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It's the Sex, Stupid:

Quite a few commentators on the Eliot Spitzer scandal are searching for some deep explanation for the frequent sex scandals involving powerful men. "Do you think men of power and success, men like Eliot Spitzer, get intoxicated with this kind of success?," asked Nightline's Terry Moran on Tuesday. "Are they reckless? Do they secretly want to get caught?" "Maybe it's the thrill, the rush of trying to get away with something. Maybe it's just arrogance," speculated the former wife of the former New Jersey governor in the New York Times.

It only takes a little bit of knowledge of how natural selection works to understand no such complicated explanations are necessary. In the evolutionary environment, men's best reproductive strategy was to have sex with as many fertile women as possible. (The incentives for women were different because of their ability to produce only one offspring per year). There were no doubt men who weren't interested in sex, or who wanted to have sex only with one woman, but they had fewer offspring and therefore failed, ultimately, to pass along their genes. The result: most men have a desire to have sex with multiple women. Men also tend to prefer younger women, because in the evolutionary environment (as now) youth is correlated with fertility. Rich and/or powerful men are no different in this respect from others, although it is easier for them to attract women. Monica Lewinsky probably wouldn't have been as interested in a middle-aged and married Bill Clinton if he were not the President, and 22 year-old Ashley Dupre certainly would not have been interested in having sex with 48-year old Eliot Spitzer if he hadn't been willing and able to shell out $4300.

That evolution provides an explanation doesn't mean it provides an excuse for selfish or socially irresponsible behavior, for Spitzer or for anyone else. The good news is that evolution has also equipped us with the ability to appreciate the consequences of our actions and exercise control over our instinctive drives. We should expect our elected officials obey the law, set a good example, and avoid putting themselves at risk of blackmail, even if they'd rather be sneaking off to the Mayflower Hotel. Invoking evolution in no way absolves Spitzer of responsibility for his actions. But if we want to understand what motivated Spitzer -- and before him the likes of Clinton, David Vitter, Gary Hart, John Kennedy, and list goes on -- to do something so risky, stupid, and potentially self-destructive, we need to recognize that drives honed by millions of years of natural selection are powerful and more difficult to resist than more ordinary types of preferences or desires. It is a safe bet that Spitzer would never in a million years consider shoplifting from a department store, even if he saw something he wanted and found he had left his credit cards at home.

To understand Spitzer's behavior, we really don't need an explanation any more sophisticated and nuanced than the one offered by former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss on Nightline. She responded to Terry Moran's absurd string of questions about Spitzer's possible psychological motivations by saying, "he wants to get laid."

Christopher M (mail):
This is the kind of facile just-so story that gives evolutionary psychology a bad name. It is pretty obvious that the ways in which brains and behaviors have evolved, and the ways they manifest themselves in actual human societies, are wildly more complicated than this "men want to bang everybody, women want rich and powerful men" kind of explanation even hints at. Stated like this, it's nothing more than a crank theory, up there with gold-standard cranks in the economic field.
3.13.2008 2:59pm
Christopher M (mail):
I mean, among other things, one would think that if there were a straightforward and simple link between the drive to procreate and men's vastly more frequent use of prostitutes, these men might have some desire to actually have the children instead of using condoms, oral, and anal sex to avoid that outcome. Now condoms haven't been around on an evolutionary timescale, but blow jobs sure have. If my desire to get off with various women is this simple to explain, why do I so deeply and strongly enjoy wasting my sperm in another person's mouth or other nonprocreative parts?
3.13.2008 3:03pm
alias:
I thought the original post made sense, but Christopher M's comments have me questioning that.

The pundits ask a lot of absurd questions, but the fact remains that there are a lot of men who don't cheat on their wives and a lot of people who could afford prostitutes who choose not to spend their money that way.
3.13.2008 3:04pm
Christopher M (mail):
None of which, obviously, is to say that there's no link between sexual drives and evolutionary pressures, which would be equally ridiculous. These things are complicated. Human behaviour results from genetic codes being translated into giant masses of various proteins with structures at various levels of organization and then responding, often with great flexibility, to their environment, again at various levels of organization, from the chemical to the social. Simple explanations, most of the time, just aren't going to cut it.
3.13.2008 3:07pm
ummm:
"[O]ne would think that if there were a straightforward and simple link between the drive to procreate and men's vastly more frequent use of prostitutes, these men might have some desire to actually have the children instead of using condoms, oral, and anal sex to avoid that outcome.."

