthy, and fertile in order to attract men. As their reproductive value sharply declines over the years and given that they cannot falsify their age, they have evolved the mastery of all kinds of decep­tive tactics and visual aids to manipulate their appearance. So if an older woman wants to stay in the mating game, she needs to keep herself looking attractive, in particular by re-creating the markers of a younger, childbearing miss. The possibilities to get there are mani­fold, and may involve the use of make-up (for example, mascara to make eyes look wider, lipstick to enlarge the lips, shades of red to imitate blood flow in the cheeks, face powder to even out the skin, etc.), hair care products (namely shampoos and conditioners to achieve lus­trous hair, bleaching or dying to emulate higher oestrogen levels, etc.), plastic surgery (e.g., collagen injections to smooth and plump the skin, face lifting to eliminate lines and wrinkles, breast implants to enlarge their bosoms, liposuctions to recreate a cur­vaceous bust and hips, etc.), or clothing (for instance wearing dark colours or vertical stripes to appear thin­ner, padding to look more full-figured, high heels to fake tallness and lean­ness, etc.).[3],[4]

The reason these strategies often turn out successful is that they work on the preferences engra­ved into male brains. It does not necessarily mean that ladies enjoy taking care of them­­selves in such ways, which, after all, costs a lot of time, money and effort and may inflict a fair deal of physical suffering. In fact, they do not really have any choice but to fight this battle against physical and aesthetic decline. Con­sciously or subconsciously, women understand what the opposite sex is looking for, and are aware that whoever fails to fulfil these qualities of youthfulness and healthfulness loses her competitive edge.[5] Thus, when women claim that they do all these things “to feel better about themselves”, a lot of them actually mean that “they feel better about themselves because men are more attracted to them”, as they instinctively know that it increases the odds of getting what they want.[6]

Related proverbs and citations:

爱江山,更爱美人

ài jiāng shān gèng ài mĕi rén

Love nation, but love woman more.

Preferring beauty over power.

女房と畳は新しいほうがよい (Japanese)

nyōbō to tatami wa atarashii hō ga yoi

Wives and tatami mats are better when new.


Notes

[1]    Kramer / Dunaway (1990), p. 94

[2]    Pease / Pease (2002), p. 197

[3]    Pease / Pease (2009), pp. 92-93

[4]    Townsend (1998), p. 117

[5]    Buss (2003), pp. 110

[6]    Pease / Pease (2009), pp. 95, 229

Chapter 14: Fair lady is what gentleman seeks

窈窕淑女,君子好逑
yǎo tiǎo shū nǚ, jūn zǐ hào qiú

The following section deals with one of the most fundamental questions in the relationship between males and females, one that regularly causes arguments, frustration, and resentment on both sides – namely the question of why men insist so much on beauty and youth when selecting their girlfriend or wife. This chapter and the following few ones will focus on the des­cription of the characteristics and attributes that human beings expect from prospective mating partners, covering the perspectives of both men and women.[1] The discussion shall also provide justification for people’s behaviour in this regard, which sometimes may be interpreted as unfair, shallow or materialistic – in particular for those that cannot meet the criteria or otherwise feel rejected.

In their natural tendency to seek females who are younger than them and to place greater emphasis on physical beauty,[2] men do not behave any different than their ancestors. Like­wise, if women are more likely to favour older males with higher earning potential and higher status, they are following exactly the same pattern as their foremothers. In terms of sexual urges and drives, nothing has really changed over the last hundreds of thousands of years: Men are still drawn to young, pretty females, while women are still attracted to males with resources, i.e., goods, property, or money. However, this has nothing to do with super­ficiality, sex stereotyping or the skin-deep objectification of women, as many people, espe­cially feminists, often complain. Instead, “the reality is that men’s preferences evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, are hardwired into the brain, and have hardly changed. The fact that men’s preferences are based on physical beauty and youth has been necessary for the successful genetic advancement of the human race. […] To suppress their existence or deny that these preferences are real is like being angry at the weather because it’s raining or being upset that carnivorous animals prefer meat to a vegetarian diet.”[3]

