When Men Wait For Sex: Dumb like a fox


Dear Duana,

I’ve had a lot of luck with women, sexually speaking. But I’ve also gotten bored and restless pretty fast afterwards. I’d like to find something long-term with the right woman, and I’m considering waiting to put on the moves. Everything in my body and half my brain says I’m crazy to even think it. Am I the only guy with this issue? And is waiting for sex ever smart for a man? 



Dear Kyle:

Yes, I hear the voices, too—The Genes Of Your Ancestors are screaming your insanity for putting off ‘til tomorrow what and whom you could be doing today. (The shouts of Girlfriends Past are also audible, but I digress.) But you’re not crazy. And what you’re suggesting is dumb like a fox—as in very, very clever.


What’s unusual is not your *ahem* experience, but your conscious awareness that it’s directly connected to your lack of long-term love. You’ve got a rare gift; the Genetic Plan is unconscious in most of us, causing much confusion and angst. Sometimes, we even have a conscious feeling that is opposite reality. For instance, a perpetual bachelor said he couldn’t wait to propose marriage to his girlfriend, despite her refusal to even kiss him for several dates. Science would suggest his emotions had a chance to grow because, not in spite of, their sexual snail-pace.   


Other than your atypical awareness, Kyle, You’re Normal. In fact, casual-sex coitus seems to cause emotional interruptus. Research by Dr. Martie Haselton,  Dr. David Buss and others cites men reporting this detachment within seconds of the male’s orgasm. Strangely, it’s truer for those men who have the highest self-esteem, although it’s unclear Which Came First, the self-esteem or the eggs. And it’s especially true for men like you, who’ve had numerous past sexual liaisons; those with few conquests don’t seem to experience the emotional detachment to the same degree.


This precipitous drop in intrigue can be explained biochemically. As historian-turned-science-buff Dr. Andrew Trees notes in Decoding Love , feel-good dopamine is released in anticipation of the challenge of sex for men…and then rapidly exits the building upon male orgasm; on the other hand, a lengthy challenge spurs greater dopamine build-up and an enhanced option for real attachment.


But waning interest is even better-explained through an inherited mating psychology that protects male Genes’ interests in paternity and proliferation. See, pushing for early sex was a fabulous fidelity test back when Who’s Your Daddy was anyone’s guess; way before the Bible, men’s Genes set off emotional alarms if a woman was too easily known in the Biblical sense. Men who excelled at finding a faithful mate left more surviving children who were actually theirs, and those male offspring carried that successful mating psychology forward to today. Although we don’t know how common cuckoldry was in ancient times, it’s clearly still a Problem: Geneticists estimate that around 10% of American and UK kids are being raised by men who quite falsely believe themselves to be the DNA Daddy.


Well, that explains why you get turned off by easy women. But it tells us zip about why you’re so darned easy yourself! Remember this: Genes aren’t fair, but they are practical. And to them, a double-standard encouraging Man-Sluts resulted in more kids…which means the double-standard has survived, worldwide, to this day. As Nicholas Wade points out in Before the Dawn , although all men descend from a common ancestor—a genetic Adam—some were far more successful than others in passing down their own particular version of the Y chromosome. Genghis Khan’s brand of Y is found today in 8% of the men in his former territory, and he now has over 16 million male descendants.  Apparently, Genghis was a lover *and* a fighter.


So thus far, Kyle, your Genes have a win-win proposition for you. If you satisfy your short-term mating agenda, you get to have fun while your Genes get a shot at immortality. And if your date Just Says No, you get to pursue your long-term strategy of bonding with a worthy, faithful mate. Turning down a deal like that would indeed Feel Nuts.


Trouble is, Genes change s-l-o-w-l-y, and they haven’t kept up with the times. So, in today’s climate of Soon Sex, you actually Lose the opportunity for what you really want: a long-term mate. Your male mating psychology needs some sexual challenge to bond—but it’s tough to get that challenge when Nice Girls Do, and sex by Date 3 is literally normal among mainstream American adults. Further complicating matters, modern women assume an open-door policy will intrigue you long-term, motivating them to do exactly what *won’t* give you the chance for real emotional connection. In fact, Dr. Pamela Regan found that 44% of women (but just 9% of men) said they engaged in casual sex “to increase the probability of long-term commitment.”


