Pretty Boys Finish First and the biological facts behind the dominance of the “beta” male


Yes, its true, there is a massive social shift towards the favourability of the “beta” over the “alpha”. A shag is one thing, but life is far more important.

Women’s attraction to men varies according to where they are in the menstrual cycle.  A woman who is at peak fertility is most attracted to a hot, hunky, good-looking, symmetrically featured man, because these things are equated with healthy genes.  But for the other three weeks when she is not fertile, her preference is for a more effeminate, gentler, softer man.  

Men, too, are more attracted to a woman when she is fertile, than when she is not, but in truth, men are always more attracted to more attractive women.  This is what men equate with healthy genes, and this is what drives the beauty industry, and why women expend so much effort in looking good.  We all interested in attracting each other.

So far so good.

But since the 1960’s, we have been conducting a massive experiment with biology through birth control.  20% of North American women and 50% of European women take the birth control pill.  This is significant, because it mimics the state of pregnancy.  That means a woman on the pill is more attracted to a softer, more effeminate man, a girlieboy if you will (hah!). This has already shaped several generations of choice, and may be driving evolution away from the hard-bodied, muscular male trope.  Sorry boys.  As the Harvard study wryly notes, “Pretty Boys Finish First.”

Specific disclaimer on the terms alpha v. beta male

I have written previously on how unhelpful the narrative around alpha and beta males are.  I am referring to that in a sexual context.  You can read that post here.  For the purposes of this post, alpha is short-hand for a male who is physically better looking, more symmetrical, and stronger (the kind that might get you wet between the legs and swoon over), whereas a beta male demonstrates social and material advantages, is of higher social status, is wealthier, is part of the establishment, is nicer, calmer, more stable, and more nurturing.  In other words, an alpha is someone you want to f£$!@k and a beta is someone you want to raise kids with and grow old with.

In other words, a woman might regard the physical attributes of an alpha and interpret them as “healthy” and “strong” and believe that these are ideal traits for her children.  And indeed, she would be correct.  Indeed, body symmetry, attractiveness, is indeed correlated to longevity.  In this sense, alphas live longer  Alpha does not equal aggression, or in this context, the type-A personality, which is correlated to greater levels of risk-taking and younger mortality.

This is not far from observed reality.  How often does someone truly have it all—good looks, health, money?  Most of the really rich people I know aren’t half as good looking as many others.  Thank goodness as it would be grossly unfair!

The scientific observation

Women’s sexual preferences (the type of mate they are attracted to) change with their cycle each month.  

During peak fertility, the woman seeks “genetic benefits” for her offspring, but during the other three weeks of her cycle, she seeks “material and social benefits” for her offspring.  In plain language, that means, she seeks an alpha male when she is most likely to conceive, and a beta male the rest of the month.  Interestingly, and separately, a woman is more likely to conceive when her sexual interaction is with a man who is outside of her coupling—in other words from an “adulterous” relationship.  Substantially more so.

That is quite profound.  It suggests that women are wired to be polyamorous.   That a woman who successfully applies a dual strategy is more likely to conceive genetically successful children, and to raise socially and materially successful children.  But it takes two men to do it (at least).  There is the “sire” in Harvard parlance, the one who provides the seed, and then there is the cuckold partner or husband, who nests with the wife and provides a solid, safe, healthy home environment.  For obvious reasons of humanity, conducting an experiment on such was deemed “inhumane”, however I am sure there are plenty of members of the BDSM community who have actually done this, and could provide very useful insights!  Many studies of birds have shown that “extra-pair offspring” (conceived with a male that is not the caregiver) are stronger and more successful than “within-pair offspring.”

Sex is pleasurable precisely because of the importance to a woman of this dual strategy.  A man may not always know where a woman is in her cycle, so for him it makes evolutionary sense that he always fancies a shag. 

But If sex were just about reproduction and the making of genetically viable offspring, then humans would copulate only when fertility was at its maximum…but that isn’t the case. People copulate throughout the cycle as it is an important part of physical, sexual, and spiritual bonding and helps to underpin relationships.  Biologically speaking then, a woman will copulate both for reproductive reasons, but also to secure attachment from her partner, to ensure stability and the continuity of her gene pool.  A man does the same.

Women choose

Throughout the animal kingdom, female choice is supreme, all the more so when there is strong competition between males for females.  But in human society,  this is not the always the case—indeed we traduce our biology by taking away woman’s choice in partner selection.  In many cultures, a systematic removal of female choice can be noted—parents selecting the mate for their daughter.  A widowed wife being forced to marry his brother, and if she refuses, losing all of her property to said brother.