By looking for youth, fertility, and health in a mate, men are doing nothing more than uncons­ciously discerning the signs that a woman could carry his genes forward. Such choi­ces are innate, as evolution has, generation after generation, favoured males who tend to select attractive mates on the one hand, and females who pick out partners with wealth, power and status on the other. Without the heritage received from our forebears who learned, over millions of years, how to propagate their genes, we would be unable to make out the fittest mates, those most likely to produce healthy offspring and those whose resour­ces and com­mit­ment can help our children survive.[4] Biologically speaking, a man consi­ders women as “vehicles that can transfer his genes into the next generation”, while for a woman, men are “sources of a vital substance (sperm) that can turn their eggs into embryos”. Seen from this perspective, the other gender is no more than a sought-after resource to be exploited.[5]


Notes

[1]  This proverb is extracted from the Classic of Poetry, also known as the Book of Songs, or the Book of Odes (诗经, shī jīng). Comprising more than 305 works dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC, it constitutes the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry. As one of the Five Classics (see also chapter 10, “A melon forced off its vine is not sweet”), it is said to have been compiled by Confucius himself. In the poem Guan Ju (section Lessons from the States, Odes Of Zhou And The South, 国风 周南 关雎, guó fēng zhōu nán guān jū), the first verses read:

关关雎鸠、在河之洲。(guān guān jū jiū, zài hé zhī zhōu)

窈窕淑女、君子好逑。(yǎo tiǎo shū nǚ, jūn zi hào qiú)

Guan-guan go the ospreys,

On the islet in the river.

The modest, retiring, virtuous, young lady,

For our prince a good mate she.

See: http://ctext.org/book-of-poetry/guan-ju/ens

[2]    See chapter 5 “Old cows like tender grass”.

[3]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 75

[4]    Brizendine (2006), p. 59

[5]    Ridley (1993), p. 174

Chapter 5: Old cows like tender grass – Part 3

The exceptional value of virginity notwithstanding, it is also fair to mention that (future) copulation itself is often used as a medium of exchange. While the object of bartering was a piece of meat or physical protection against wild animals ten thousand years ago, it could be a film role, a job, a sales deal, or better final grades today. Although not too many people will easily admit it, it is an unwritten law (in Chinese: 潜规则, qián guī zé) that men lure women with the offer of resources, and women lure men with the offer of sex. As long as there are enough supply and demand to regulate the market, this kind of commerce will remain common practice in most societies. Yet it shall be noticed that the actual transaction does not always take place. Rather, the mere promise of such a favour is often enough to entice one’s vis-à-vis into a desired state or action. As part of the courting process, some men will boast that they are rich and willing to share their wealth with their target if only the latter accepts to go to bed with them. But once she has succumbed to his advances, a rake will just drop her like a hot potato and soon look for greener pastures.[1] Most women are easy prey and will quickly fall into the trap because the blackmail “if you do not want to have sex with me, someone else will” is so compelling, even in today’s world of security and affluence.

But this does not mean that females have no leverage against this form of emotional or sexual coercion. On the contrary, those who understand the “equation of sex for money”[2] and are able to solve it by themselves can also deliberately employ it for their own pur­poses. Given males’ noticeable interest in uncommitted sex, many girls quickly get the hang of the ruse that all it takes to suck a man in is to suck that man. In many cases, the simple promise of pleasure (without the actual delivery) is enough for women to be presented with resources and other benefits, for example, a drink at a bar, a dinner, a promotion, and so on. Indeed, womankind is equally capable of deceit and manipulation, specifically by using sexual wiles, such as their youth, resplendence, or charm – just as the lyric goes:

If ladies be but young and fair,

They have the gift to know it.

William Shakespeare, As You Like It

What is remarkable here, and quite a contraction to the traditional image of female demu­reness is that some of these ladies will go so far as to provide sexual access to (particularly sought after) males with the only purpose to affirm themselves and boost their own confi­dence. The more attention and time they get from these otherwise unreachable high-flyers (rock stars, professional athletes, famous actors, etc.), the more worthwhile they will see them­selves. This time, it is not their heart or feelings that matter, nor that of their playmate’s towards them[3], but the challenge to successfully seduce a man highly in demand (and who therefore has a lot of choice in poten­tial sex partners) and the thrill to beat the rest of the women in the field. To them, inter­course is nothing else but an exercise to test their attrac­tiveness in competition with other coquettes.[4]