Christopher M, did you not catch the part where Spitzer seems to have requested unprotected sex with his prostitute(s)? What could have made him do something so risky? Perhaps he had a strong urge to do so...
3.13.2008 3:10pm
JoelP (mail):
The real question is why he went so hard after prostitution as a prosecutor. What drives a man to that kind of behavior? Was it his way of dealing with his procreative drive? Should we assume that other zealous prosecutors and ostentatious moralists have similar motives?
3.13.2008 3:13pm
ummm:
more fundamentally, you're asking a lot of the theory of evolution if you expect men to have already adapted to the advent of condoms. I think it is fair to say that evolution presumes that more frequent sex = more babies. This general presumption hasn't been incorrect long enough for men's basic impulses to have adapted.
3.13.2008 3:14pm
Christopher M (mail):
ummmm: I'm pretty sure there's a very different and highly plausible evolutionary story available to explain why men often prefer to have sex without putting a piece of plastic over most of the relevant nerve endings.
3.13.2008 3:17pm
OrinKerr:
Christopher M, did you not catch the part where Spitzer seems to have requested unprotected sex with his prostitute(s)? What could have made him do something so risky? Perhaps he had a strong urge to do so...
Gotta say, that was a pretty strong response.
3.13.2008 3:18pm
Ken Arromdee:
if there were a straightforward and simple link between the drive to procreate and men's vastly more frequent use of prostitutes, these men might have some desire to actually have the children instead of using condoms, oral, and anal sex to avoid that outcome.

Condoms are too recent to have been affected by evolution.

It's like wanting to eat sweet foods. This has evolved because it makes us want to eat fruits, which contain vitamins and fiber. But it isn't actually a desire for vitamins and fiber, just a desire for something that, in nature, would lead to eating vitamins and fiber. We've developed refined sugar in modern times, and we like to eat that, because evolution doesn't know that our environment has changed and the desire to eat sweet things isn't serving its original purpose.

Likewise, an evolutionary desire to do something that, in nature, leads to reproduction may not be a desire for reproduction. In nature, there's no practical difference between the two. In modern society, where we've invented condoms, there is, but evolution just evolved to deal with nature.
3.13.2008 3:23pm
LM (mail):

Invoking evolution in no way absolves Spitzer of responsibility for his actions.

Nor does either evolution or morality necessarily dispose of the question of why some men who can afford this do it, and others don't. Which is, I suspect, what the questions are trying to get at, not the obvious, which presumably even they take for granted.
3.13.2008 3:26pm
T. Gracchus (mail):
Arromdee has misunderstand the complexity of an evolutionary explanation. Whatever it is "in nature" is intended to mean, there is a and has been a difference between desire for sex and desire for children. The evidence for reproductive control for about as long as there have been human beings is quite strong. The species is just not so stupid not to both discern the connection between sex and reproduction and to understand the value of reproductive control. What's more, the fact sex with prostitutes is terrible strategy for male reproduction.
3.13.2008 3:29pm
Fub:
JoelP wrote at 3.13.2008 2:13pm:
The real question is why he went so hard after prostitution as a prosecutor. What drives a man to that kind of behavior?
Self loathing. He hated his own sexual desires, which he felt unable to control, and found it inviting and easy to vindicate that hatred legally upon some convenient whipping boy.
Was it his way of dealing with his procreative drive?
Insofar as "procreative drive" means "sexual desire".
Should we assume that other zealous prosecutors and ostentatious moralists have similar motives?
I think so.
3.13.2008 3:31pm
KeithK (mail):
I think Russell is right that the basic urge is simply to have sex. You don't have to go very far into the evoluntionary psychology to agree that the vasy majority of heterosexual men have an urge to have sex with women.

But People have the ability to overcome their base urges. Social pressure and knowledge of the potential negative consequences discourage men from sleeping around. This is enough to keep many men from doing so. I suspect that with sufficient power and money some men begin to feel that they can completely isolate themselves from the various risks. So powerful men may be more willing to indulge their urges.

So it is the sex. The other stuff just facilitates it.
3.13.2008 3:32pm
gab:
So how do we explain Larry Craig?
3.13.2008 3:34pm
M. Python:
MRS. BLACKITT: Hmm. Well, why do they have so many children?

MR. BLACKITT: Because... every time they have sexual intercourse, they have to have a baby.

MRS. BLACKITT: But it's the same with us, Harry.

MR. BLACKITT: What do you mean?

MRS. BLACKITT: Well, I mean, we've got two children, and we've had sexual intercourse twice.

MR. BLACKITT: That's not the point. We could have it any time we wanted.

MRS. BLACKITT: Really?
3.13.2008 3:34pm
ummm:
gab: I don't think anyone can explain Larry Craig. More seriously though, evolution doesn't need to explain what outliers do, only what the majority of a species does.
3.13.2008 3:38pm
AntonK (mail):
Yes, "...he wants to get laid" and he has no self-control. I'd say the 2nd part of the equation is more telling than the first. It's not his wanting to get laid that distinguishes him from many other men, it's his inability to just say no.
3.13.2008 3:38pm
guest27:
Your post seems to contain an internal contradiction – or at least some tension. On one hand you argue that this behavior requires no more sophisticated an explanation than evolutionary biology. On the other you write that evolution has "equipped us with the ability to appreciate the consequences of our actions...."

