Frequently Asked Qusetions
about David Buss' book "Evolution of desire: Strategies of human mating"

Comments by Anatoly Protopopov are marked scarlet
The comments were translated by Alexander Otenko
The original (uncommented) text is located here:

David M. Buss - professor of the Psychology Faculty in Texas University (Austin, USA). The mentioned afore book became bestseller in the USA and is known for its controversial contents.

What do women want?

Resources and commitment. Resources and commitment. Resources and commitment. That is the answer to the riddle of the ages. But we can be more precise about the cues for resources and commitment that women use-here is exactly what women desire:

  1. Economic capacity (Richer women like even richer men.)
  2. Social status (That's why all those senators are always featured in lurid headlines.)
  3. Age (Actually, on average women only want a man about 3 years older.)
  4. Ambition and Industriousness
  5. Dependability and Stability
  6. Intelligence
  7. Compatibility (This does not seem to directly indicate either resources or commitment. Rather, this suggests the potential for both parties to successfully sustain the relationship.)
  8. Size and strength (Yes, women like tall men.)
  9. Good health
  10. Love-Love is the most valued characteristic in a partner for both women and men. I was just wondering, how is this connected with resources and commitment. If we could consider a man loving a woman to be an expression of commitment in some way (apparently, non-permanent), then how does woman's love refer to this question at all, from this point of view? It looks like Buss does not look into this phenomenon.
  11. Kindness (A code word for commitment.)
  12. Sincerity (Another code word for commitment.)
I dare say the answer is a bit more complicated. Of course, having a good deal of imagination you could call resources almost everything, but in this case we will need a way to distinguish one resource from another. Alright, let them be resources... Thus women need two significantly different kinds of resources: genetical and economical. The tasks of obtaining any type of resources are not antagonistic. Apparently, a male with good economical resources has many chances to possess good genes as a sire, too. Being not antagonistic does not mean to be united, though. Good genes could be taken from one man therefore, but economical resources could be obtained from the other or others! To say nothing about that genetical resources are demanded once in several years and they are not wanted for the rest of time, thus each man has got them in abundance; to the contrary, economical resources are always scarce, but they are additive, i.e. they can be added from different sources.
  Besides, choice of a carrier of good genes, being scrupulously carried out in accordance with the strict internal program (instinct),also makes these two resources (genes and money) go apart, meanwhile a source of money is chosen in a more intelligent way. However instincts could also be of some help even there...

What do men want?

Reproductive capacity and fidelity.

  1. Youth
  2. Beauty
  3. Attractive body shape-in particular, a low waist to hip ratio.
  All this is correct, apart from that men have an instinctive desire to realise their sexual expansion. This means that even a very attractive woman body becomes boring eventually, and a new body is desired, even ... even a less attractive one. At least for a while... It is far not every male who can realise this desire, but that is another question... And longing makes you neither longer nor shorter, as you know...

What does David Buss look like?
(see the original page)

Why do men marry?

(Implicit in all these reasons in the production of offspring.)

  1. To fulfill women's desire for commitment. (Men have been shaped by the selective pressure exerted by women.)
  2. For better survival of children (More resources, political support.)
  3. To insure mate fidelity. (More copulations, fidelity enforced by self and relatives, know personality better to detect infidelities.)
  Besides, low-ranked men need a marriage to have an opportunity of regular sex. No one will give it to them just "for good looks" when unmarried. High-ranked males, on the opposite, do not need a marriage, because they have enough sex even being unmarried.

Why are composite faces - computer-generated faces comprised of many different real women - more attractive than real faces?

Because superimposing individual faces tends to eliminate their irregularities and make them more symmetrical. The reason women in animation (like Japanese anime) are so strikingly attractive is the same reason that we like cheesecake or Bach-a superconcentrated sensory experience that pushes our pleasure buttons the way nothing in our ancestral environment could.
  The root of the problem is unanimously agreeable - obviously, the artificial stimuli can affect stronger than those of the natural origin. Like, for example, artificial sweeteners can be thousands times more sweet than sugar is. However, concerning synthesised faces I would not call them stunningly gorgeous. However, judge yourself. Verily nice countenance, apparently, but is it much better than any real woman? Hardly so. Unless you deliberately take disgusting women for input...