We are moving to a world where beta’s always win

One of the by-products of female contraception through hormones, is an increase in sexual preference towards beta males.  With contraception creating an “always on” feeling of attraction in woman towards more effeminate men, the compass of natural selection has re-oriented.  And indeed, in fashion and other areas, we increasingly see images of the androgyne.

Alpha vs Beta in Society

I wonder whether the roles men seek change as they age.  For instance, that most males wish to be alphawhen they are young, in their teens, when male hormones are running at their strongest, and they are looking to prove themselves, find themselves in the pecking order.  But as we age, a vast majority of men prefer to be betas in the sense of this article, as the betas have all the trappings of success—the beautiful wife, the trophy life, the good job, the money.  After all, the milkman, the gardener, the bodyguard, the chauffeur are fun for fantasy, but how many men or women hold that as the pinnacle of desire?  Fantasy is not the same as reality.

Patriarchy’s response and its consequences

The biological reality may dictate that women should be free to choose their partners and should also be adulterous, so as to cuckold their partners, but this doesn’t work from a social standpoint.  As a result, a great many social barriers have been erected to protect men’s “rights” to raise their own child.  The whole cuckold narrative is one of humiliation for the male to be cheated upon, most certainly compounded should he be raising the alpha’s children.

The implications of these scientific facts are not good for men, at least from a “me” perspective.  In other words, I am me, alive now, wishing to propagate my genes.  I will expend great effort to ensure my reproductive success.  Indeed, I am, like all humans, wired to do so.  It is my and our biological imperative.  But here we see that what an individual needs or wants is not necessarily what is best for society as a whole.  Because championing individual interest is one of the hallmarks of patriarchy (v. an emphasis on collective and social benefits found in matriarchy), a series of customs and rules have been established across cultures that protect the individual male’s “right” to reproductive success.  I note that this is done when our biology dictates otherwise, when long-term outcomes would be enhanced by following our biology towards a matriarchal structure.  Patriarchy leads to sub-optimal outcomes.

A toxic version of this patriarchal narrative relates to incels, who believe they have a right of access to reproduction—the denial of which provokes intense rage.  

As a sidebar, culture can be defined in part as humanity rising above our biology.  Typically, we think of culture as a positive, something that we have achieved, and evolved away from our base nature for.  But in this case, this kind of culture is clearly inferior to our nature.  Why do we put up with it?

In many societies, women do not choose their mates, marriages are arranged.  By definition, this means that a woman gets a beta as a husband.  In societies where arranged marriages are common, the penalties for adultery are beyond severe.  They allow for “honour” killings and stoning.  Pretty barbaric stuff.  And yet, this structure of arranged marriage is precisely the construct that should encourage a woman to attempt to have a baby with a man outside of the pair coupling.  Hence the connection and the severity of the deterrent.  In a patriarchy it can only be thus.  And it is thus because betas vastly outnumber alphasbetas are the owners, they are the establishment, they are the ones with the most to “lose” when we challenge the status quo.

This is an outrageous and dangerous comment, but the societies that exist with these types of relations have been doing so for millennia.  What happens to the gene pool when this type of selection takes place?  Or social evolution?  I would argue that it leads to a genetic drift towards the mean—natural selection drives evolution, this selection process negates natural selection and all the positives that result.  It is social selection instead—no marriage for love or looks or some other quality that we might seek in a partner—decency, humour, creativity, fun…  I would also argue that this type of selection leads to an increase in social rigidity, a decrease in social mobility, an increase in social conservatism, and an increased crushing and enslavement of all things female.  It has to do so, and be totalitarian in this way, because only the threat of patriarchal violence against women would silence their voices enough to stamp out dissent.  We have current and prescient examples in society over the past decades of how alive and well this thinking is, what outcomes it leads to, and what kind of societies result.

I would argue that a society’s ability to express itself artistically and creatively is one of the cleanest and clearest measures of its health.  A society in which ideas and expression flourish is one that will create greater wealth and happiness for its citizens.  If cultural achievement is measured by artistic output, just look around you at the societies that are producing great art today versus those which are not.  It is stark.

It takes only a cursory analysis to discover that societies where women have more freedom, more equality, and better social status—more freedom to choose and to exert their will, social outcomes are better.  There is less income inequality, societies are happier (measured by contentment but also by rates of suicide), people live longer, are more educated, and the general living standards are higher.   And that is still within a patriarchal framework.  I think we can do better.

We are at a watershed

As physical power matters less and less in modern society, evolutionary selection increasingly focusses on other traits.  A man’s physical strength no longer is correlated to his social or financial standing.

And while it is hard to imagine that a wholesale change might take place overnight, many societies now offer the opportunity and legal framework for experimentation to take place.  Communes for example.  And what of the biology of the strong? It doesn’t matter anymore.  Now, it is the nerd, the sissy boy who is more likely to triumph, because “strength” today is mental more than physical.  This may be a good thing.