This is precisely why more explanation is necessary to fully understand why Spitzer -- and many powerful individuals -- do this type of thing when rationality dictates that there's a not insignificant risk of getting caught.
3.13.2008 3:44pm
NaG (mail):
Aren't we overlooking an even more basic rationalization for Spitzer's actions? That, just maybe, his marriage wasn't satisfying for him? Or perhaps he had some kind of latent resentment for his wife that caused him to seek pleasure elsewhere.

The Washington Post review of Ms. Spitzer paints an interesting portrait of a successful, high-powered woman. Harvard law, big-firm corporate attorney, made lots more money than her husband, and did it all while having three kids. It is not a stretch to think that maybe her husband resented her success as it made him, a fellow Harvard law grad, seem less successful in comparison. Maybe it gnawed on him that she made more money than he did. A lot of guys have a problem with that kind of thing. There's an innate desire in many husbands (perhaps evolutionary?) that they need to be the "provider" and the "top dog" in the marriage. Well, maybe Mr. Spitzer wasn't the provider and top dog in this marriage; Ms. Spitzer was. And when he finally got to achieve a top-dog position, well, it gave him an excuse in his mind to go even further to prove it. And who would be a better accomplice than a young, ignorant, relatively helpless prostitute? She's the very emblem of the kind of woman that he can flaunt his power over. Perhaps for the first time since he married his wife, he felt like the leader.

Mind you, I am TOTALLY SPECULATING here. For all I know, the guy is just a bastard. But without knowing the private items of this marriage, I see some writing on the wall that makes his actions consistent with the above. There could be dozens of other reasons that would compel Mr. Spitzer to cheat. But to me, the "he just wants to get laid" excuse just doesn't ring true for me. It's something more thought out than that. He risked his political life and his marriage for more than just a roll in the hay. At least, that's my hunch.
3.13.2008 3:45pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I see some Starbucks vs. Folgers here.
If he pays $4300, he must be getting a whole hell of a lot more than if he paid $50.
Also, it reinforces his view of himself as powerful and wealthy.
Rebecca West, in her "The New Meaning of Treason" looked at this in the context of the Profumo scandal. Her view is that when a woman--hooker--seems interested, it must mean to the man, on a subliminal level, "how attractive I must be", or "how wealthy [or powerful} I must appear".
For most men, having a woman have an apparent interest in them is a hell of an ego boost, and the commercial aspects of the transaction can be compartmentalized, which is what we're told men can do so well.
3.13.2008 3:46pm
Wayne Jarvis:

Arromdee has misunderstand the complexity of an evolutionary explanation. Whatever it is "in nature" is intended to mean, there is a and has been a difference between desire for sex and desire for children. The evidence for reproductive control for about as long as there have been human beings is quite strong.



These impulses evolved looooooong (like really really long) before the appearance of humans.
3.13.2008 3:49pm
UW2L:
Christopher M, I agree with your criticism that this is a facile argument, but I suspect that oral sex did not become a widespread, frequent sexual practice until the advent of regular bathing. Condoms have been around since the Egyptians, but good personal hygiene was only practiced at scattered times by scattered societies, as I understand it, until quite recently.

Also, it's funny how the "it's my evolutionary drive, I can't help it" argument gets dragged out to explain, and, often, justify, men's proclivities to sow their seed far and wide, and yet the (equally specious) argument that women might want to have numerous sexual partners for analogous evolutionary reasons, so there's nothing wrong with a woman who sleeps around, doesn't seem to be quite as popular.

As my White Collar Crime prof commented yesterday, "I suspect the Europeans are laughing at us... again."
3.13.2008 3:49pm
Cory J (mail):
The post's theory is pretty much the foundation of a score of books on how to get laid.

If you want to read an interesting and sometimes depressing book, check out "The Game" by Neil Strauss.
3.13.2008 3:52pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
I'm not a scientist and can't evaluate the evolutionary biology angle. However, I think people note the social pressure against irresponsible sex without noting the social pressure in favor of irresponsible sex.

Particularly in modern America, sex is linked strongly with self-image. People want to have sex not only because of biological urges but because they want to be the sort of person who is having sex -- preferably with a hot member of the gender of their preference --- and don't want to be the sort of person who is not having sex. For a man in American culture, nailing hot women is a reaffirmation of "manliness", as that notion is socially constructed and relentlessly conveyed by the media. "Dr." Laura Schlessinger's statement that this is probably Mrs. Spitzer's fault because she didn't make him feel like a man is morally repugnant, but it has a kernel of insight into psychology to the extent that it recognizes that one thing driving men to do such things is pursuing self-image -- self image as still young, still vital, still virile, still able to nail attractive young women. (Even if they have to pay for them). That's not an excuse for it, of course, any more than the social message that you should punch a person who insults you excuses doing so.
3.13.2008 3:53pm
Cory J (mail):
I should have said, "...sometimes depressing book on that topic" to make it more clear.
3.13.2008 3:53pm
Bert Campaneris (mail):
The problem with the "he wanted to get laid" argument is that it doesn't explain why he chose to mess around with prostitutes, and engage in very risky financial behavior in order to do so.