What is men's evolutionary preference for body fat?

Men have not evolved preferenced for a particular amount of body fat; rather men have a more flexible psychological mechanism that is attracted to whatever proportion of body fat is linked with status. Thus, in places where food is scarce, men are attracted to heavier women.
However, the reverse is quite confusing (though Buss does not address this): in countries where food is abundant, like Western countries, men prefer thinner women. Why should the reverse be true? Now, it is true that men prefer a heavier body shape than women think they do, but why would we have evolved a plasticity in body fat attractiveness? Was there such variability in the relationship between body fat and success?

Why does Pinker call language an instinct?

Pinker suggests that humans have an instinct for language in the same sense that spiders have an instinct for spinning webs: they spin webs because they have spider brains which give them the urge and ability to spin webs. Likewise, humans have the urge and ability to use language. The ability to acquire and use language developed biologically over aeons of evolution, rather than being invented by man as a solution to social problems. Hmm... I hardly can believe.

What are some diseases and problems associated with a woman having a high waist-to-hip ratio?

More difficulty becoming pregnant, diabetes, hypertension, heart problems, previous stroke, gallbladder problems.

Has the importance of physical attractiveness gone up or down since the introduction of electronic media?

Gone up dramatically each decade. This indicates (to me) that a "best available" mechanism is operating-the basis for runaway sexual selection. Rather than looking for an arbitrary or target level of attractiveness, we evolved to look around and go for the best available. Thus, when we look around now, we see hundreds of strikingly beautiful people, and our desire mechanism locks onto them, de-emphasizing the average and even above average.
  Cannot disagree with this. We always think that people around us are not what we want, and that it is feasible to find something dramatically better. In fact, this concerns not only physical attractiveness, but other attributes of femininity or, accordingly, masculinity. In practice it is as least probable as in old days.

Why is there variation in the value men place on chastitiy?

Perhaps because of differences in the economic independence of women, which leads to a devaluation of marriage, which leads to a devaluation of virginity at marriage. This reasoning explains why Sweden, a welfare state, does not place a premium on chastity.
The variation may also be due to the reliability with which chastity can be evaluated, though this does not seem like it effect the desirability of chastity.

Why do men desire youth and beauty in women?

Because of marriage-quite an interesting idea.

Since men are so indiscriminate in their sexual tastes, willing to have anonymous sex with strangers, it does not seem like any quality should have particular importance in evaluating a mate-and yet, men dramatically prefer young, beautiful women. This could only have happened if our ancestors consistently were involved in long-term relationships, so that youth and beauty would assume some importance.Women always lived longer than men did; besides, preference of youth is partially instinctive, to say nothing about beauty. Therefore, the reason is not in that the realtions hip is permanent, if taking into account that males are less strict as to woman's age and beauty in that case. The answer seems to be apparent, does it not: minimal foetus patologies frequency can be observed of mothers of 22-24. I.e., it is desired not youth itself, but women as much closer to that age as possible. The utmost juvenile are not that popular. Beauty is an implicit sign of health. Plus that possessing a gorgeous woman is similar to possessing a posh car - it is a question of prestige and rank in the hierarchy. Consider, that there is little difference between them from the utilitarian point of view. Both beautiful and unattractive women give birth to similarly healthy children. Like a $20 000 car will take you anywhere almost in the same manner as a $200 000 car. But prestige! A quite persuasive interpretation (at least not less persuasive than Dr.Buss' one) of this phenomenon is given by V.R. Dolnik in his article "A Gender - riddle of life or life - riddle of a gender?" (if you familiar with Russian - see bibliography).
PS: For the readers who think the question above is selfproving, silly or ritoric, I have to explain that males of HOMO SAPIENS species behave in a rather unusual way by choosing a mate from among quite young females! The males of other species are not so committed to the age of the females, and even if they prefer any particular age, then it is a rather mature one, when females are right at the top of the childbirth capability...

