The Optimal Number of Fathers

Evolution, Demography, and History in the Shaping of Female Mate Preferences
  • Sarah Blaffer Hrdy


According to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, males compete among themselves for access to females, and then females choose the one best male. As Darwin put it, the female “with the rarest exception, is less eager (to mate) than the male....” The female generally “requires to be courted; she is coy, and may often be seen endeavoring for a long time to escape...” (Darwin, 1871, p. 273). A century later, textbooks with chapter titles like “The Reluctant Female and the Ardent Male” (Daly & Wilson, 1978) perpetuate this essential dichotomy between the sexes. Because sperm-producing males invest less in offspring than ovulating and gestating females do, and because of the time that must elapse between female conceptions, males benefit from mating with as many partners as they can and are naturally eager to do so, while females cannot benefit from philandering and extra fertilizations in this same way (Trivers, 1972). This presumption of monandrous females coupled with males who ranged from monogamous to polygynous shaped our reconstructions of early hominid mating systems.


Sexual Selection Sperm Competition Female Mate Preference Sexual Swelling Reproductive Autonomy 
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