Should she flaunt her sexuality to get a high-quality cad (with good genes, immediate resources, and perhaps the possibility of changing his mind later)? Or should she advertise her fidelity and other charms to attract a long-term, investing dad? Gangestad and Simpson have measured how much time and committment a woman requires before entering a sexual relationship (a variable they term “sexual restrictedness”), and have explored its genetic underpinnings with twin studies. They argue that some of the personality traits underlying this behavior are heritable, and that the genetic variation is bimodally distributed. This finding is consistent with the notion that the costs and benefits of sexual restrictedness impose trade-offs, and that a woman may be better off trying to maximize one thing or the other.
There is also evidence supporting the role of early learning in sexual restrictedness, although it is difficult to separate this effect from genetic in- fluence. Hetherington did behavior observation studies of “father-absent” adolescents (those whose mothers divorced when they were very young) and compared them to adolescents whose fathers were present when they were growing up and to adolescents whose mothers were widowed rather than di- vorced. The girls who were father-absent due to divorce behaved in a more seductive fashion towards men than either of the other two groups. These and related results have been interpreted as evidence of early learning of appropriate mating strategies. If true, the difference between daughters whose mothers were divorced and those whose mothers were widowed suggests that they are learning about men from their mothers, not from father absence per se. The lesson they are learning is presumably “don’t count on male investment—get what resources you can through short-term liaisons with high-status men.” The proximate mechanisms leading to differences in sexual restrictedness may, of course, be both genetic and environmental. Evidence for one does not rule out the other.