Oliver James: Girls will be boys

There is plenty of evidence that gay men are far more promiscuous than their heterosexual counterparts. A gay friend once suggested a very simple explanation. 'Oliver, if heterosexual men like you could go to a bar, catch the eye of a young, seriously attractive woman and have sex with her there and then in the loo, with no strings attached, it might make you more promiscuous. If, after you've recovered your energy an hour later, you could repeat the same with another beauty, it might make you even more so. The main difference between gays and straights,' he said, 'is that most women are not up for this sort of thing.'

Whatever the truth of how I would behave given these options (don't go there), there is little doubt that heterosexual men in postindustrial nations are keener on casual sex than women. A new study of 48 such nations (published in Behavioural and Brain Science) finds that, overall, including both genders, people in Finland, New Zealand and Lithuania are the most up for it, the Taiwanese and Bangladeshis the least. In all the societies sampled, the men were keener on sex than the women, although there was a twofold variability in how much more so.

The report's author, David Schmitt, concludes that this provides strong support for various evolutionary theories, suggesting that men are born that way. However, he does acknowledge that gender roles do modify the extent to which this natural tendency is expressed: the gap between men's and women's attitudes to casual sex is smaller in societies where there is greater gender equality.

In a critique of his paper, Alice Eagly points up some serious shortcomings to the evolutionary explanation. In two large surveys of non-industrial societies there was no increased likelihood of male casual shagging in more than half of them. Schmitt's results only go to show what happens when societies become industrialised and patriarchal.

Evolutionary theories posit that our deepest tendencies evolved in the primordial swamp. Simpler societies should provide the strongest evidence for evolved traits, yet the opposite is the case. Eagly does not deny that sex differences have their foundations in biology - women do the reproduction and childcare in pre-industrial societies, men have greater upper-body strength, size and speed - but she argues that the critical issue is how these differences are channelled by societies.

To be fair to Schmitt, he does state that as societies become more gender-equal, women will become more like men in their attitude. His final conclusion is intriguing: that it's unlikely men and women will ever be equally keen on casual sex. Only time will tell, but it's worth recalling that, for 20 years now, German and Swedish schoolgirls have started sex earlier and had more partners than boys, and that in Britain, the proportion of girls having sex before 16 overtook boys 10 years ago.

The mental block

In a sample of 14,000 Americans, people with a degree were twice as likely to be fans of rock music as those without one, and the reverse was true for country music (Journal of Psychology). These musical preferences correlated with different values. Degree holders defined independence as expressing and expanding the self, and achieving uniqueness. Non-degree people defined it through integrity, such as being honest, reliable, loyal and consistent across different situations. Implication: University rots the soul; although a lover of Lou Reed and Bowie, I'm for integrity.

Caring for a small baby poses a massive challenge to anyone's mental health, and the main reason is the shocking loss of control it entails. It's not just the sleepless nights and disrupted routine, it's the fact that the little buggers seem uncontrollable because they no comprende language.

A study (Developmental Psychology) demonstrates that mothers who cannot accept this loss of control are less sensitive to babies' different cries. Mothers who believed themselves to be able to control a baby's crying much more than was actually the case were less responsive to babies' moods.

Given that a lack of responsiveness in mothers is a powerful predictor of their subsequent insecurity in relationships, hyperactivity, depression and anxiety, being able to cope with the loss of control is a major predictor of these outcomes. Implication: If you're caring for a small baby, it's the boss; if you want to be the boss, go back to work.

oliver.james@observer.co.uk

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.