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Dating Mating Sex and Reproduction

Why Females are Picky… In the Vagina

female reproductive tract

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The Interwebz are full of paysites, blogs, and infomercial videos ostensibly teaching men how to understand, cope with, and ultimately conquer female choosiness.  Sure, there are plenty of web sites for women, too, but none of them teach girls how to get laid.  Women already know the secret to that:

  1. Leave the house.
  2. Sit by yourself.

So we all know that on a conscious level, females are the choosy ones.  Anytime a woman complains that she can’t get laid, what she means is that she can’t get laid by any of the males she feels are worthy of her efforts.

But female choosiness goes much further than consciously choosing high quality mates.  It must.  Conscious choice is one of the last steps in evolutionary brain development.  Long before we were thinking about what it means that a man has a good relationship with his mother, our pre-human ancestors were surviving better than their (now long-extinct) competitors.  And that meant they were choosing mates well.

We seldom think of ourselves as “purely biological” organisms, but it’s a good exercise sometimes.  If we take our conceptions of love, sexuality, and self-actualization out of the picture, we occasionally stumble upon some really interesting questions about our basic biology.  For instance, why the biological obstacle course for fertilization?  Most sperm in a typical ejaculate never even get near an egg.  Many are simply ejected from the vagina during or after coitus.  Those that make it past the cervix still have to navigate the fallopian tubes, where they may or may not meet an egg, and may or may not be the first of their millions of brothers to successfully merge with it.  It’s akin to running from Juno to Miami to get a pancake and egg breakfast.

While we’re on the subject, why are our penises so big?  If a two-incher is sufficient for penetration and depositing sperm, why do we have six inchers?  Which leads us to the question, why is the vagina as deep as it is?  Couldn’t we accomplish fertilization and reproduction with a lot less extra baggage?  

The answer lies in sperm competition.  In the same way that all men are not created equal, sperm are similarly divided into the “Can’s” and the “Cannot’s.”  The female reproductive tract is nature’s way of weeding out all but the most competitive and hearty applicants.

In animals that practice internal fertilization, it is a virtual unknown for the male to deposit sperm directly onto the egg(s).  There is always some sort of biological barrier and some kind of journey — usually an inhospitable one.  For instance, most mammal vaginas have a low pH.  Acid is generally spermicidal in nature.  Phagocytes, white blood cells designed to eat foreign invaders, often have a sweet tooth (salty tooth?) for sperm.  Eggs themselves are often stubbornly difficult for the sperm to “crack.”

In an article titled “Why Do Females Make it So Difficult for Males to Fertilize Their Eggs?”, biologists Tim Birkhead, Anders Møller, and W. J. Sutherland emphasized that “in terms of its structure, chemical composition and immune response, the female reproductive tract of mammals and birds is particularly hostile to sperm” and that, as a result, females are likely to be fertilized by the fittest sperm or, at least, to minimize the risk that they will be fertilized by the “worst.”  Imagine that males differ in their ability to overcome such female hostility.  A female who indiscriminately allows any male to fertilize her eggs is likely to produce sons who themselves will only be able to fertilize a small subset of the females in their generation.  By contrast, by setting up a difficult and demanding obstacle course, a female makes it likely that her sons will be able to fertilize most females.  [The Myth of Monogamy, Chapter 3]

Nature has drawn us a map and shown us that we are not monogamous.  Elaborate and difficult obstacle courses are only necessary when there are significant differences between the sperm trying to get to the egg.  Which means that for most of evolutionary history, most females have been inseminated by multiple males of varying quality, whose sperm must compete for the ultimate prize.

Thinking of ourselves as non-monogamous is scary and difficult.  It seems contradictory.  After all, most of us try to find one person to be with for as along as we can make it work, right?  Don’t we abhor cheating?  Don’t we have horrible jealous fits when we imagine our lover with someone else?  Even if we know it’s the way everybody wants it?

But the answers to these questions are the proof that we’re not monogamous!  Jealousy is one of our strongest emotions.  It leads us to commit horrible crimes, especially against people we love.  (Something like 1/3 of domestic murder in the U.S. is due to real or imagined female infidelity.)  Why did we develop jealousy, and why is it so strong?  Because of the reality of non-monogamy. Women do trade up when they get the option, and men know it.  They do cuckold their husbands.  Men do stay late to boff the secretary.  They do have secret affairs with their wives’ best friends.  When they get famous, they keep a girlfriend in every city they visit.

But we must not think that because our jealousy is so strong nature is telling us we ought to be monogamous.  This is the fallacy of attributing human desires to evolution.  Our strong emotions are part of a system.  They drive us to play our part.  As males, we are driven to make sure that only our sperm gets deposited in “our” female’s vagina, and to inseminate as many vaginas as possible on the side.  As females, we are driven to get the best sperm possible while ensuring protection of the young.  We are both drawn to monogamy and torn apart from it.  Sometimes it is in our offspring’s best interest, and sometimes it is not.

