Nature has carefully taken care of its needs. In human beings raising a child is one of the most resource consuming jobs without much significant return. It makes no practical sense as why would we opt for such inefficient activity. But for the survival of any species, reproduction is the bottom-line. And God is not a fool. He knows what it takes to make it work. So he made sex. Moreover to make if more fun, He thought “lets take away their judgement ability when it comes to sex”. How else would you explain a species with highest brain is to body mass ratio, who are otherwise able to find the nuclear reaction going on in the Sun to the cause of global economic depression, to cheat on their spouse for few minutes of pleasure?
High school Biology class in progress. Todays topic- Life Process II: Reproduction.
Teacher asks a question to all students- What is sex?
Everybody in the class starts giggling.
Teacher asks again. This time pointing out a boy- You, stand up and tell me, what is sex?
The boy stands up, still trying hard to hold his smile and says- ummm… aaaa… sirrrr…
Teacher gets impatient and shouts- Stop stammering and say it loud. I can’t hear you.
Boy freezes in fear and starts speaking in a robotic monotonous voice- It is the penetration of penis into the vagina.
Pin-drop silence in the class.
Teacher looks away from him and says casually- Sex is the property by which organisms are classified as males and females. Anyway sit down.
The constant change for betterment in gene pool of any species is achieved by the “struggle between the individuals of one sex, generally the males, for the possession of the other sex”. This is how Darwin defined sexual selection. (FYI sexual selection is very different from sex selection which is the attempt to control the sex of the offspring to achieve a desired sex, in other words first step towards female foeticide). Sexual selection is a component of natural selection. Natural selection really is the ‘survival of those who reproduce the best’. It is this process of sexual selection which made us ‘Human’ from primates. It is because our ancestor primates consistently chose to mate with the relatively intellectually(!) superior partner which ultimately resulted in an increasing brain mass over consecutive progeny.
But how we choose our partner from a range of people of opposite sex? There are a set of traits that both males and females look for in their prospective mate. The things man look for in a woman is very different from what a woman look for in a man.
Men are turned on visually while women are more interested in character. For men visual arousal stimuli are vitally important and activate the brain more than they do for women. The visual ques that men look for in women are the results of extraordinary evolutionary effects. Men usually look for curves in a female body. And science has proved that there is more than just perversion in typical male gaze. To begin with, a women’s breast clearly signals that she has passed puberty and is probably able to reproduce. (So ladies, next time you spot a guy staring at your boobs- don’t freak out. However this theory fails to explain Micheal Jackson, N D Tiwari and other pedophiles.) The other part of the female body which attracts eyes is the waist. A waist 7/10th of its hip size is found to be most favorable to bear babies. Females with a waist to hip ratio of 7:10 find it easier to get pregnant, conceive earlier in life and have fewer miscarriages. Next on this list are well-formed lips (explains the uber popularity of Angelina Jolie), high defined cheeks and skin texture. Most of these feminine features are regulated by the hormone Estrogen, which also regulates the reproductive health of a women. It is these signs of health, youth and fertility that a man is looking for in a woman. But deceiving human eye is not one of the toughest things to do. With the advent in medical science (mainly cosmetic surgery) now anyone can have well-developed breasts (breast augmentation), lustrous skin (Botox/ face lift/ LSR- Laser Skin Resurfacing) and a perfect waist (Liposuction/ Butt enlargement/ butt lift). Mother nature is clever enough to make women fool-proof from these visual misleads.
Women look beyond simple physical attractiveness. They looks for intangible characteristics which can not be deceived. Like reliability, loyalty, kindness and intelligence. (This should explain why Padmalaxmi married Salman Rushdie or that sexy blonde you know who is going out with some ugly prick- and you thought she was dumb!) Generally speaking, women are more choosy than men when it comes to pick a partner. The reason women are more choosy about men is because sex can be much costlier for them. It can lead them to nine months of painful pregnancy and years of child care (and the pain continues). To talk at the gamete level- sperms are cheap, eggs are costly. Sperms are easily produced (and more easily wasted ;)). A male can produce four such cells in every meiosis. Egg production on the other hand is costly. They are very large cells and takes almost a month to produce a single egg cell in human. So right there from the production of gametes, a female investment is significantly larger than in males. This makes them more careful in choosing a partner to pass on her DNA. It’s like if you are buying a $100 mobile phone you would be happy if you can make and receive calls only, but if you are to buy a $3000 phone you will read about its features and reviews before buying it. And for women choosing a partner is like buying that $3000 phone.
Women choose a mate who will help raise their children. This makes ‘status’ a very attractive trait. A powerful, wealthy and successful man can provide a good life to possible offspring. Men also take part in this game by showing off fancy cars and elegant clothes. But it’s not that women don’t like to look at good-looking men (like me). The male hormone testosterone helps in developing various secondary male sexual features after a boy reaches his puberty like strong jaw, prominent cheek bones and broad shoulders. These are the markers of male virility and health.
Babies with a wide genetic variation have a stronger immune system which helps fight off disease. People who inherit a range of genes have an advantage. Each individual has his own set of immune system which they strengthen over the years by fighting with various diseases. Researches show that women prefer men with dissimilar ranges of genes from them their own. (This also explains incest avoidance.) They do it by scent. Our body odour carries significant information about our genes. women tend to prefer smell of men with dissimilar MHC (major histocompatibility complex) thus favoring guys whose immune system is different from their own. Then their babies get the best of the mix, a diversity giving them a better chance to of healthy life.
In another study it was found that- people with more symmetric face looks more attractive. Symmetry is a reliable signal of gene quality. People whom we find attractive usually has more symmetric face and a greater variety of genes, hence stronger immune system. People with good immune system are less prone to diseases and parasites, the sort of things that might lead to asymmetrical features when we are developing. Women also prefer the smell of men who are more symmetrical, specifically to women who are at the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle. (This leads to the question of science behind fidelity and infidelity. I might cover this topic some other time.)
So what a women is actually looking for in men? She is looking for indications in men that display honest and costly signals that they contain genes for superior survival ability. it’s a catch twenty-two for them between ‘direct benifits’ (status, power, fame, money) and ‘good genes’ (tall dark handsome). And it is this situation which gives many men the ‘benefit of doubt’ and ultimately all of us get hitched.
* The Nature of love by Dr. Helen Fisher
* Yale University Lecture on Sexual Selection
* The National Geographic Channel
* Discovery Channel
* My own (not so) intelligent analytical ability.