Effects of Short-Term Mating

Based on evolutionary theory, mate selection has been an adaptive challenge since prehistoric times. Partner value is reliably signaled by physical attractiveness. Men prioritize reproductive value in their female partner, while women prioritize resource acquisition in their male partner.

Cultural exposure to full-covering women in society will underestimate the role of body indicators in favoring male partners and emphasize the role of body characteristics and other sociocultural factors.

What is Short-term Mating?

A partner's short- and long-term preferences can depend on physical, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Both men and women are very different in mate preference strategies and have evolved to depend on individual differences and situational effects. Females are pickier in short-term pairings because they have a more significant parental commitment. Males and females are equally picky in long-term mating because they have the same level of parental investment.

As a result, female and male intrasexual rivalry and choosiness are comparable in long-term mating but not in short-term mating. Males should adopt a short-term mating strategy more frequently than females since they have a smaller compulsory parental investment. Short-term mating is defined by casual, low-commitment sexual encounters with many partners that do not continue long. Also, men profit more than females from short-term mating. Males' total reproductive success is higher than females' because they usually seek short-term mating tactics, which is also more variable.

This indicates that men can have more kids on average, but only a few guys can have a significant number of offspring. Males have a more vital need for sexual diversity, require less time to consent to intercourse, and prefer short-term partners to females due to this short-mating strategy.

Effects of Menstrual Cycle on Short-Term Mating

Much literature indicates that women's mate preferences fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle. The phenotypic traits women are attracted to when they are at their most fertile stage of the cycle tend to differ from those to which they are attracted when they are less fertile. For example, women were more attracted to male faces and bodies during the fertile period.

Fluctuations in preferences during the menstrual cycle may favor using a mixed mating strategy, in which females pursue complementary short-term pairing relationships. Women adopting a mixed strategy should seek short-term mates with high genetic value when fertile to accumulate genetic advantage and avoid short-term mating when less fertile to avoid expense.

While cyclical changes in mate preference at least partially fuel mixed mating strategies, the magnitude of mate preference fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle can vary depending on your values. Females with low mate value who benefit from pursuing a mixed mating strategy may experience greater volatility than females with high mate value, who benefit less from pursuing a mixed mating strategy pursue a mixed mating strategy. For a woman of low marital value, the increase in attractiveness for genetic quality indicators when fertile will motivate her to pursue her best mating strategy.

The Ovulation Shift Hypothesis holds that women experience adaptive evolutionary changes in mating-related subconscious thinking and behavior during different parts of the ovulatory cycle. This suggests that what women want for men varies throughout the menstrual cycle. The ovulation alteration hypothesis proposes that these changes are engineered by natural selection as an evolutionary adaptation to select and attract specific types of high-genetic-quality mates when a woman is most likely to get pregnant.

Women's behavior can change during the most fertile time of their ovulatory cycle. At high fertility, the theory is that women may be more physically active and away from male relatives. Many studies have shown that women's preferences change during the cycle, but this is the first time these changes have been demonstrated.

Functions versus Beneficial Effects of Short-Term Mating

Short-term mating may offer benefits that are unrelated to the initial function. "Securing a part as an actor or actress in a movie," for example, maybe a desirable result of short-term mating, but it cannot be an original function of such mating. Motion images are a recent invention that did not evolve in the selective environment that people did. Of course, this does not rule out the more abstract function of short-term mating of "trade sex for status or advantage."

To qualify as a function of short-term mating indicates that −

  • There was repeated selection pressure throughout human evolutionary history

  • The advantage was enjoyed recurrently by those who engaged in short-term mating under certain conditions

  • The costs of pursuing short-term mating in fitness currencies were less than the benefits in the contexts in which they were pursued

  • Selection favored the evolution of at least one psychological mechanism specifically designed to promote short-term mating in specific circumstances.

Because we cannot travel back in time, we must rely on numerous evidence criteria to infer the emergence of psychological processes tailored to promote short-term mating. We can use the following criteria:

  • Do people in most or all cultures participate in short-term mating under specific settings when not forcefully restrained from doing so?

  • Are there specific settings that incline men and women to participate in short-term mating, implying the presence of context-sensitive psychological mechanisms?

  • Based on our understanding of ancestral environments, is it plausible to assume that those specific situations would have afforded recurring opportunities for women to participate in short-term mating?

  • Was a prospective benefit likely obtained by a woman or a man participating in short-term mating in those circumstances?

  • Was the advantage significant enough to justify the risks of short-term mating?

  • Are the contemporary situations in which women and men participate in short-term mating equivalent to evolutionary conditions in which costs and benefits were likely to be reduced and maximized?

Thus far, empirical research has been unable to answer all of these concerns, making it impossible to discriminate between advantages that may be proper functions of short-term mating and those that are just side effects. However, the empirical information available guides people who are relatively excellent and have poor prospects for function.

Given the prevalence of short-term mating in all known cultures, including tribal cultures, the prevalence of infidelity in plays and novels dating back centuries, the evidence for human sperm competition, and the prevalence of the desire for sexual variety, it is reasonable to infer that ancestral conditions would have allowed recurrent opportunities for women and men to benefit from short-term mating some of the time.

Short-Term Mating Predictions

Although both sexes are sexually uncommitted, men generally show a greater desire for short-term relationships than women, possibly due to an imbalance historically matched for the costs and benefits of short-term mating. In contrast, the lower parental investment required for men means that short sex offers little cost but a high potential for fitness enhancement. Males have become more responsive to mating cues and more motivated to engage in short-term mating than females.

Many studies have shown that men are more willing to have casual sex with strangers. Sociosexual orientation (SO) represents the openness of individuals to short-term mating. People with relatively high (unrestricted) SO are likelier to engage in short-term relationships. Relationship status is negatively associated with short-term mating preference, such as those paired up showing reduced, but not always absent, interest in uncommitted sex.


The Ovulation Change Hypothesis suggests that women should seek short-term mates when most fertile, but men can have many friends. Different evolutionary perspectives offer conflicting views on mating and short-term attachment. Some theories suggest that short-term mating outcomes result from insecure attachment, particularly the maladaptive attachment characteristics of low self-esteem, interpersonal distrust, avoidance of social avoidance, and emotional instability.

Other theories suggest that short-term mating is adaptive, having evolved as an ecologically random breeding strategy. From this perspective, short-term mating has many origins—developmental, genetic, and situational—and may not be associated with the maladaptive features of insecure attachment.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023


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