“What does a woman want?”*

*Sigmund Freud to Princess Marie Bonaparte

“Tweet of the Day” on BBC Radio 4 recently featured Metopidius indicus, or bronze winged jacana, also known as the lily trotter. The presenter was Dr Stuart Butchart, Chief Scientist at BirdLife International. Following three years spent observing these birds from his canoe on Lake Vembanur in India, he published”Yelling for sex” in Animal Behaviour (1999), reporting that “…males in polyandrous harems may compete for sexual access to the female by giving a call, termed the “yell”, to attract her.”. In his broadcast he referred to their “amazing mating system: the roles of the sexes are reversed. Females are larger, dominant, and have harems of males, who carry out all the parental care.”.

Professor David M Buss, evolutionary psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, opens his 2003 paper for “Psychological Inquiry” – “Sexual Strategies: A Journey Into Controversy”, with these words:

“When I began my scientific exploration of human sexual strategies in 1981, I sensed that the work would be controversial.”.

On the fourth page of his nine page article, he asserts: “Each one of us is an evolutionary success story,” and continues:

“Thus, the topic of our desires in mating – what I had begun to study with the IMSP (International Mate Selection Project) – was merely the beginning, but it was an extremely important beginning. In my view, desires lie at the foundation of human mating. Desires determine the people to whom we are attracted, as well as those from whom we are repulsed. Fulfilling the desires of another is the key to successful mate attraction. Violation of desire is key to conflict between the sexes. Competition, conflict, harmony, and happiness can all be predicted, in part, from deep knowledge of what people desire.”.

Buss goes on to review his Sexual Strategies Theory, published in “Psychological Review” (Buss & Schmitt, 1993), commenting:

“Given our explicitness on this issue, when a critic describes the theory as proposing that “men are promiscuous, women are monogamous,” one can only wonder about the person’s scholarship, training, or eyesight.”.

Buss identifies three key areas in his 1993 “working draft of a theory” which he considers inadequate, naming the third as:

“…by focusing so heavily on sex differences, the theory slighted the many ways in which men’s and women’s mating strategies share commonalities. Many of these limitations have been rectified in various ways over the past decade, and our scientific understanding of human mating is vastly more complex and sophisticated than it was a decade ago (see Buss, 2003).”.

In his conclusion, Buss pays tribute to Charles Darwin as “the first evolutionary psychologist”, writing:

“All of my work on human mating strategies was part of a broader vision – to establish the foundations for a new science of the mind called evolutionary psychology (Buss, 1984, 1995, 2004)….It is an honour to have contributed in some small measure to the fulfilment of Darwin’s prophecy – the quest to discover where, as human beings, we came from, who we are, and the mechanisms of mind that define what it means to be human.”.

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