What to do if you do want a lifemate, then, is physically difficult and may feel psychologically crazy—but it’s obvious: Wait as long as you can before you attempt to have sex with a woman for whom you feel even a glimmer of long-term interest. Wait several dates past the point when you’d usually initiate. Wait until you can barely stand it anymore. And then wait a little longer. If it turns out a particular woman isn’t worth waiting for, so much the better—you’ve got your answer, so Move On. But when you find one for whom your fascination only grows as you wait, you’ve found a match with real potential.


Our culture isn’t going to help you out much with this, Kyle. And although it’s usually the woman who puts on the brakes, that hasn’t happened for you yet. You’re going to need to follow that Dumb Wisdom you’ve reached, and Wait. Your Genes will scream, indeed. But they’ll get their satisfaction soon enough, and you’ll get the prize of a lifetime.





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All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., 2009


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Reader Comments (36)

Thank you Duana Welch!

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

:) Welcome, Barbara. Someone privately wrote saying men need to hear this...but perhaps women could find quite a bit of change in it, too...

August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.


I am a woman, and I hate this double standard!! Promiscuous men are excused --"Boys will be boys"-- wink, wink. But promiscuous women are whores.

What about the sexual revolution, i.e., sexual freedom for both sexes?

Does sexual freedom exist only for men? Why is it fine for the men to sleep around and not fine for the women? As women, we MUST tell the men "no sex until commitment"; otherwise, they lose interest?

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Great article! I didn't realize men EVER got to this point in their lives (ha ha). It is actually quite refreshing to hear that it happens.

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaula S

Wow - 16 million male descendants of Genghis Khan! I guess alot of ladies were saying yes :-) They probably thought it would get them an emotional commitment from a powerful man. I've made that mistake myself.

But remember... Anne Boelyn said "no" to sex with King Henry VIII. He couldn't stand it! He tore his country apart to marry her.

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Another fabulous article, Duana -- one that benefits both sexes. I am dumbfounded that >>44% of women... said they engaged in casual sex “to increase the probability of long-term commitment.”<< From reading your past articles, I know that is more than wrong-headed, it's just plain crazy-talk. More than that, I just can't remember a single instance of that ever working (people talk, you hear things) :) It is so important for us all to remember that while ideas may change fast, genetic composition simply doesn't. Because reproduction is at the very heart of natural selection, the behaviors associated with it are highly adapted and finely tuned -- you can't just turn them off because you want to any more than you can decide that you want humans to eat trees from now on.

Can't wait for the next edition... :)

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

It DOES suck, doesn't it. Women love sex just as much as men do, and yet if we give in too quickly, we have been moved from the Possible Mrs. Right category to the Miss Right Now column. Aaaargh!

I thank you for this opportunity to clarify: The Way Things Have Been from a genetic standpoint is not necessarily The Way Things Should Be (in fact, philosophers have a name for the error of believing that how things are is what is best: The Naturalistic Fallacy). It's often the case that the findings I've presented are attacked on the grounds that they are unjust. Yes, they are--they're accurate but highly unfair. And every researcher I've ever met or read agrees with that.

Not only don't our Genes give a flip for Fair, sometimes they actually are driving us to do things that are contrary to modern survival. That's because Genes change so very slowly, and our culture is taking us places they haven't even heard of yet.

For example, survival in ancient times depended upon a love for high-fat, high-sugar, calorie-dense foods. Because people who preferred those foods to other things left more descendants, we continue preferring those foods today. Yet in our current culture, where calories are all too easily obtained, our Genes actually want something that is Killing Us.

Which is why I wrote this answer for the general public, and not only to the man who sent the original letter. Men's Genes want them to push for sex right away, and then to withdraw if they get it. This is a recipe for heartbreak for women in our current permissive culture, and as this letter from Kyle shows, it's also a recipe for singlehood even for some men who really would like a connection, but are just too sexually successful to get there.

August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

@Anonymous, Regarding the Sexual Revolution: Women can do as they please, but need to remember that doing so has a hefty price tag. Right or wrong, the science is very, very, very, very (!) clear: Having sex on an early date is likely to result in a man's detachment and non-commitment. The current permissive way of doing things will work out well for women seeking only short-term sex. But the vast majority of single women want a lifemate who is committed to and in love with them. Having sex on the first several dates is exactly the wrong thing to do in that case.