Unfortunately, all these aspects contribute to perpetuating the problem of the sexual objec­tification of women.[5] Under these premises, it is very difficult for them to get rid of the image of being an instrument of men’s carnal pleasure. Such practice is particularly tragic because it reduces a real person to the status of a commodity with purely utilitarian functions. These can be sexual productivity (e.g., women as breeding machines), physical grati­fication (prostitutes used as playthings or sex toys), the display of a certain standing (trophy wives). Instead of a partner, these men only seek a status symbol, an object of admi­ration. For them, only appearance or desirability matter, just like for a luxury apart­ment, a yacht, or a sports car. Prominence is given to her orna­mental value (in terms of gene­­rally per­cei­ved beauty, attractiveness) or freshness (age, virginity) whereas aspects such as perso­nality, senti­ments or fondness are completely neglected. Therein lies the ignominy of such objectification of females: It simply ignores the fundamental axiom that a woman is always more than the sum of her parts.

Related proverbs and citations:

千金买笑

qiān jīn mǎi xiào

A smile is worth a thousand ounces of gold.

To spend endless money for temporary pleasures.

老骥伏枥,志在千里

lǎo jì fú lì, zhì zài qiān lǐ

An old war-horse may be stabled…Yet still it longs to gallop a thousand miles.

Ambition survives even in senior age.

荆棘是玫瑰的卫士,只会刺伤摘花的人

jīng jí shì méi guī de wèi shì, zhī huì cì shāng zhāi huā de rén

A thorn defends the rose, harming only those who would steal the blossom.

男人有钱就变坏,女人变坏就有钱

nán rén yŏu qián jiù biàn huài, nǚ rén biàn huài jiù yŏu qián

Men with money just turn bad, women turned bad just have money.


Notes

[1]    For other techniques and the rationale behind such behaviour, see chapters 6 “A honeyed mouth hides a daggered heart” and 35 “No cat can resist snatching fish”.

[2]    Campbell (2002), p. 193

[3]    See chapter 9 “The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina”.

[4]    See Townsend (1998), p. 159

[5]    See chapter 4 “Beauty is the troubled water that brings disasters”.

Chapter 5: Old cows like tender grass

老牛吃嫩草
lăo niú chī nèn căo

Whoever strolls in a major city’s hip locations at night will notice the number of May-December couples, i.e., pairs where one mate (usually the male) is significantly older than the other. This proverb fiddles with this phenomenon and is based on the observation that older men seek younger women (as wives, but also as mistresses, girlfriends, one-night stands, etc.), and that older women sometimes like to date younger men (most pro­bably as toy boys only) – if, of course, the financial situation and physical attractiveness of each part­ner respec­tively, allow for such a match. Yet this apposition is not highlighted for any rea­son. As shall be seen in the following, economical or material considerations indeed often play a major role in such relationships.[1]

According to statistics available for Europe, most men marry women who are about three years younger than them on average.[2] This fact can easily be explained by biological and social consi­derations: From a survival perspective, it makes sense for women to choose a better half that can protect them and their offspring. Given that people’s wealth normally increases with age, an old man is likely to have a higher status, greater resources, a larger network, and therefore a better ability to provide for her. The reason why the age difference is not much higher than three years is equally perspicuous: If a man is too old, he is expected to die earlier, mea­ning that his (or the couple’s common) resources will dry out or will be reduced in the wake of the inheritance division. In this regard, the genuine love story bet­ween Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall, an oil business mogul 62 years her senior, should certainly be remembered as a historical exception.

Furthermore, mature men display comparatively lower testosterone level, which makes them more stable emotionally, more reliable, and thus more credible with regard to long-term commitment. They are also recognised as being more generous in bed, more under control of their own desires, and more understanding, respectively knowledgeable about what women want – all qualities that should not be underestimated when it comes to (short and long term) heterosexual relationships. On a similar note, studies show that the sex drive of a man in his forties, for example, is more compatible with a woman in her early twenties (that is, in terms of interest and need, not physical performance).

