The Evolution of Desire

In THE EVOLUTION OF DESIRE, University of Michigan psychology professor David M. Buss theorizes that modern human mating behavior has its roots in the primeval past. In surveying more than 10,000 individuals from thirty-seven countries, Buss has observed certain constants in the way men and women choose—and lose—mates. THE EVOLUTION OF DESIRE reveals his findings, many of them sure to be controversial.

For example, Buss contends that infidelity is a deeply rooted sexual strategy, that women worldwide prefer older, wealthy men, and that some men choose homosexuality because they are unable to attract women.

The book is most interesting when offering the straight statistical results of Buss’s worldwide study, such as: “When men and women were asked how they would feel if a co-worker of the opposite sex asked them to have sex, 63 percent of the women would be insulted. . . whereas 67 percent [of the men] would feel flattered.” As a survey of current sexual attitudes and behaviors, THE EVOLUTION OF DESIRE is a compelling read.

The book falters, however, in seeking evolutionary explanations for modern mating behavior. There is scant information about how primeval human ancestors behaved sexually, so it is tenuous to base theories of current mating behavior on ancient sexual strategies. Many of Buss’s theories about how modern mating behavior evolved are speculative, if not downright silly. In explaining why modern women dislike lazy, unreliable men, for example, Buss claims that a preference for reliable, stable men developed out of early women’s poor experiences with lazy cavemen who would rather nap than hunt. Most negative traits are as undesirable in a modern context as they were thousands of years ago; it is unnecessary to look to the past to understand why people today value intelligence and industriousness over stupidity and sloth in a mate.