Put another way: We can be right, or we can be happy, but we cannot usually be both.


August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Hooray to Kyle for asking this question! And thanks, Duana, for the excellent answer and explanation. I kinda think Kyle is the exception to the rule, however. In other words, men in my experience aren't thinking about waiting to have sex. As women, what should we take home from Kyle's situation?

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoan N.

@Paula, Thank you! Most men don't ever reach this point in their lives, if what is meant is reaching a point of consciously understanding that running towards immediate sex is actually de-railing long-term love. Kyle really amazed me with his insight.

Most men DO reach a point in their lives where they want a real commitment (Some research shows that men actually prefer fewer and fewer sexual partners as they age.). BUT--they don't want commitment In The Abstract, the way women do. We wake up knowing we want marriage, we just don't know with whom yet :). Men tend to seek commitment with a really specific person they have fallen in love with, instead of starting out hoping to find someone to commit to. And falling in love happens after they've met The One Who Was Worth The Wait.

Of course, that implies that there was a Wait!!! I hope women who desire a mate will return to giving that universal "I'm A Good Catch" cue to men again.

August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Also ... I'm interested in your statement that, "Genes change s-l-o-w-l-y, and they haven't kept up with the times." I'm wondering ...Where are we on this? And where are we going?

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoan N.

@Elizabeth: Yes! Although Mr. Khan probably raped some of those women and bought many others (given his reputation), some women were bound to have just been bowled over by his power. Wilt Chamberlain didn't get 10,000 women to Say Yes by forcing them--he just provided cues of wealth, power and great Genes. Women will often say yes verrrry fast to such a man...sometimes for casual sex, and sometimes hoping to win his heart. I suspect our Kyle is a very high-status man because he seems never to have heard the word No. And you're Just Does Not Work, if by "Work" we mean move to an emotional and committed level of relating.

I LOVE your example of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Anne's older sister Mary gave in to the King quickly and had one or more children by him (depending on whose version is believed)--but never won his heart. Anne held Henry off for SEVEN YEARS. The one woman who told Henry NO is the one who wound up with him, as you correctly put it, tearing apart the very foundation of his country so he could have her.

Okay, he turned out to be a megalomaniacal wife-killer later on...but still, it makes the point!

August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

@Kelly: "Because reproduction is at the very heart of natural selection, the behaviors associated with it are highly adapted and finely tuned -- you can't just turn them off because you want to any more than you can decide that you want humans to eat trees from now on." Perfectly said.

Although it may seem crazy that 44% of women thought they could get long-term relating from a one-night-stand (50% in another study!)--that's a message our culture has hammered into us for the past 50 years. Half the women are not entering casual sex to get commitment--but half are, and the Genes just are not going to go along with that.

There is one possible exception, though. Men with very little sexual experience often will stick around. It's less clear whether they do so just to get sex, or whether they really fall in love, though. My guess from the science is that both things occur some of the time for men with few past experiences. Men with few experiences tend to be either very religious (where they may feel a need to marry if sex is involved), very young (and tender-hearted *and* low on the status totem-pole), or very low in status (hence unlikely to have many sexual options). In any of those cases, a woman having sex, even very soon, probably wouldn't scare off the man. Nonetheless, if he's a man a given woman is really, truly interested in...I wouldn't recommend risking sex too soon.

August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

@Joan, thank you. I love your input. And I, too, loved Kyle's question. Kyle is definitely the exception in some ways: 1. He's aware of the connection between his sexual behavior and his emotional state; 2. He's willing to at least consider waiting for sex a little while so he can achieve some real bonding; 3. My guess is that he's had a lot more easy sex than most men, which hints at very high status.
In other regards, Kyle is Everyman: He's got an inherited, simultaneous mating psychology that wants BOTH immediate sex and a long-term partnership. That is The Norm, not the exception. His, and most men's, psyches sort women into one of two categories based on Ye Olde Double-Standard: Miss Right Now and Mrs. Right.