Likewise, the existence of “cougars” (a slang term referring to a women who date and sleep with much younger men) can be justified with analogous arguments: While human males’ libido peaks at age 19, the sexual functioning of females tends to reach its highest point when they are around 36 to 38.[3],[4] Hence, from a purely biological and lust-technical stand­point, it is apparently this combina­tion, a Mrs. Robinson in her late thirties with a 19-year-old Benjamin Braddock, that pro­mises the most action in bedrooms worldwide. This has not only to do with the fact that only younger men have the appetite, potency and the physical ability an older woman yearn for. Other aspects, such as hormonal changes within a woman’s system, life experience, self-confidence, comfort with one’s own body, play an equally crucial role in explaining such unions that make no sense from an evolutionary perspective, as women have virtually lost their reproductive value at that age. Other than true romance or momentary lecherousness, the only plausible reasons a stripling would go for this kind of arrangement are power, connections, reputation, celebrity, or money. That being said, the key insight here is not that “coupling between an older woman and a younger man can’t last”, but as Alan and Barbara Pease point out in their 2009 book Why Men Want Sex and Women Need Love: “[S]ome do – but most don’t.”[5]


Notes

[1]    A deeper discussion about the importance of age in mate selection is held in chapter 14 “Fair lady is what gentleman seeks”.

[2]    Cited in: Wardrop (2009)

[3]    Pease / Pease (1999), p. 222

[4]    Pines (2005), p. 101

[5]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 62

Chapter 3: Men like, women love

男欢女爱
nán huān nǚ ài

This tetrasyllabic phrase is generally employed to describe the love or passion between men and women.[1] In the context of this blog, however, it shall be used as all-purpose sentence recapitulating how human males think and how they are programmed when it comes to sexuality. Another chapter is dedicated to the same topic but viewed from a female stand­point.[2] Understanding the differences between both genders on this very issue is criti­cal if one wishes to figure out what creates sexual desire and what drives us to sleep with another.

When describing male sex drive, many people will tend to sketch it in rather simple fashion – for example like an on/off switch. Female sex drive, on the contrary, will be described as a complex ma­chine, involving several buttons, controllers, commutators, which all need to be monitored and co­ordinated in order to carefully ramp up and later on to maintain the mood.

Similarly, in their seminal book Why Men Don’t Listen And Women Can’t Read Maps, Allen and Barbara Pease liken men to microwaves and women to electric ovens. Indeed, males can be ignited immediately and may reach peak capacity within a matter of a few seconds, but are just as quickly and easily turned off once the meal is cooked. With females, conversely, one has to wait until top temperature has been reached, which can be quite a lengthy process, while it may also take a while for them to cool down as well.,[3],[4]

The difference in speed between men and women cannot only be observed in terms of how quickly both genders can get aroused sexually, but also how fast they decide to sleep with each other. In general, men have much lower thresholds for seeking sex, many of them expressing the desire and willingness to engage in intercourse with a total stranger. Accor­ding to a study carried out on an American college campus[5], 75 percent of men would res­pond positively when confronted with the following offer from an attractive female: “Hi, I’ve been noticing you around town lately, and I find you very attractive. Would you go to bed with me?” On the other hand, 0 percent of the women answered “yes” to the same question uttered by an attractive man. While the vast majority of women are likely to feel baf­fled, displeased or downrightly insulted by such an odd request coming out of the blue, many men would be flattered by it. Thus, time or familiarity do not seem to make any dif­ference to men when it comes to the question of whether or not to have casual sex with a woman – they are always ready to go, no matter if they have known the woman for ten minutes or ten years.

This “easiness” of males is also reflected in the frequency of thinking about carnal plea­sures. In a seemingly rather cautious study, the Kinsey Institute at the Indiana Univer­sity found that more than half (54 percent) of men think about sex at least every day, while 43 percent have it on their mind a few times a week or month, and only 4 percent said once a month or less.[6] Other reports depict an even hornier image of men. In her book The Female Brain, for example, Louann Brizendine mentions that for 85 percent of twenty- to thirty-year-old males, sexual thoughts wander through their brains several times every day. Females, by contrast, “only” think about it once a day, or up to three or four times on their hottest (i.e., most fertile) days. Yet another study goes one step further, calculating that men think about sex about six times per hour on average (not including dreams), or about 750 times per week![7] Bearing in mind a regular couple copulates one and a half times per week, it is not difficult to understand the frustrations of men complaining about not getting enough sex. Unfortunately, the problem of quick arousal is not limited to fantasies and wishful thin­king about the quantity of nookie they can get. Legions of men, especially younger ones, feel the urge to let their “member of congress” ejaculate many times a week or even several times a day. Whoever has heard that call knows that it can be quite an uncomfortable and dis­turbing sensation. In that case, the best way out is not to debate or deliberate, but to inten­sify the proceedings, reach a climax, and to finish it. Notice at this point that there is nothing corporal forcing men to come in(to) a vagina. As pointed out in The Hite Report, even if a male has a strong physical desire for orgasm (for instance, undergone through an erection) the excitement he feels is not linked to any craving for intercourse as such, but only for the need of sexual release. Thus, the animal “itch” a man feels is not a desire to penetrate a woman’s genital organ but a yearning for further stimulation of the penis, and ultimately for orgasm.[8]