Most people in monogamous relationships will say that they don’t want anyone else.  And sometimes, that’s true.  But most of the time, what it means is that they don’t want anyone else badly enough to risk losing what they have.  This is a very important difference.  Even the web’s most monogamy loving Pickup Artist, Athol Kay, has admitted that it’s sometimes work for him to remember how much he is committed to monogamy.  If you talk to a hundred couples who have been together for twenty years, ninety-eight of them will tell you it was very hard work to stay monogamous.  Statistically speaking, around forty of them will be lying.  They didn’t stay monogamous.  The two that said it wasn’t hard work are also lying.  That speaks to how strongly we are not designed to be monogamous.  (Think about it.  If evolution had hard wired us to be monogamous, it wouldn’t be hard work to only be with one person, right?)

Additionally, we must realize that for every strong emotional instinct driving us towards one person, there is at least one driving us away.  The Coolidge Effect is present in nearly every mammal.  It’s the biological explanation for the waning sex drive of both partners as time passes.  It’s why men who experience erectile dysfunction with their wives sometimes find the cure with their secretary.  Or why women find themselves loving their husbands but not being “in love” anymore.  It’s why business conferences are so fun.

There really are two kinds of people in the world.  Those that give in to the urges for monogamy and those that give in to the urges for non-monogamy.  Both urges are real, strong, and based on our evolutionary past.  But in the end analysis, our bodies, and the oldest remnants of our evolutionary past, demonstrate that females are built for non-monogamy. It’s a pesky truth, but denying it is just… well… denial.

Love, relationships, self-actualization, and all the things we tried to forget in order to think of ourselves as biological organisms — these are all built upon the evolutionary foundation of sperm competition.  They are not “gifts” from evolution designed to take us “above” our reproductive instincts.  They are our reproductive instincts, confounded by several layers of complexity, second order thought, and social structures.  Our conflicting emotions about monogamy and “spreading ourselves around” are part of the same system.  Neither of them is right or wrong.  They just are.

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Discussion

7 thoughts on “Why Females are Picky… In the Vagina

  1. It’s somehow scary reading my own inner workings on someone else’s blog. I have no clue why that is lol.

    Posted by Athol Kay: Married Man Sex Life | September 10, 2010, 6:26 pm
  2. Lol… you’re so alpha 🙂

    Posted by hambydammit | September 10, 2010, 6:30 pm
  3. Penis length is related to sperm competition? Don’t make me start censoring your reading material, Hamby. 😛

    The truth is that biologists aren’t really sure why humans have such huge slongs compared to our fellow Great Apes. But I haven’t ever read sperm competition as being on the radar for a theory about it.

    I agree humans aren’t monogamous. In natural settings we are serially monogamous. That holds true for the vast majority of humans in most cultures. Chimps are orgy fiends, Gorillas are harem keepers.

    I keep getting the impression from your writings Hamby, that you think we are like Chimps. We’re actually about in the middle between these two apes as far as sex goes. Our testicles bear out this idea. Human testicles are larger than gorilla testes that hardly ever have to have sperm competitions, while we are nothing compared to the oysters hanging on Chimps. Further, Chimp semen congeals after ejaculation effectively plugging the female’s vagina for a period.

    Now that’s sperm competition. Human semen doesn’t do this.

    Gorilla penis: 1.5 inches
    Chimp penis: 3 inches
    Human penis: 6 inches

    Now that doesn’t fit. That’s why biologists are puzzled. If we were really sperm competitors we would have larger testicles, pumping out more sperm, and the sperm would plug the vagina from interlopers.

    If a large penis helped you outcompete rivals with sperm competition Chimps should have much larger ones than they do.

    The large penis thing is a mystery. I’ve read it might be like the peacocks tail, but even that idea sounded weak to me.

    Posted by Watcher | September 17, 2010, 3:44 pm
  4. Perhaps something to do with random? We evolved to compete with those sperm blockages by having longer tools able to penetrate said shield and deposit on the other side. That worked, we survived, and here we are today.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | September 17, 2010, 5:45 pm
  5. The article and comments miss one point: that cocks have the glans for the express purpose of pumping out other guys’ sperm. Very efficient pumps apparently. So longer cocks make sense as better pumps, hobbling the opposition. That is probably what drove the development of bigger cocks. And selection chose deeper pussies to work with that. Pretty obvious really once you know what the glans does. So the competition has been consistent wth non-monogamy. And it helps explain the bigger cock syndrome a lot of guys experience.

    Posted by Brian | July 11, 2011, 9:53 pm
  6. Long penis pushes the back wall of a vagina, and the vaginal wall connected to the back side of the cervix pulls the cervix open.

    Posted by Chris | September 21, 2011, 12:25 pm
  7. The reason for the larger penis in human males compared to other great apes is most likely linked to bipedalism, which brought the penis into focus as measure of fitness. With our ancestors now bipedal the penis was visible all the time especially after the advent of nakedness. Clothing and prude came much later.

    This explains why chimpanzees have much more competitive sperm than any human male and still a much smaller penis and the “bigger cock syndrom” on human males nicely. Note that the vagina has coevolved, and breasts have undergone similar selection processes.

    Posted by Barb | January 15, 2013, 4:00 am

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