The Take-Home for Women? If you want a man's heart and soul as well as his body--particularly if he's high-status--wait as long as you possibly can before having sex with him. The 60's did wonders for women's power in the workplace and our abilitiy to direct our own lives. They hurt us badly, though, when it comes to making a lifetime of love.

August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

@Joan: Regarding genes' glacial pace of change, I'd like to quote from Kelly, above:

"It is so important for us all to remember that while ideas may change fast, genetic composition simply doesn't. Because reproduction is at the very heart of natural selection, the behaviors associated with it are highly adapted and finely tuned -- you can't just turn them off because you want to any more than you can decide that you want humans to eat trees from now on."

Genetic change in human mating behavior tends to reflect preferences that were adaptive many generations ago. Most of those preferences are still adaptive, although not all.

One genetically-driven preference that remains adaptive in *some* ways is men's insistence on a mate who resists his sexual advances for at least a few dates. Although many women who give easy sex would not eventually cheat, the fact remains that the women who just won't give it up are a safer bet, paternity-wise. No man wants to marry--cutting off his options for other women--and then have his wife conceive other men's children whom he unwittingly raises. So hateful is that thought to men, that infidelity and suspected infidelity are the top reasons men kill their mates. I'm not saying that is an appropriate response--far from it. But I am saying that anything that Important will have Genetic alarms set up all over the place. Paternity is that Important.

August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

@Joan: Regarding where our genes are headed (great question!): It appears men and women are reaching a truce that will take several hundred years more to unfold, and that the battle between the sexes was once much more fierce than it is today. I would like to save the full response for a later column.

August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.


Your answer to Joan said that, "The 60's did wonders for women's power in the workplace and our abilitiy to direct our own lives. They hurt us badly, though, when it comes to making a lifetime of love."

Does this mean that women must act one way to succeed at work, and a different way to succeed in love?

Personally, I think it's asking *alot* of women to play by men's rules at work and another set of "love" rules at home. Men don't have to do that, right? Arrraghhhh!!!!!!

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

@Elizabeth, you read my response exactly as intended. The strategies we have recently learned for workforce success are helpful, putting us on a footing with men that is much more equivalent than at any past point. However, following the same premise that women are just men in prettier bodies is *not* helpful in love.

It is grossly unfair, and you're right, men don't have to do that. On the other hand, they have to do a lot of other things we don't. For instance, they almost always initiate asking for the first everything (date, kiss, etc.), putting them in the "one-down" position because they've had to become vulnerable without knowing our feelings.

Men have the right of pursuit. Women have the right of refusal. It sounds so simple....but it can be so difficult in practice.

August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

You know what I like about Kyle? Here's a guy who's accepting some responsibility (and some screaming genes, as you put it) to win the prize of a lifetime. He's doing his part to WAIT. That makes him a stand-up guy in my book. Kyle's restraint is making a mighty contribution to both himself and his partner.

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Instead of asking men to suppress their inherent biological desire to have sex, how about asking more women to get over their frigidity and start saying "yes" more? After all, they enjoy physical pleasure too, right? In a modern era with widely available contraceptives and a robust public health infrastructure, the problem is not men who want too much sex but women who say "no" far too much.

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterYew

As a gay male with first hand experience witnessing the trouble two testosterone driven libidos can cause without maintaining self-controlled awareness, I respect any man who can use his mind effectively to restrict his lust for sex. Holding back sexually in the early phases of dating isn't as hard for gay males as trying to gage the impulses of non-monogamy after a relationship has been established. As driven as men are by provocative visuals, I often wonder with men to men partnering if either extreme of endless monogamy or constant whoring can both lead to failure. Male couples can either neuter each other with enforced exclusivity or open relationships so wide that they turn into quarreling roommates making their sex life with each other superfluous. One thing for certain, despite sexual preference, sex is in fact a real struggle in any virile man's reality. I think a man should practice harnessing his primal appetite for sexual conquest while single so that in a relationship he will be able to take proper consideration for the feelings of his life mate before continuing to carelessly frolic loosely with mutual acquaintances running the risk of destroying the benefits of real intimacy and long lasting love.

