Both sides of the political divide are turning on sex-positivity and blaming the antagonistic desires of men and women. But I wouldn't give up on common ground the opposite sex just yet.

Cross-posted from Putanumonit, this is part 1/4 of a sequence on selfless dating.


The Times vs Sex

Oops, I think I broke sex-positivity™. Four months ago I undressed it, finding little that’s sexy or positive underneath the slogans. And today even the New York Times is out; Putanumonit is a tragic thought leader yet again.

Of course, the Times and I offer different analyses. I wrote that merely declaring a new narrative in which all consensual™ sex is positive doesn’t guarantee, and often inhibits, a positive experience for actual sex-havers.

The Times, however, is not in the business of positive experiences. It’s in the business of announcing narratives. Now that a sufficient number of millennials who’ve had bad experiences with hookup culture have been hired into the Times, their misery needs a narrative that blames it on the outgroup.

NYT quotes feminist writers explaining that a culture of sexual promiscuity and exhibitionism “caters to patriarchy and the male gaze”. Anti-porn activists write about men brainwashed by violent pornography, forcing young women to accept loveless slapping and choking in bed under the banner of sex-positivity.

Wait, young women are the demographic most into rough sex porn?
Mumble mumble false consciousness mumble

They start from the premise that men want “sex without emotion or attachment”, while women are looking for “love and commitment”. In this view men’s and women’s desires are conflicting and incompatible. This locks men and women in a zero-sum power struggle, a war engaged individually by every heterosexual person and collectively as feminism versus the sex-positive patriarchy.

Ironically, the sexual revolution of the 1960s was also framed as a rebellion against the patriarchy. Since men are by nature sexually jealous and possessive, the story went, they imposed strict sexual norms at the expense of women’s desires. These patriarchs are somehow always one step ahead, the sneaky fuckers.

We Have Always Been at War

The NYT op-ed was celebrated on Twitter by “trads” who’d normally grab an umbrella if NYT printed a sunny forecast. They often accept the premise of conflicting interests while simply shifting the blame — men lured to OnlyFans by gold diggers, or women brainwashed into delaying the marriage they ultimately crave by anti-family gender studies professors in the service of dual-income consumer capitalism.

Feminists treat sex as a reward to be withheld from men who misbehave. Trads argue that men have no interest in settling down unless granted complete authority over their wives. These are rather extreme positions, but their proponents would argue you need extreme solutions to deal with the irreconcilable conflict of desires between men and women.

Here it is in the data, the vast unbridgeable gulf between what men and women want in the realm of romance:

These data are from readers who took my survey on relationships and personality. If you’re reading this, that’s your dating pool. Surveys of other populations show similar results. Men (especially when younger) slightly prefer shorter-term casual relationships and vice versa, but overall the differences are just not that big.

There do exist real differences in mating psychology between men and women but they don’t imply mutually hostile needs. A lot of differences are complimentary. Women care much more about their partner’s income and men about age, but since men mostly get richer as they get older this works out well for everyone. Similarly both sexes have a preference for men to be more proactive in flirting and escalating to sex, and there’s also enough variance to allow shy guys and assertive gals to find each other.

Evolved differences are also constrained by society and culture. Some men want to sleep with a different stranger every night for years, and sign up for a PUA seminar. Some women want the long-term material commitment of several men at once, and start a camming channel. But most people who try this fail, and the few who succeed usually keep their success private to avoid admonishment. In fact Western society mostly has norms and laws (e.g. economic freedom for women, decriminalizing infidelity, outlawing polygamy) that reduce intersexual conflict while potentially increasing intrasexual competition.

Almost everyone else would do better not by trying to trick or coerce what they selfishly want out of reluctant members of the opposite sex, but by finding those of the other sex who want to give it to them. Almost everyone’s ideal romantic situation involves partners who want to be there, not who resent it. And yet there seems to be a great reluctance to accept this. Every time I write about dating as a game of inter-sexual cooperation I’m accused of optimistic delusion.

It’s true that my tone on this topic has perhaps been too glib, implying that this is easy. Sex-positivity™ also promised that once the barriers of puritanism are knocked down everything will be abundant and simple, and the failure of that promise is driving much of the backlash.

Dating selflessly is often unfair, painful, high variance, and much harder than it used to be. There are many reasons why people fail, although a lot of them are individually fixable and not a result of the “top 20%” stealing all your partners. And failing can feel worse than giving up and blaming the opposite sex for fucking it all up. But if you haven’t given up hope yet, stay tuned for part 2.

