Choosy but not chaste: multiple mating in human females

Evol Anthropol. Sep-Oct 2013;22(5):259-69. doi: 10.1002/evan.21373.


When Charles Darwin set out to relate his theory of evolution by natural selection to humans he discovered that a complementary explanation was needed to properly understand the great variation seen in human behavior. The resulting work, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, laid out the defining principles and evidence of sexual selection. In brief, this work is best known for illuminating the typically male strategy of intrasexual competition and the typically female response of intersexual choice. While these sexual stereotypes were first laid out by Darwin, they grew in importance when, years later, A. J. Bateman, in a careful study of Drosophila mating strategies, noted that multiple mating appeared to provide great benefit to male reproductive success, but to have no such effect on females. As a result, female choice soon became synonymous with being coy, and only males were thought to gain from promiscuous behavior. However, the last thirty years of research have served to question much of the traditional wisdom about sex differences proposed by Darwin and Bateman, illuminating the many ways that women (and females more generally) can and do engage in multiple mating.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Divorce
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior* / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior* / psychology
  • Sexual Partners*