david_m_buss's picture
Professor of Psychology, University of Texas, Austin; Author, When Men Behave Badly
Female Sexual Psychology

I have never thought that female sexual psychology was simple.  But I've changed my mind about the magnitude of its complexity and consequently revamped the scope and orchestration of my entire research program.  I once focused my research on two primary sexual strategies — long-term and short-term.  Empirical work has revealed a deeper, richer repertoire: serial mating, friends with benefits, one-night stands, brief affairs, enduring affairs, polyamory, polyandry, sexual mate poaching, mate expulsion, mate switching, and various combinations of these throughout life.  Women implement their sexual strategies through an astonishing array of tactics.  Scientists have documented at least 34 distinct tactics for promoting short-term sexual encounters and nearly double that for attracting a long-term romantic partner.  

Researchers discovered 28 tactics women use to derogate sexual competitors, from pointing out that her rival's thighs are heavy to telling others that the rival has a sexually transmitted disease.  Women's sexual strategies include at least 19 tactics of mate retention, ranging from vigilance to violence, and 29 tactics of ridding themselves of unwanted mates, including having sex as a way to say good-bye.  Some women use sexual infidelity as a means of getting benefits from two or more men.  Others use it as a means of exiting one relationship in order to enter another.  When a woman wants a man who is already in a relationship, she can use at least 19 tactics of mate poaching to lure him away, from befriending both members of the couple in order to disarm her unsuspecting rival to insidiously sowing seeds of doubt about her rival's fidelity or level of desirability. 

Ovulation and orgasm are yielding scientific insights into female sexuality unimagined five years ago.  The hidden rhythms of the ovulation cycle, for example, have profound effects on women's sexual desire. Women married to men lower in mate value experience an upsurge in sexual fantasies about other men, but mainly during the fertile phase of their cycle.  They are sexually attracted to men with masculine faces, but especially so in the five days leading up to ovulation.  Women's sense of smell spikes around ovulation.  Sexual scents, long thought unimportant in human sexuality, in fact convey information to women about a man's genetic quality.  The female orgasm, once thought by many scientists to be functionless, may turn out to have several distinct adaptive benefits.  And those don't even include the potential gains from faking orgasm.  Some women mislead about their sexual satisfaction in order to get a man to leave; others to deceive him about his paternity in "his" child.  

Female sexual psychology touches every facet of human affairs, from cooperative alliances through strategies of hierarchy negotiation.  Some women use sex to get along.  Some use sex to get ahead.  Sexual motives pervade murder.  Failure in sexual unions sometimes triggers suicidal ideation.  I thought the complexity of women's sexual psychology was finally starting to be captured when recent research revealed 237 reasons why women have sex, ranging from "to get rid of a headache" to "to get closer to God," from "to become emotionally connected with my partner" to "to break up a rival's relationship."  Within a month of that publication, however, researchers discovered another 44 reasons why women have sex ranging from "because life is short and we could die at any moment" to "to get my boyfriend to shut up," bringing the sexual motivation total to 281 and still counting (obviously, trying to pin down exact numbers is a bit of a joke, but scientists work through quantification).

Yet with all these scientific discoveries, I feel that we are still at the beginning of the exploration and humbled by how little we still know.  As a researcher focusing on female sexuality, I'm inherently limited by virtue of possessing a male brain.  Consequently, I've teamed up with brilliant female research scientists, recruited a team of talented female graduate students, and marshaled much of my research to explore the complexities of female sexual psychology.  They have led me to see things previously invisible to my male-blinkered brain.  Female sexual psychology is more complex than I previously thought by several orders of magnitude.  And still I may be underestimating.