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I just wanted to say that your posts about sexuality represent in my opinion the worst tendencies of the rationalist scene, The only way for me to dispute them in the object level is to go to socially-unaccepted truths and to CW topics. So that's why I'm sticking to the meta-level here. But on the meta-level the pattern is something like the following:

  • Insisting on mistake theory when conflict theory is obviously the better explanation.
  • Hiding behind the Overton window and the oppressive social norms and using them and status jabs as a tool to fight criticism (which is obviously a very common strategy in 'normie' circles). But I just want to make it a piece of common knowledge that this in fact what you are doing, that IMO it shouldn't be tolerated in rationalist circles. Examples include mocking your critics as loser-incels.
  • Ignoring or downplaying data points that lead to the uncomfortable conclusion (e.g. psychopathy helps with mating success for males) even in your own research.
  • Conveniently build your theory in a way that will eventually lead to socially acceptable results by shooting an arrow and drawing a target around it.

I don't mind also posting criticism on your object-level claims if I'll get approval from mods to go to very uncomfortable places. But in general, the way you victim-blame incels is downright sociopathic and I would wish you at least stop doing that.

Yep. In the marketplace of ideas, some ideas are not playing fair -- they reward their users in ways beyond "having a good model of the world", for example by increasing their status. We should place an extra burden of proof on those ideas.

I like Jacob's articles. They are nicely written, contain interesting insights, and I generally like reading about sex. But I don't think they pass the extra burden of proof. -- What I wish would happen here, is that each article would get a skeptical opposition. But yes, the social incentives are set in such way that the debate would reward Jacob and punish his opponents. Which may be a reason why the debate doesn't happen.

I don't mind also posting criticism on your object-level claims if I'll get approval from mods to go to very uncomfortable places.

Perhaps if you post the criticism somewhere else, and only post a link here, that would protect LW from the status hit of "hosting objectionable content". Yes it is hypocritical, but there is a difference when a third party quotes something as "this was written on LW" or "this was linked from LW". (I am not a moderator, I am just trying to consider their incentives.)

For me, a useful intuition pump is to imagine the same debate, only replacing sexual marketplace with money. Because the (liberal part of?) society has opposing intuitions here: losers at the sexual marketplace should be laughed at and shunned (unless they are a sexual minority, then the rules are different), losers at the financial marketplace should be empathised with and defended. (Kicking the homeless does not get the same reaction from the crowd as kicking the incels.) Then the analogical article would be something like: "Hey, my name is Donald Trump, and I want to tell you that becoming rich is actually quite easy. Most importantly, you need to be a nice and friendly person, and the first step towards that is overcoming your bitterness from your (frankly, mostly self-inflicted) poverty." Even if this came with many good insights on the financial markets, it probably wouldn't be received well. -- Then of course many people reject this analogy (no analogy is ever perfect), because the lack of sex does not kill you, and the lack of money could. (They would probably still feel bad about a world where each poor person gets exactly as much money as they need to literally survive, but not a cent more.)

The first step towards a high-quality criticism would be to extract the list of statements that Jacob seems to be making, and ideally check that he approves of this interpretation. Then, post the arguments to the contrary. (I am too lazy to actually do this, I am just expressing my preferences about what I'd like to read.)

Now some object-level objections:

Compare this picture (source) with this one. In the first case, Jacob explains (in my opinion correctly) how a small initial imbalance on the dating market (in the specific subculture, in favor of men) can translate into huge disparity of power. In the second case, where the imbalance is in favor of women, Jacob just ignores the huge difference in the gray part of the graph, and concludes that "overall the differences are just not that big" (referring only to relative differences between the non-gray parts of the graph, of course).

So, when an imbalance makes it difficult for some women to find a partner, "I find this genuinely sad. I strongly believe that relationships are preferable to aloneness." But when an imbalance makes if difficult for some men, that is not even worth noticing. -- I assume that Jacob really has a blind spot here, not that he did it on purpose. But that's exactly the meta point, that pointing out a bias, even on a rationalist website, carries a status penalty ("why is Viliam spending his time caring about incels? does this mean he is...?").

Similarly both sexes have a preference for men to be more proactive in flirting and escalating to sex, and there’s also enough variance to allow shy guys and assertive gals to find each other.