Do males' sperm count change depending on how long they've been apart from their mates?

Yes, sperm increases the longer they're apart.

When in their estrous cycle do women most often have sex with extramarital lovers?

During ovulation.

What are some physiological clues to our ancestors' sexual strategies?

  1. Testes size (we were somewhat promiscuous).
  2. Correlation between sperm count and time apart from mate. (We were not monogamous.)
  3. Female orgasm (I don't understand what this says about our past sexual strategies...)
  4. Male lust (Men were not monogamous.)
  5. Relaxation of standards for short-term mates (we were not lifelong monogamists.)
  6. Male sexual fantasies (universally include multiple female partners.)
  7. Female sexual Fantasies (suggest they want to maintain their monogamist partner.)
  8. Homosexual proclivites: Large numbers of anonymous partners. (Male desires unchecked by female limitations.)
  9. Prevalence of prostitution (Men want sex more than women. - far not the main reason of prostitution prevalence)
  10. Incest demongraphics (Father-daughter is much more common than mom-son.)

What is the key benefit of casual sex for women?

Immediate access to resources - an exchange of sex for food, protection, or money. This is reflected in female's interest in a love: someone who showers you liberally with gifts.
 This is only prostitution. Definitely, not every promiscuity is prostitution! Women having sex without any profit are not scarce! They are not only uninterested in resources (here: economical resources). They are not eager to know anything about their partner including his name. Likewise, they are not wishing to meet him again. These are cases when instinct of sexual curiosity works most apparently (in other words, instinct of "fresh blood preference"), which is directed to induce genetical diversity and overcoming the results of incest, inevitable in close groups. In these cases woman, explaining this only with need of sex, usually does not feel any special sympathy towards her partner. Sometimes she would feel a man is a carrier of good genes, and thus would easily go for a short-term relationship, not having in mind any of his economical resources; this case differs with attitude to such a male, though. She likes him indeed! And therefore such a short-term relationship has a chance to become permanent. If the man wants it, of course...

What are some solution to the male problem of obtaining multiple partners?

  1. Relaxation of short-term standards
  2. The Coolidge Effect (easily aroused by novelty.)
  3. Perceptual shift in attractiveness as time runs out.
  Do you have enough courage to call it a problem?..

What are the costs of casual sex?

  1. Sexually transmitted diseases
  2. Poor reputation
  3. Injury from a jealous husband
  4. Pregnancy without support
  5. Increase sibling competition among children of different fathers

What does Buss say about sexual strategy of fatherless females? What is strange about this?

Women whose parents are divorced or whose father died are far more promiscuous than women with families are intact. Buss suggests that the absence of a father is a cue that causes women to "conclude that wmen are not reliable investors" and therefore pursue a strategy of extracting immediate resources from a number of short-term partners. Obviously, Buss does not suggest this is conscious, but this mechanism still seems rather improbable-if there is no father present, then have lots of casual sex. For this to have evolved, there had to be large number of fatherless women in environments where the males never did invest in their children...
  The father who has left a woman with a child is more primative and high-ranked as a rule, therefore a child has thick chances to inherit this property. And this is exactly what we encounter when it grows up.
  Aside from the mentioned fact, breeding up of either girls or boys in incomplete families is more difficult itself, so in respect to their high rank potential and primativeness it becomes even much more cumbersome (such children are hardbred). As a result, the attempts to adhere them to the habits that would overweigh those, say, not very acceptable instinctive programmes, are scarcely successful.

What does the success of attraction and derogatory tactics depend on?