Notes

[1]   Although the origins of this proverb remain unclear, it may be attributed to Féng Mènglóng (冯梦龙), a Chinese poet and vernacular writer of the late Ming dynasty (which itself lasted from 1368 to 1644 AD). In his short story Prefect Kuang Solves the Case of the Dead Baby (况太守断死孩儿, kuàng tài shǒu duàn sǐ hái ér, published in the 1624 compilation Stories to Caution the World, 警世通言, jǐng shì tōng yán), he refers to a particular “kind of rendezvous, where a woman loves and a man (only) likes” as “a great mistake made in a moment of weakness” (这般会合,那些个男欢女爱,是偶然一念之差”, zhè bān huì hé, nà xiē gè nán huān nǚ ài, shì ǒu rán yī niàn zhī chā).

[2]    See chapter 9 “The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina”.

[3]    Pease / Pease (1999), pp. 221-223

[4]    See chapter 30 “You can’t help shoots grow by pulling them up higher”.

[5]    Cited in: Pines (2005), p. 91

[6]    Ellis / Symons (1990)

[7]    Cited in: Kramer / Dunaway (1990), p. 19

[8]    Hite (1981), p. 256

Chapter 2: A good woman doesn’t go with a second man – Part 3

But even in cultures where the use of such extreme methods was not common, the mental conditioning of women to remain chaste and faithful seems to have worked out in favour of men as well. Alas, female sexuality is still subject to restrictive, mostly unwritten, social norms that impede its development. Ladies should be ashamed of their desires. Many socie­ties around the world have a lot of tolerance for those women who choose to live out their sexuality freely, without restriction. Although one could argue that the situ­ation has improved over the last fifty years, it is very hard to find females who have com­pletely shaken off all these constraints. Instead, they prefer to hold them­selves back as a way to signal purity, honour and worth. Thus, females’ own sexual repu­tation remains a key preoc­cu­pation for them, as they try to preserve an image of virtue.

Generation after generation, parents have raised their daughters to be “good girls”, barely telling them about sexuality. If at all, they bring up the topic of menstruation, reproductive organs or contraception, but seldom cover other important sensitive parts of the body (for instance, the clitoris) or issues such as orgasm. Instead, they caution their children about the dangers of the dark path of indulgence, call upon their vigilance against “dirty” beha­viour, or implore them to ascertain that their names are not stained by rumours of looseness. One immediate risk of such education is that the needs and urges of young girls become bottled up for many years, which they release in an exaggerated and emotionally unhealthy way later on. Another arguably negative conse­quence is that even the most well-intentioned women have to cope with a dilemma when it comes to the decision to whether or not to allow intimacy with a man they have a strong affective connection with. The subject is diffi­cult, and good women do not agree. Worried about their reputation, women will experience feelings of embarrassment and guilt if she has the impression that she “sold herself under price” or “gave herself to someone too easily”, for example by having inter­course with a man she did not really love. A woman who just slept with a man for the first time might be concerned about what he thinks about her, what she means to him, how strong his fondness for her is, etc. She could also be speculating on how the guy will treat her in the future, won­dering “whether sex was all he was after”.[1] Any doubts about his sincerity or heartiness are likely to demean her and spark off the suspicion that he exploited her, a feeling that most women hate. Then, if she beds someone without any senti­ments of affec­tion, her distress is likely to be even worse. Such an experience will lead her to lose her self-respect, leaving behind a bitter taste of degradation and cheapness.

This explains why women are likely to reject or at least demurely resist the sexual advances of a prospective mate if he fails to convince her about his good intentions (as, for instance, expressed through sympathy, caring, investment of resources, etc.). If he treats her as a one-night stand (and provided that she is herself not interested in a casual liaison), she will con­sider his moves as a violation of her desire for emotional involvement, shutting down to him, and losing her attraction for him. Furthermore, men should not be surprised to see women make it difficult to “get” them. Even if they “want too”, their inner code forbids them to surrender to their lust. Rather, they restrain themselves and wait until a male has demon­­strated enough engagement and devotion towards her. This strategy follows three main purposes: First, to make herself believe that she did her best to resist her carnal cra­vings; second, to allow enough time for the inception of amorous feelings within her heart; and third, to signal to her social surroundings that she is not an “easy girl”.

