Sunday, March 13, 2011

What do Tiger Woods, Charlie Sheen, and Moulay Ismail have in common?

(Charlie, Tiger, and Moulay would have a lot to discuss if they ever got together, and it wouldn't be about golf.)

The answer to the question in the title is SEX.   More specifically, they all have had sex with many different women during their lives.

We do not know the exact number, but it is probably safe to conclude from all reports that Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen have had sex with dozens of women, both of whom still have a looooong way to go before they're finished with their sexual lives.  Certainly the number of sexual consorts they have had is greater than the number reached by most, or all, of you reading this essay.  But, in fact, that is exactly what a behavioral ecologist expects.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an essay here posing why people become avid fans of sports teams.  My hypothesis was that those individuals who followed and proclaimed their allegiance to a football or baseball team were enhancing their status, at least a little.  And I recognized that this phenomenon of being a fan is more common in males than in females.  I should have written this essay first, and then that one, because that would seem to be the more logical order in which to present these ideas.  But I'm old, and this is my blog, and I can do anything I want here.

The idea here is that men seek as high a status as they can muster, and with that status, comes access to women.  And this has been going on for millions of years--in Homo sapiens, and in all the ancestral species before that.  Realize that men all over the world are seeking high status by trying to excel at whatever they do in life (e.g., whether being a surgeon, a golfer, an actor, a warrior in the Amazon, a politician, or an assembly line worker), because the payoff for millennia has been to leave more offspring than those who don't.  And, as we learned in that out-of-order blog of mine, men don't have to be conscious of all this evolutionary stuff; they do it because it feels good.

Of course, this would all work only if there is a correlation between the number of women with whom a man has sexual intercourse and the number of children he sires during his life.  But, you are saying, women can have all the sex they want and not get pregnant, because of their use of contraception.  But that is a relatively new development in the evolution of humans.  I have never thought that men seek women to have more children, but they seek out women because sex feels good.  It is the proximate goal to have sex that drives this system in the short term, not the ultimate outcome of leaving genes in more offspring.  Over our long history, however, more sex must have equated to having more children, on average.

By the way, one of my favorite activities is to google famous people, and then to read the Wikipedia account of their lives.  Usually those accounts contain a "Personal" section, which details the number of times the person has been married, the number of children they had with each wife, and maybe the number of non-wife lovers they had during their illustrious life.  Think of a few famous men you know, and do this little exercise.  I think you will then agree that they seem to have had a lot more "encounters" with females than you have, or than most of the men you know.  And those numbers reported there are just the official tally.

But how successful reproductively can one man be?  Let's introduce Moulay Isma├»l Ibn Sharif (the "Warrior King"), who ruled Morocco from 1672-1727.  Moulay ruled for a decade longer than even Qaddafi has ruled Libya.  Moulay Ismail was a particularly ruthless and bloodthirsty ruler, who used to kill his servants on a whim.  It is said that he once slit the throats of two servants just to try out a new blade he had been given.  But the Alaouite sultan's claim to fame for our purposes was that he is thought to have sired more than 1,000 children, the most in recorded history.  By 1703, he had 525 sons and 342 daughters; less than two decades later, he tallied his 700th son.  One biologist calculated that to produce this number of children from the vast harem of wives he amassed, Moulay would have had to copulate, on average, with 1.2 women every day over the course of 60 years.  Tiger and Charlie have some catching up to do if they want to capture that record.

Should we condemn these self-serving, sex-seeking males of our species for their dastardly way of life?  If we are going to assign some blame for this behavior, we need to look further than the males themselves.  Females share in the blame, for if they had not been attracted to high-status men for eons, this system would have broken down long ago.  Remember that for men, quantity is everything in sex, while for females, quality is paramount.

In addition, all this striving to be the best you can be has probably resulted in most of the accomplishments in art, music, architecture, medicine, sports, and science attributed to men.  Think for a moment how different history would have been if this biological relationship between status and reproductive success had been different from what it is.  That is one heck of an interesting mental exercise. If that doesn't give you something to think about when your electricity is out, go back to playing Scrabble by candlelight.

Article first published as What Do Tiger Woods, Charlie Sheen and Moulay Ismail Have in Common? on Technorati.