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Joe

My advice is intended only for men who are having trouble with emotional attachment because of getting sex so easily that it satisfies their inherited short-term mating agenda while simultaneously de-railing their long-term love agenda; it is also for women who are struggling to understand why they don't get long-term love when they give short-term sex. Kyle came to me with that particular problem. I stand by my advice for him because it is what Will Work to get him long-term love, and that's expressly what he wants. Also, Kyle could still express his sexuality through one-night-stands or masturbation if he wanted--but if he is even slightly interested in anything long-term with a particular woman, it would serve his particular interests not to Go There with that particular woman for at least several dates.

You, on the other hand, want easy sex, as many men do. There are certainly many ways to obtain that, and you are correct that women enjoy sex just as much as men do. But it's incorrect to assert that because women love sex, and because our public health system makes pregnancy and disease preventable, women should adopt men's mating psychology. Evolutionarily speaking, They Should Not, unless all they want is a one-night stand; it makes them seem low-status, slutty, undesirable and (in one study) even diseased to the men who sleep with them...not a great resume for a prospective bride.

And a bride is still what the vast majority of women want to be. Most don't even have an orgasm in a one-night stand. may want easy sex. And that's fine for you. But it's not going to work to suggest that women should want it just because you do!

August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

@Jimmy Joe, "One thing for certain, despite sexual preference, sex is in fact a real struggle in any virile man's reality. " --Very, very true and well-said.

What a beautifully written entry. Thank you for writing your experience and your thoughts on this complex issue. I am becoming more informed about research on gay and lesbian relationships, and what I understand is that most gay men actually practice a form of open relationship, with total monogamy being relatively unusual (not unheard-of, but atypical).

Recent research shows that gay men tend to follow some aspects of evolutionary psychology--such as preferring a young, beautiful partner--but not others. For example, gay men don't usually express a tremendous emotional upset at finding that their partner has had sex with another man, even though this is one of the top predictors of extreme violence when straight men find out such a thing about their wives/girlfriends.

Which makes me wonder: Do gay men have their long-term love agenda disrupted by casual sex the way straight men do? Do they find a new partner less interesting, or even repulsive, after Soon Sex occurs? Or does the timing of sex just not matter very much? On the one hand, gay men have a much lower rate of lifetime bonds than straight men have, so maybe the casual sex is disruptive. On the other hand, there are a lot of social factors that collude to wreck and hide gay commitment, so that could entirely explain it.

I'm as yet unaware of research on the matter. I'd love some of your insights, though. Thanks again for weighing in.

August 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Yew, and I really hope that is not your real name.

It sounds like you are on the other side of things from Kyle regarding desire for a relationship. Or maybe success with dating. I was not as popular as some of my friends when in my 20's and realize now that all the sex chasing did was either:
1. scare off the gal I was chasing, or
2. less usually, it would get me laid for the night.

Looking back nothing ever lasted whenever I met someone that way and it never worked out when the relationship was about sex.

Eventually I found that when I fell in love with the lady I am with now, finally!, it had very little to do with sex. I fell in love with her: her goodness in the world, her intellect; her compassion, her real beauty, I really could go on. btw, the sex is great too!

I hope you find that if the line you have been using hasn't worked, it probably won't. Maybe, just maybe, try something different.

Happy hunting.

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVincent

Just joined the conversation. I have caught up and this is certainly interesting.

@Yew..."widely available contraceptives and a robust public health infrastructure" has nothing to do with the initial question. Suffice it to say, the US has its own HIV/AIDS crisis Among African American women...HIV/AIDS is a huge problem that has been severely under reported in America. Some would suggest this epidemic, in part, is related to men's sexual behaviors...their lack of respect for women, their lack of respect for themselves, their "live and let live" approach to sex, has had major consequence to one segment of our population. Sexual health among college, high school, and middle school age groups has become a public health concern. Your assertion, does not keep in mind that "widely available contraceptives" DO NOT prevent sexually transmitted diseases nor is our "robust public health infrastructure" as robust as you might think......

Our approach to sex our sexual identity, etc, begins early. Some developmental theorist would suggest as early as birth. At a very early age, I was taught to respect yourself....respect your body. Does society, our American culture teach that to young men? I think Kyle is beginning to respect himself and now the women he may meet. But again, I ask, why is his question so...well so odd to many? Isn't he NOW doing the right thing....?

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnn
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