Thus, whenever passion befalls a “good” woman, she faces a Catch-22 with her eros. Let’s consider the following case: A traditionalist bachelorette falls in love with a conser­vative man. At some stage, she will want to consummate her love towards him. However, if she does have such desires, she must know, or at least her intuition probably tells her that coitus produces posi­tive sensations. If she is aware of the stimulating effects of sex, she cannot be fully innocent (i.e., she has been exposed). Prudish and prudent as she is, she will not take the gamble to open up to her target, fearing that any hint of impurity will repel him. In turn, this (imaginary) thought of potential rejection from the man she loves could potentially cause disappointment in her heart, disturbing her emotionally and destroying her feelings for him. Her love will fade away and eventually vanish… Although not impeccable, the argumentation developed here shows: Sexual puritanism may lead to emotional deadlock and, in the worst case, to a lose-lose situation. This cannot be the purpose of human devotion. Instead, let us liberate ourselves from the chains of sexual conservatism and carry through our passion: Lovers of the World, Unite!

That being said, men who wish to seduce or woo a lady should still be careful to observe her desires as well as her ethical standards. Every woman wants to be respected and to feel valued. In a “post-first-sex” situation, this requirement can be easily translated into slushy or over­charged questions such as “does he see me as wife material or simply as a mistress?” in a female’s mind. She fears that if she has been too fast, she might be put into the “mis­tress”, or worse, the “slut” category. She is well aware that any clue of profligacy or promis­cuity may ruin her reputation and therefore jeopardise her chances to find a husband. Social norms and warning signs such as “you just cannot jump in the sack with a guy so quickly” are deeply incised in her mind. On the other hand, human females are known to be highly sexual in nature: They love sex, they want sex, even if they do not admit it openly. Instead, they will argue that they do not just want sex, or that they want to make love.

Once men see through this line of reasoning, it becomes quite effortless to lure a woman into temptation. In many instances, all he needs to do is to join forces with her and help her find a way to outfox society and circumvent the cultural norms working against sexual free­dom. In reality, it is the male’s role to provide an alibi to women to be naughty and let nature take its course. Sometimes, nice words or a simple “I really like you”[2] will do the trick. Other females prefer to drink alcohol so that they can blame its dis-inhibiting proper­ties for their failure to control themselves. Or both partners construct a scenario in which intercourse “just happened”. Billy Crystal, the American comedian, once declared: “Women need a reason to have sex; men just need a place”. Based on what has just been said in this paragraph, however, it seems that what women are looking for is not a “reason”, but rather an “excuse”.

 

Related proverbs and citations:

男女授受不亲

nán nǚ shòu shòu bù qīn

It is improper for men and women to touch each other’s hand in passing objects (even more so to hold hands, kiss, possibly to communicate).

 

路边的野花别乱采

lù biān de yě huā bié luàn căi

Don’t pick up wild flowers on the roadside.

 

此地无银三百两

cǐ dì wú yín sān bǎi liǎng

“No 300 taels of silver buried here”.

A guilty person gives himself away by conspicuously protesting his innocence. A clumsy denial resulting in self-exposure.

 


Notes

[1]    Townsend (1998), p. 52

[2]    Notice the usage of the word “like” rather than “love”. Although many women claim that they first need to love a man before having sex with him, liking or actually being liked, is enough for most of them. How to express “liking” or what feelings it encompasses for a woman is elaborated in chapter 9 “The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina”.