Well, this assumes that (1) there are at least as many assertive gals as the shy guys, and that (2) the assertive gals will use their assertivity on the shy guys, as opposed to just any guys they like. Hypothetically, each of these statements could be true; I just don't see any evidence, so this reduces to a just-world assumption.

It may be more possible to argue against this sort of post than you think. Let's start by trying to identify its central point, using quotes.

Men (especially when younger) slightly prefer shorter-term casual relationships and vice versa, but overall the differences are just not that big.

Claim 1: Survey results show that relationship orientation (RO) differences exist between men and women, but these differences are small.

There do exist real differences in mating psychology between men and women but they don’t imply mutually hostile needs. A lot of differences are complimentary...

Claim 2: RO differences between men and women do not imply intersexual competition.

Western society mostly has norms and laws (e.g. economic freedom for women, decriminalizing infidelity, outlawing polygamy) that reduce intersexual conflict while potentially increasing intrasexual competition...

Claim 3: Norms and laws mainly reduce intersexual competition (stronger assertion). They may also increase intrasexual competition (weaker assertion).

Almost everyone else would do better not by trying to trick or coerce what they selfishly want out of reluctant members of the opposite sex, but by finding those of the other sex who want to give it to them...

Claim 4: Intersexual trickery and coercion is a worse tactic than finding an RO-compatible partner.

Dating selflessly is often unfair, painful, high variance, and much harder than it used to be. There are many reasons why people fail, although a lot of them are individually fixable and not a result of the “top 20%” stealing all your partners.

Claim 5: Dating nevertheless involves a lot of suffering, and has become more difficult over time.

There are two assumptions we could make about relationship orientation. If RO is rigid, people prefer dating nobody to dating a partner of incompatible RO. If RO is relaxed, people will accept a partner of incompatible RO.

I don't have access to the data in Jacob's survey, but it looks like the approximate proportions are:

"Not Looking:" 2:1 female:male

"Sex/play only:" 2:1 male:female

"Casual dating:" 5:4 male:female

"Serious relationship:" 10:9 male:female

Since people in the "not looking" category automatically succeed in actualizing their RO, and all other categories are male-skewed, it is men who will consistently fail to find partners under the "rigid RO" model. "Sex/play" looks like about 5% of men, "casual dating" like it's about 30% of men, and "serious relationship" like it's about 50%. Using the eyeballed ratios I gave above, that means that 2.5% of men seek and fail to find "sex/play" relationships, 6% seek and fail to find casual dating relationships, and about 5% seek and fail to find serious relationships, for a total of about 13.5% of men who cannot find the type of relationship they want due to a dating pool of incompatible size.

I lean against the notion of people having "positive rights," but relationships and jobs are two important categories for people's sense of wellbeing. For context, a 14% unemployment rate in the US has been observed in 1937 (2 years before the end of the Great Depression), 1940 (1 year after the end of the Great Depression), and has consistently been under 10% since then, although there have been brief periods within a given year in which the unemployment rate spiked up, such as April 2020 (COVID lockdowns).

So if we think that 13.5% complete, numerical inability to find a compatible relationship is roughly as bad as being an unemployed job-seeker, then, exclusively examining RO and ignoring any questions of how "good" the RO-compatible is, it's about as bad for men as we saw in moderately bad years of the Great Depression.

Men who cannot find a partner have two options. One is to not have a partner at all, and the other is to relax their constraints and accept partners from an incompatible RO. However, this will still leave about 10% of men unable to find any partner at all - as bad as the worst years for unemployment since 1941.

There's a crucial caveat to this analysis. Men in the "sex/play" and "casual dating" categories may not actually want or need a partner on 100% of days. If "sex/play" men can tolerate having that experience only on 50% of the days that women in that category do, then they'll have their needs met. Men in the "casual dating" category" need to tolerate only a relatively modest imbalance. It's really the 5% of men who want serious relationships and simply cannot find one who will truly be SOL - a rate that we tend to see as quite tolerable when it comes to unemployment.

However, this doesn't account for other forms of potential rigid orientations, such as monogamy vs. polyamory. Let's generalize.

Imagine we have 100 men and 100 women. 60 of the 100 men and 40 of 100 women want a serious relationship; the rest want a casual relationship. Let's say that a preference for monogamy vs. polyamory is independent of gender and serious vs. casual preference, with 2/3 of men and 3/4 of women preferring monogamy.