Whether the performer is following a short-term or long-term partner.
    It is not that different in practice... You could easily imagine a situation when a woman is ready for a short-term relationship with a man, but does not see him as a long-term partner under any circumstances. Otherwise, the opposite situation, when a woman agrees to live with a man for the whole life, but does not consider him as a short-term partner in any way, seems to be improbable! She can postpone the moment of closeness with this man, but she has already agreed for it inside! In other words, if a woman does not reckon a man as a sex partner, then he has lost any chances for a long-term relationship. Well, of course you could force her to... But if that is the case we can not talk about attraction, can we? Therefore, the tactics should be based on rising the desire of having you as a sex partner, then trying to build a particular relationship after that.
  In the case of attracting a man rising the sexual desire in him is as much important, too. Without it you would not expect the relationship to develop. There is a discrepancy, though! A woman will harder agree to have sex with a randomly chosen man, but since she did agree, it would be easy to transform this desire into a long-term relationship. Males, on the contrary, tend to go for a sex with a random woman with less reluctance, but in general it is much harder to evolve this desire into a permanent form. It depends on the male's rank ponential, at any rate.

What are some techniques for attracting a male short-term mate?

  1. Enhancing appearance
  2. Denigrating another woman's appearance
  3. Displaying infidelity-promiscuity
  4. Accepting a proposition, and performing other "sexual signals" (tight clothes, staring at someone, etc.)
  5. Denigrating a rival as a tease or a prude. (NOTE: Calling a rival a slut will backfire - men want sluts as short-term partners.)
  6. Acting submissive
  Demonstrate your easiness, to be short...

What are some techniques for attracting a female short-term mate?

  1. Immediate resource display
  2. Denigrate rival's resources
  3. Wearing costly clothing
  4. Displaying commitment (persistence, kindness, nurturance toward children (????), fidelity, love)-though not as effective as when used to attract long-term mates
  5. Displaying physical prowess
  6. Displaying bravado and self-confidence
  7. Sneak or satellite strategy-pretending to not be interested or dominant, and then swithching when the opportunity arises

What are some techniques for attracting a male long-term mate?

  1. Displaying fidelity
  2. Derogating a rival's fidelity
  3. Selective use of playing hard to get (ostentatiously displaying that you are hard for anyone to get - except the person you are interested in.)
  4. Denigrating a rival as cold or prudish

What are some techniques for attracting a female long-term mate?

  1. Displaying potential for acquiring resources (ambition)
  2. Denigrating rival's ambition
  3. Wearing costly clothing
  4. Displaying commitment (persistence, kindness, nurturance toward children, fidelity, love)
  5. Denigrating a rival's fidelity

What is the evidence that these techniques were shaped by natural selection?

Males throughout animal kingdom display resources.

What psychological mechanism has evolved to provide alertness to and control of sexual threats?

Sexual jealousy.The question is not quite clear...

How do men and women differ in sexual jealousy?

Men and women do not differ in the frequency and magnitude. (Though how you compare magnitude is beyond me.) However, male jealousy is provoked by sheer sexual contact, while female jealousy is provoked by a diversion of resources (emotional or economic involvement with another woman.)

Why did men evolve to prefer young and beautiful sexual partners?

The only halfway reasonable explanation is that we first evolved monogamy, or at least multiple long-term commitments, and then evolved a preference for young and beautiful long-term partners...but men like young and beautiful short-term partners as well. It is a mystery to me... (it is not, to me. See the comments above)

What are some male tactics for keeping a mate?

  1. Fulfilling partner's desire for material resources - you could be broke soon without reaching the goal
  2. Fulfilling partner's desire for love and kindness
  3. Submissiveness (more so than women!) -absolute failure!
  4. Maintaining vigilance
  5. Concealing your partner
  6. Denigrating rivals
  7. Threatening and injuring rivals - It's whopping I see...
  8. Threatning and injuring partner - what about love and kindness (above)????

What are some female tactics for keeping a mate?

  1. Enhancing beauty
  2. Submissiveness
  3. Provoke jealousy

What are the four broad tactics for keeping a mate?

  1. Provide mate with adaptively relevant resources-what the partner want during courtship
  2. Keep competitors at bay
  3. Emotional manipulation
  4. Violence and destructive measures -Gosh!!! Aren't they the same people who forbade us to tamper with matches...

What is the "master mechanism" for staying together?

Male sexual jealousy.
Even if not to count non-ethological factors like feeling responsibility, common interests, economical reasons and psychological conservativism etc, inaccessibility of other females for a low-ranked male can be the decisive factor that ties him to the female.