Chapter 1: Men are like mud, women are like water – Part 3

Interestingly, research shows that economic independence of women has a direct impact on pre-marital sex, as measured by the defloration age and the frequency of sexual activities before marriage. In societies where females are not so emancipated, i.e., necessitate rela­ti­vely high investment from men, women gain a lot from being married. This condition renders promiscuity much riskier, simultaneously intensifying the competition for a do­mes­­­tic partner. Consequently, rivals have a much stronger incentive to keep their virtue, which, in turn, lowers the incidence of fornication. Conversely, luxuria is no luxury for young ladies in control of their own economic fate. As the pressure to fulfil potential mates’ prerequisites is not so heavy for them, they enjoy much more freedom, and can there­fore indulge in carnal pleasure earlier in their lives.[1]

On the other hand, it is quite understandable for men to expect female passivity and mora­lity – if they can afford it. The natural disposition of males to systematically attach a certain value to virginity can be observed around the world, even though differences across cultures can be observed. Not every society displays the same level of attention to this matter. In coun­tries such as China (including Taiwan), Japan, India, Indonesia, or Iran, for instance, people lay great emphasis on pureness when it comes to choosing a partner for life. At the other end of the spectrum, the French, Dutch, Scandinavians, or Germans tend to think that chastity is prac­tically meaningless in a prospective mate. Similarly, in the United States, this prere­quisite is more important to college students in Texas than to their counterparts in Califor­nia. Furthermore, the insistence on sexual morality in this country seems to have eroded over the last fifty years, an evolution apparently linked to the advent of artificial contra­ception. While men viewed this factor as virtually essential in the 1930s, ranking it as the 10th most valued quality in a damsel, it only came in 17th place in the late 1980s.[2]

Such puritanism or sexual favouritism toward maidens may look archaic to some readers, but in order to understand where we are coming from, one needs to look back no further than the Victorian era, i.e., from 1837 to 1901. At that time, society was governed by a strict code of moral values that repressed sexuality and its pleasant derivatives. Male homo­sexua­lity was prohibited, while the law downrightly negated the existence of lesbianism. As sheer nudity could provoke arousal, it was equally frowned upon. Women who wanted to take a swim at the beach were invited to do so in bathing machines near the premises. People in mixed or polite society would prefer to employ the term “limb” rather than “leg”, simply because the latter was deemed out-of-line. So was chicken “breast”, which ought to be cal­led a “bosom”. According to some historians, prudery was taken so far as to cover tables and pianos with embroidery or crinolines in order to conceal the furni­ture’s “legs” and thus to avert any kind of frenzy of lust and shame. Casual contact between boys and girls at unsu­pervised social events was not supposed to happen. Once a young man had chosen a demoiselle to court, he had to request an audience with her family and seek their approval. If permission was granted and the encounter took place, a chaperon would escort them for the whole duration of the rendezvous. One possible next stage in the suit consisted in a cus­tom called “bundling”, which allowed an unmarried couple to occupy the same bed without undressing. Wrapped in separate blankets, or sometimes segregated by a board (meant to obstruct inappropriate contact), they were asked to converse through the night with the mis­sion to better know one another before a probable marriage.

Although rules are much laxer nowadays, one should still bear in mind another reason why the loss of virginity remains a highly sensitive topic to girls. Let us not forget that their first act of sexual intercourse usually goes along with at least some degree of physical discom­fort. The tearing of the hymen itself (which can be compared to a layer of skin ripping inside the body), as well as the resulting vaginal bleeding, may have traumatising effects on some of them. A woman’s uncertainty about having chosen the right partner for this life-chan­ging occasion can contribute to a further exacerbating her irritation. As this happening marks the sexualisation of her entire being and thus end of innocence, integrity, or purity, she knows that nothing will be the same again. While virginity has been associated with the notions of virtue, honour and worth, losing it is still considered by many to be an important personal milestone. Hence, a young lady certainly has the right to treat her virginity as her own private holy grail, and to warn every admirer, every suitor, every Prince Charming that “none shall pass” and that she is ready to defend her reputation by all means. If she has saved herself for someone special to her, it is a gift that no one should take lightly. In order to protect her from emotional pain, or at least confusion, her first man would be well advised to be very careful with his rosebud, and to take to heart the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince: “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”[3] So if he is gentle, respects her, takes his time, makes sure that she is ready, she will know that she made the right decision and will remember him all her life.

Related proverbs and citations:

男人不是好东西

nán rén bù shì hăo dōng xī

Men are not a good thing.

All men are creeps.

生米已成熟饭

shēng mĭ yĭ chéng shóu fàn

The raw rice has been cooked to meal.

All has been made and could not be reversed.



