Evolution has rendered female sexuality more valuable than male sexuality. There are two major reasons behind this:
First, human males produce huge quantities of sperm while females produce only a limited number of eggs. Second, human females invest much more in offspring than males.
The result being that female sexuality is a scarce and much sought-after resource. Also, due to intense intrasexual competition among males for access to females, men have evolved a comparatively stronger and more urgent sex drive than women. (see Why men have a stronger sex drive than women)
While men hope to get laid as soon as they enter a relationship, women generally delay sex during the initial stages of the relationship. Needless to say, this creates conflict between the sexes and is one of the major reasons behind many relationship issues.
Why delay sex in the first place?
Obviously, if women tend to delay sex in the initial stages of a relationship, there must be some evolutionary advantages to adopting such a strategy. Sexual withholding fulfils several important functions for women:
First, it preserves their ability to choose high-quality men:
By high-quality men, I mean men having a high mate value i.e. resourceful men who’re willing to commit emotionally and invest materially. Sexual attractiveness also contributes to a man’s mate value to some degree.
If a woman offers sex freely, she’s unable to exercise her mate choice and pick up the best available man from a pool of men.
It’s the same as when you’re trying to sell something of value, such as a house or a car. It’s not a good idea to sell your item to the first available customer. You want the best deal. Let them place their bids and then you will decide what deal appeals to you the most.
Second, sexual withholding enables women to increase the value of their sexuality:
As mentioned earlier, female sexuality is already a scarce and valuable resource thanks to evolution. Sexual withholding only makes it more scarce and ergo more valuable.
A scarcity of sexual access increases the price that men are willing to pay for it. If the only way men can gain sexual access is by heavy investment, then they will make that investment. This is because under the conditions of sexual scarcity, men who fail to invest fail to secure copulations.
Third, delaying sex helps a woman manipulate men’s perception of her mate value:
This follows from the above point. Since highly desirable women are more sexually inaccessible to the average man by definition, women sometimes exploit men’s perceptions of their desirability by withholding sexual access.
This means that even if a woman doesn’t have high mate value (i.e. she’s unattractive), she can give the impression that she’s attractive via sexual withholding.
Finally, delaying sex lets a woman encourage a man to evaluate her as a long-term partner:
Granting sexual access early and often causes men to see a woman as a casual or short-term mate. They may perceive her as too promiscuous and too sexually available, characteristics that men avoid in committed mates.
What about the women who don’t withhold sex?
Now, let’s see how people perceive women who don’t delay sex.
As mentioned above, men seeking a long-term relationship view them negatively. Conversely, men seeking a short-term relationship are more than glad that the woman they’re interested in isn’t delaying sex. These are usually the men that quickly lose interest in the relationship after having sex.
What’s more interesting than all of this is how women view women who don’t delay sex.
A woman who herself prefers a long-term relationship will see women who don’t delay sex negatively. This is because women who don’t delay sex are decreasing the value of female sexuality.
And when the value of female sexuality decreases in the market, it becomes harder to get men to commit to long-term relationships.
On the other hand, women who themselves prefer casual relationships are less inclined to see women who don’t delay sex negatively. They might see them neutrally or even positively, claiming that gender stereotypes of sexual behaviour are socially imposed and have nothing to do with evolutionary biology.