Why do women call men emotionally withholding, and why are men this way?

Women want to ensure that paternal investment (material resouces) keep coming their way, and emotional involvement signals that the resources will keep flowing, while emotional constrictiveness shows ambiguity. Men want to keep the possibility open of diverting resources elsewhere (to other females) and so maintain a poker face - not revealing where they really stand.

Why are women moody?

To impose a cost on non-commitment from males, or to ensure that the commitment stays strong - it absorbs male effort that could be spent elsewhere. Moodiness also tests the commitment of a partner.
Extended emotional expressiveness of women is the result of their higher primativity, i.e. they are more attached to instinctive programmes.

What is the evidence that men have evolved a distinct rape strategy?

So far, none. However, there is evidence that men use coercive strategies in a wide variety of sexual contexts.
The ability and desire to coerce is a sign of a high rank; and since high-ranked males have much more copulations, a statistic illusion creates the impression that in GENERAL men are apt to it. Take heed, women like high-ranked attitudes, therefore they like coercing (to some extent; let it remain ritually playful), and do not tend to disapprove of it.

What are some major areas of sexual conflict between men and women?

  1. Conflicts over sexual access
  2. Fighting over commitment and investment
  3. Sexual harassment and rape
I feel I need to add: conflicts between the woman's jealosy and the man's aptitude to sexual expansion, and a conflict between the man's jealosy and the woman's sexual curiosity.

What are some emotions that were shaped by selective pressures exerted by sexual strategies?

Sexual jealousy, anger, sadness, psychological pain. Yet we did not know that J

Is prevalent divorce a recent phenomenon?

No, it is common cross-culturally, including among hunter-foragers, such as the !Kung and the Ache.
(!Kung (Kalahari desert) and Ache (Paraguay also) are contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes)

When did the earliest known homicide take place?

50,000 years ago, by a stab to the chest.

What is the major cause of ring dove "divorce"?


What are the two most prevalent causes of divorce?

  1. Infidelity
  2. Infertility

What are the major causes of breaking up?

  1. Infidelity
  2. Infertility
  3. Male failure to provide economic support
  4. Female sexual withdrawal
  5. Male sexual withdrawl
  6. Acquisition of additional wives
  7. Unkindness
  8. Female aging

What question caused the most people to decline to participate in Kinsey's study?

Question on extramarital affairs.

At what age do the greatest percentage of women have extramarital affairs? Why might this be the case?

Between ages 31 and 40.

  1. Less male vigilance
  2. Fewer costs from a jealous husband

What percentage of men who have affairs report that their marriage is happy? What percentage of women?

56% of men, 33% of women.

What is the evidence that medical technology has dramatically increased human lifespan?

There is no evidence that technology has increased human lifespan at all.

What are some tentative explanations for the existence of menopause?

  1. The grandmother hypothesis (more benefits from investing in kin and grandchildren than in producing more children.)
  2. Menopause is an incidental by-product of early and rapid breeding, which wears out the reproductive machinery. (This doesn't make sense to me...)

What is Buss' central message about human sexual strategies?

They are very flexible and sensitive to social context.
Even being that flexible and sensitive there are a couple of things which are invariant to culture and social context, because they are determined by instincts. They are: the principle of male's sexual expansion and the principle of biological irreplaceableness of women.

Some myths about human sexual strategies exposed by evolutionary theory:

  1. Women have a single goal: the pursuit of a lifelong mate.
Good, but too little.

What are some areas of broad cultural variation in mating behavior?

  1. Preference for virgins
  2. Early vs. delayed reproduction
  3. Pursuing short-term vs. long-term strategies
Difference in preferences in choosing a partner are more important, to my mind: it can be left alone (left for instincts to rule), or can be ruled somehow; and if ruled, by whom and how. And of course socially endorsed criteria of choice can be significantly different.

Treatise of Love, as It Is Recognized by an Awful Bore

Other literature about ethology and evolutionary psychology of man (Russian)