Notes

[1]    Cited in: Buss (2003), p. 69

[2]    Ibid., p. 68

[3]    Original: “Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

Chapter 1: Men are like mud, women are like water

男泥女水
nán ní nǚ shuǐ

Incidentally, the first expression in the series is not a proverb in the truest sense of the term but a quote from Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦, hóng lóu mèng) by Cáo Xuěqín[1] (曹雪芹), arguably one of the greatest masterpieces of Chinese literature.[2] The words are uttered by the male protagonist, Jiǎ Bǎoyù (贾宝玉). A tactful, compassionate and sensi­tive young man, Bǎoyù asserts that women are made of water, or, at the very least, remain as pure as water, whereas men are mere chunks of clay or mud, unformed and soiled. He shuns the latter for their moral and spiritual inferiority, quite in the image of his own cousin, a disso­lute rake known for his amorous exploits with both men and women. Indeed, Xuē Pán (薛蟠) embo­dies all the possible deplorable and disgusting charac­teristics of a male, inclu­ding indolence, uncouthness, inconsideration, and so on. A local bully, he even kills some­one over a slave girl and has his case covered up with money, demonstrat­ing how far cor­ruption can go. Although not all men reach this level of tastelessness or de­pravity, they undoubtedly repre­sent the gender with the lesser grace, mildness and vir­tue. Men’s pilosity, deeper voices, crime statistics, the volume of body noises emitted, or their greater incli­nation to con­sume sti­­mu­lants (alcohol, tobacco, etc.) are but a few examples to under­line this state­ment.

Yet, if men’s physiques are rough and angular, their temperaments pugnacious and impul­sive, and their manners vulgar and selfish, it is only because it has been made possible by evolution. Their bodies and minds were originally fashioned for strength, agility and speed, as their pur­pose was to run, to seek, to capture, and to kill in order to provide for their community. Testosterone gushing through their blood vessels plays an instrumental role in the process. Not only does it drive the fabrication of male reproductive tissues (in parti­cular the testis and the prostate) and the maturation of sex organs; it also fosters the growth of body hair, the building up of muscle mass and strength, the increase of bone density, etc., giving men their muscular and robust, i.e., virile, shape. Since men have about ten times more testosterone in their blood than women, it is impossible that the human anatomy stays unaffected by this sexual differentiation. The brain itself constitutes no exception and is heavily influenced by the amount and magnitude of hormonal fluxes. Consequently, testo­sterone levels play a major role in the explanation of gender discre­pancies in the develop­ment of essential cognitive and sensorial functions, such as attention, memory, spa­tial abi­lity, attachment, caring, risk tolerance, aggressiveness, the tendency toward vio­lence or sui­cide, and so forth.[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

Inversely, the female body is much curvier, fuller, and softer. Just by looking at it, one understands immediately that it has been designed for protection, cosiness and nourishment. The key biological ingredients in the formation of that source (others may also worship it as a temple) of comfort and well-being are oestrogens. While they are part of both males’ and females’ blood chemistries, they are usually present at significantly higher levels in women of reproductive age, dominating their hormonal balance. Oestrogens are involved in the shaping of female secondary sexual chara­cteristics (for example, breasts, larger fat stores, redu­ced muscle mass), are partly respon­sible for regulating the menstrual cycle, and contri­bute to other cardinal functions of the repro­duction system (e.g., the increase of uterine growth, acceleration of vaginal lubri­cation, thickening of the vaginal wall). Finally, they are also connected to mental health, as a fluctuation, persisting low levels, or a sudden with­drawal of oestrogen may cause a woman’s mood to decline.[8],[9],[10],[11],[12]


Notes

[1]    Following the local convention, all Chinese names throughout the text are written with the family name first (in cap­ital letters) and the given name next. In the present example, Cáo is the family name, while Xuěqín is the given name.

[2]   Dream of the Red Chamber (also known as The Story of the Stone) is arguably the most famous of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese (四大名著, sì dà míng zhù, literally “Four Great Masterpieces”), the other three being Water Margin (水浒传, shuǐ hǔ zhuàn), Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义, sān guó yǎn yì), and Journey to the West (西游记, xī yóu jì).

[3]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testosterone

[4]    Ridley (1993), pp. 254-258

[5]    Pease / Pease (1999), pp. 187-189

[6]    Campbell (2002), pp. 35, 290

[7]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 15

[8]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estrogen

[9]    Pease / Pease (1999), p. 182

[10]  Brizendine (2006), pp. 33-35

[11]  Pease / Pease (2009), p. 188

[12]  See chapter 8 “A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean”.