What women gain (and lose) by having short-term affairs

Humans pursue two types of mating strategies- long term and short term, and sometimes a combination of both.

Long-term mating strategy typically involves finding a long-term partner with whom one decides to mate

, have offspring and then raise those offspring. Short term mating strategy, on the other hand, 
involves mating with more than one partner for short periods of time with no strings attached.

In this post, we discuss the costs and benefits to women who pursue the short-term mating strategy…

Human sperm competition

In humans, there’s immense intrasexual competition among males for females- both on a macroscopic and a microscopic level. Macroscopic male intrasexual competition for a female is something everyone is familiar with- guys fighting with each other over a girl.

But few are familiar with the microscopic competition that takes place within the female reproductive tract among sperm cells of different males. 

If a female copulates with more than one male during a short interval of time, the ejaculates from different males fight it out against each other to reach the egg- blocking, incapacitating and even killing each other.

The important question is, what’s in it for the woman?

Healthy sperm = Healthy genes

If you look at a semen sample under a microscope you won’t see every sperm cell moving. While some of them move around frantically, others just stay there- lifelessly still.

The healthier the ejaculate, the greater is the percentage of motile sperm and, the greater the percentage of motile sperm in an ejaculate, the higher are its odds of winning the sperm competition i.e. fertilizing the egg.

Therefore, when a woman promotes sperm competition by engaging in short term mating, she’s basically seeking out the healthiest and the most competitive sperm to fertilize her egg with.

This way, not only does she ensure that her offspring will have healthy genes but also, if it turns out to be a boy, that it’ll turn out to be one who produces as competitive an ejaculate as his dad’s when he reaches puberty. And a son who’s likely to be successful in sperm competition, in turn, boosts the reproductive success of the mother herself.

All eggs in the same genetic basket

By pursuing the short term mating strategy, a woman can also avoid keeping all her eggs in the same genetic basket. By letting different men father her children, she ensures that her offspring are genetically diverse and have diverse immune systems.

This increases the odds that her children will more likely survive the onslaught of infections and diseases than they would had they been fathered by a single male.

If a woman’s regular mate isn’t attractive, she may get tempted to engage in short-term mating with attractive males so that her offspring may have better genes. She may even successfully trick her husband into raising kids that aren’t his own, like the female blue-footed booby bird.

blue-footed booby bird
A female blue-footed booby bird, despite having a regular mate who feeds and raises the young with her, engages in short-term mating to promote sperm competition and increase the genetic diversity of her offspring.


Economics and sex


Unlike male sexuality, female sexuality has economic exchange value. What that basically means is that women can exchange sex for obtaining money, goods or services.

It follows from the basic economic principle of supply and demand. Since men produce billions of sperm and women only a few hundred eggs, the latter are more valuable than the former. Consequently, female sexuality has more market value than male sexuality.

Women, much more than men, engage in prostitution- the world’s oldest profession. Some women may even sleep around to gain other advantages such as a promotion at work or better education for their children.

There’s a reason why men are rarely accused of, say, using sex ‘to move up the corporate ladder’ while women frequently face such kind of accusations. Buyers of female sexuality far exceed the buyers of male sexuality.

Disadvantages of short-term mating

Since men prize fidelity in potential wives, women risk impairing their desirability as long-term mates if they develop reputations for promiscuousness.

An unfaithful married woman risks the withdrawal of resources by her husband. Lacking a long-term mate to offer physical protection and help raise the kids, a woman who adopts an exclusively short-term sexual strategy is at a greater risk of physical and sexual abuse, endangering her life and the life of her children.

In the pursuit of casual sex, an unmarried woman risks getting pregnant and bearing children without the benefit of an investing man.

Also, there’s always a greater risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease when engaging in short-term mating with multiple partners.
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