How a matriarchal society would lead to better outcomes

Most men find these concepts threatening.  Evolutionarily, however, we would all be better off if women’s natural selective power was exerted, and we lived in societies that had a dual strategy.  Better genes, better parenting, less conflict.  This suggests that a society where women could choose, could exert their choice of mate as well as establish the ideal environment in which to raise children, would soon out-evolve its patriarchal counterpart.  It is not hard to imagine that over a relatively short period of time, evolutionarily speaking, humanity would evolve to be a better, faster, smarter, more attractive race.  Actually letting it happen, actually letting our nature take control, would be better for the human race.  It is in our collective interests that it should be so.

Quirky Implications of all of the above

Based on our understanding of human biology, the best outcome is for a woman to be in a couple with a man who unknowingly raises another man’s children.  That is quite impractical, and given the prevalence of gene testing nowadays, no longer viable.  Could BDSM offer a path?  Could the biological father, the sire, be just one of several men in one woman’s life?  Could a group of men, an alpha and a group of betas come together to secure more successful genetic outcomes for her offspring?  It seems far-fetched.

Would even a truly submissive man or a cuckold accept this?  Unlikely.

One further implication of all of this is that we simply don’t need as many men in society.  The systematic killing or aborting of female foetuses in some cultures works against the tide, but eventually things will even out.

A dystopian version of same

For instance, what if breeding males were kept apart, and lived just for breeding?  All other males who were betas were kept for female companionship, for those women that prefer the company of a man.  In truth, a society could very easily manage the need for seed-bull men, and with IVF, it isn’t necessary at all.  Men are almost completely expendable.  Perhaps one day soon men will be able to get pregnant, which is something I would like for me, though it will never happen in my life.  Sadly, though, unless we dismantle the patriarchy, I believe there will be horrible unintended consequences for women if men become able to have children.

In conclusion

Women should adopt dual-strategies for maximising the chances of quality outcomes for their offspring.  Cuckolds make better fathers.  A society wherein women rule and make their own reproductive decisions and potentially share in caregiving across groups, would produce a more highly evolved humanity over time.  I am also intrigued by the word “sire” as in to be the “father of” and “Sir” a common title in BDSM circles.  Us kinksters seem to have a lot of this way more figured out!

References

The original Harvard blog post was a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of this same study, entitled “Pretty Boys Finish First”. I am sure you can appreciate why that headline might appeal to me.  You can find that stub here

“…women are attracted to different kinds of men as a function of where they are in their menstrual cycle. When women are ovulating, they go gaga for the testosterone filled macho types with symmetrical faces and a dissimilar genetic blueprint; they prefer the men who will spawn healthy and strong babies. However, once ovulation ends women begin to fawn over a different type of man: the pretty boy. These men seem more caring, tend to be more girly, and share more genetic similarities with the female than their hunky counterparts.”

If you are interested in reading the original study that was referenced in that blog post you can find it here. The study is titled “Trends in Ecology and Evolution: Does the contraceptive pill alter mate choice in humans?”  You can find that stub here.

Disclaimer  

I am not affiliated with Harvard and am simply speculating on posts from the blog of their psychology department.  Further, science may attempt to explain what is going on, in this case, biology and psychology.  That may lead to uncomfortable or disagreeable social or political implications.  I put this out as it furthers debate, not as a statement of what’s what.  I am most intrigued by the potential implications of science towards human relationships, and also the social and political context, as well as its relevance to BDSM.

5 thoughts

  1. WOW! There is a lot here, my friend. GREAT post. I realize that I am sort of living out the life you described to some extent (minus the offspring part). I share my home with my husband, who would be described as beta in personality, though looks wise, he is very attractive. But I submit to my Sir, who is certainly an Alpha. It is a very interesting concept….

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you. It took forever to write! It’s all been bouncing around, but I think there are amazing insights to be gained by looking at the natural world and looking at the way society works. Is Bill Gates and alpha or beta? beta. No question. Is Mark Zuckerberg an alpha or beta? beta. No question. Betas are the foundation stones of society. Alphas are the ones that make us aroused, make us want to be ravished…but can you love an alpha? Maybe, but not in the same way. As badly as any of us want a good seeing to, we still NEED someone to hold us when we’re blue. The beta is the strong silent type. The beta is the one who shows up with chicken soup when you’re not feeling well. The beta is the one who will carry you across the puddle so your feet don’t get wet. The beta makes the Princess. That to me is privilege.

    I think women may need both in their lives. And it makes sense. Anyway, thanks for reading!

    I hope you are feeling better today my dear.

    Liked by 3 people

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