Then 40 of the 60 men and 30 of the 40 women in the "serious relationship" category want monogamy, as do 27 of the men and 45 of the women in the "casual" category. The remainder (20 men and 10 women in the "serious relationship" category, and 13 men and 15 women in the "casual relationship" category) want a polyamorous relationship.

Before we considered polyamory vs. monogamy, a total of 40 people (20 serious men and 20 casual women) couldn't find a compatible relationship. Once we add in this second constraint, that number increases to 42 people. If we continue adding further rigid constraints, we have fewer and fewer people able to find a compatible relationship.

We also need to take into account gender ratios, which may exacerbate or cancel out these incompatibilities. For example, a town with more women than men will tend to cancel out some of the relationship-seeking disparities we see in Jacob's survey data. A town with more men than women, of course, will see even worse problems.

Jacob's analysis in another post where he estimates the impact of gender imbalance on the "quality" of one's partner also seems incomplete to me, because it doesn't account for the common notion that men and women are not, generally, "equal" in terms of the distribution of mate quality. It may be correct as far as rank order goes, but we may care about an absolute rather than ordinal match.

A blame-based narrative seems inappropriate for considering this issue. This is a problem of the distribution of rigid preferences in the population for a pie that cannot be made bigger. Note also that it's possible to argue against this post without resorting to any particularly CW/taboo topics or tone.

I wonder if Georgism might offer some sort of lens on this, since it also is meant to analyze and deal with problems of another critical resource that has a fixed supply?

Without endorsing any other points (not because I agree or disagree, simply because I haven't done my own research on them), I'd like to +1 the sentiment of, "Let us not tolerate status jabs/mocking others."

I feel that the ideal rationalist writing will as a side effect avoid mocking, so it always feels a little out of place and unwarranted to me.

Where is the OP mocking anyone?

"I never had the patience to argue with these commenters and I’m going to start blocking them for sheer tediousness. Those celibate men who declare themselves beyond redemption deserve their safe spaces,"

https://putanumonit.com/2021/05/30/easily-top-20/

 

"I don't have a chart on this one, but I get dozens of replies from men complaining about the impossibility of dating and here's the brutal truth I learned: the most important variable for dating success is not height or income or extraversion. It's not being a whiny little bitch."

https://twitter.com/yashkaf/status/1461416614939742216

These are not quotes from the OP but from other writing by the author. This is irrelevant to the appropriateness of the OP on LW. The first quote is not even mocking.

OP is usually used to note the original poster and not the original post, and the first quote is taken from one of the links in this post and is absolutely a status jab, he assumes his critic is a celibate (even though the quoted comment doesn't imply anything like that) and if you don't parse "they deserve their safe spaces" as a status jab/mockery I think you're not reading the social subtext correctly here - but I'm not sure how to communicate this in a manner you will find acceptable.

I don't parse "they deserve their safe spaces" as mockery, but as more or less literal/sincere. Jacob has been consistently sympathetic to romanceless men in his writing, only frustrated with the "colored pill" ideologies. Moreover, the comment he is replying to does read like mockery: "the best he could secure is a poly marriage", with scare quotes around "poly marriage", as if that's inferior to other kinds of marriage.

The serious answer would be:
Incel = low status, implying that someone is an incel and deserves to be stuck in his toxic safe space is a mockery or at least a status jab, the fact you ignored the fact I wrote status jab/mockery and insisted only on mockery and only in the context of this specific post hints as motivated reasoning (Choosing to ignore the bigger picture and artificially limiting the limits of the discussion to minimize the attack surface without any good reason).

The mocking answer would be:
These autistic rationalists can't even sense obvious mockery and deserve to be ignored by normal people

As a note, I've spoken many times about the importance of having empathy for romanceless men because they're a common punching bag and have written about incel culture specifically. The fact that the absolute worst and most aggravating commenters on my blog identify as incels doesn't make me anti-incel, it just makes me anti those commenters.

Mumble mumble false consciousness mumble

1) What's the base rate?

2) The source of the 'insight'?


Surveys of other populations show similar results.

Multiple studies. An improvement even if it doesn't get into the details.


Almost everyone else would do better not by trying to trick or coerce what they selfishly want
...
Dating selflessly is often unfair, painful, high variance, and much harder than it used to be. There are many reasons why people fail, although a lot of them are individually fixable and not a result of the “top 20%” stealing all your partners. And failing can feel worse than giving up and blaming the opposite sex for fucking it all up. But if you haven’t given up hope yet, stay tuned for part 2.

Selflessly?