Rebecca Kamm

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Rebecca Kamm: What men really want

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Men want to be in a loving relationship, not throw their seeds around willy nilly, according to new research.Photo / Thinkstock
Men want to be in a loving relationship, not throw their seeds around willy nilly, according to new research.Photo / Thinkstock

Rejoice, cynical women! It turns out most men do indeed seek relationships also, and the idea they'd rather have casual sex with with multiple women is a myth - or the "Casanova stereotype", as one Andrew P. Smiler puts it.

Author of Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male, the Wake Forrest University research psychologist writes that this stereotype "tells us that guys are primarily interested in sex, not relationships" which "contributes to the notion that guys are emotional clods who are incapable of connecting with their partners, because hey, they're just guys, and guys are only interested in sex."

Which, in turn, leads to the idea that "guys shouldn't be expected to achieve any type of 'real' emotional intimacy with their partners."

Those of us in, or who have ever been in, relationships with men will (hopefully) already know this to (generally) be the case. Still, research that exposes the folly of stereotypes tends to be a good thing, so hats off to Smiler.

In an interview with Salon (worth a read), the expert on teenage and adult masculine behaviour explains that: "It's actually a minority of guys who want multiple short-term partners - that even comes up in the evolutionary research."

By which he means men actually have a greater chance of passing on their genes if they stick around to make sure their offspring matures and thrives. Which contradicts the trendy socio-biological idea of 'seed-spreading': that all men are programmed to fling their sperms here there and everywhere in the hope it'll crack as many eggs as possible.

Smiler's research backed up his theory: anonymous surveys of undergraduates showed that only about 25 per cent of young men wanted two or more partners in the next 30 days. Which meant the ideal for 75 per cent of guys was just one partner during that time.

"If guys are biologically programmed to want multiple partners," he writes in Challenging Casanova, "why is it that [they]... overwhelmingly say they're looking for only one partner when completing anonymous surveys?"

Casanova types do - and have always - existed, he writes, but they are very much the minority. The idea they represent the standard, or how your standard guy would live his life if he could, is actually a fairly recent concept.

We can thank popular culture for that: post 1970s sexual revolution, 'player' characters like The Fonz (Happy Days) and "Hawkeye" (M*A*S*H) were suddenly glamorised and put forward as hero types. More recently, we have Sam Malone from sitcom Cheers, and Charlie Sheen's 'work' on Two and a Half Men. And films like American Pie. Prior to this, men who juggled multiple partners were cast in an unflattering light by mass media.

1980s evolutionary psychology added to the new, flattering approach to 'promiscuous' men. Psychobiological researchers managed to lodge into public consciousness that men were slaves to their evolutionary programming; directed by Mother Nature to bed as many women as humanly possible.

So what do men want? "What most guys seek," Smiler says, "and this seems to be regardless of sexual orientation or age, [is] people whose company they enjoy. People who appreciate them for who they are." He points to that fact 90 per cent of men will get married at least once.

And what of women - how are they impacted by the Casanova stereotype? It's no good for them either, apparently:

"One of the ways it impacts girls and women is they get the wrong proportions. They're told that most guys, if not all guys, just want sex, that they don't want relationships .... which makes them perhaps behave in ways in which they wouldn't behave otherwise - starting your contact with somebody sexually instead of relationally, for example."


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