I think the Spitzer case is more about people insisting on doing things that might get them in trouble, because without the fear and the danger, the thril just isn't there.

More specifically, is there any doubt that Spitzer could have had lined up young women to sleep with the reasonably young, Elliot Ness-like governor? Of course, but he didn't just want to get laid, he could have done that anytime. He wanted to risk it all to get laid. And so he did.
3.13.2008 3:55pm
SenatorX (mail):
I actually agree with the post. I don't see a problem with the contradiction either. I often have impulses I repress via imagining the consequences. Usually I succeed but sometimes I don't. Not with sex mind you but say eating to much or eating something bad for me over something that is healthy. Just because sugar is sweet to me doesn't meet I can't imagine the consequences of eating to much and resist. It's not really a contradiction but I agree more of a tension.

I just finished reading The Predator's Ball and somewhere in there they talked about how the CEO's all want the pu... The insider line was these guys already have fame, power and money, what they want is young pu... which many of them didn't get when they were young and nerdier.
3.13.2008 3:58pm
hawkins:

Also, it's funny how the "it's my evolutionary drive, I can't help it" argument gets dragged out to explain, and, often, justify, men's proclivities to sow their seed far and wide, and yet the (equally specious) argument that women might want to have numerous sexual partners for analogous evolutionary reasons, so there's nothing wrong with a woman who sleeps around, doesn't seem to be quite as popular.


The post addressed this issue - "The incentives for women were different because of their ability to produce only one offspring per year." Additionally, I would add that there is an incentive for women only to sleep with one man, in order for them to know the father of their child.


As my White Collar Crime prof commented yesterday, "I suspect the Europeans are laughing at us... again."


Perhaps continental Europeans arent as intrigued by their politicians' affairs (however, its debatable based on the recent coverage of Sarkozy), but the English seem equally enthralled by the Duke of Westminster's connection to the same prostitution ring.
3.13.2008 3:59pm
Bruce:
In nature, males often kill offspring sired by other males, chimps and dolphins engage in torture, all sorts of bad stuff happens. Any impulses we have are controllable, and indeed human society invests a lot of time and effort at controlling them. So, yes, there's a puzzle to be explained here, the puzzle of why the controls apparently weren't effective on Elliot Spitzer.

Also, even on the simplistic level of this post, it doesn't get all the evolutionary incentives right. Hominids have a long gestation period and long, defenseless childhoods. Any father that was solely interested in simply having sex with as many partners as possible would not have had a lot of surviving offspring.
3.13.2008 4:00pm
Adam J:
T. Gracchus- I don't think Ken has got it wrong at all. To me it seems quite clear that sex drive is a evolutionary instinct that ensures we will propagate the species even if we don't want to have a child.
3.13.2008 4:08pm
eyesay:
AntonK: wrote "It's not his wanting to get laid that distinguishes him from many other men, it's his inability to just say no." That explanation might apply to one or more other powerful political figures in recent American history, but it doesn't apply here. "Just say no" applies when the tempting opportunity is placed before one. In contrast, the evidence suggests that he repeatedly sought out these trysts and developed complex ways of paying for them. This wasn't a failure to just say no, it was a series of planned-in-advance elaborate arrangements to engage in these transactions.
3.13.2008 4:08pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
For all the talk about Euros laughing at us, hasn't Sarkozy's infidelity caused a rukkus in France?
3.13.2008 4:14pm
Spartacus (www):
the (equally specious) argument that women might want to have numerous sexual partners for analogous evolutionary reasons, so there's nothing wrong with a woman who sleeps around, doesn't seem to be quite as popular

The interesting thing about this actually-not-so-specious argument (its is specious only because it is un-PC--if you can get over the conclusions, it seems practically obvious) is that it works different, from an evolutionary standpoint, than the male.

The male wants multiple sexual encounters so that he can produce the most offspring, by impregnating the most women. This makes good evolutionary sense. The woman, on the other hand, as noted, can only produce one a year. But it had been deonstrated that sperm from different man actually fight against each other in-utero (and even in-vagino (sp?)), going so far that if you misx sperm from different men, some act as "blockers" against the "other team," while the "runners" make for the egg. Thus, it is in the evolutionary advantage of a woman to have multiple sex partners during the same sexual encounter (correlation of strong performance of sperm and strong offspring is also due to evolutionary processes).
3.13.2008 4:17pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Christopher M's point is answered by evolutionary biology.

Genes aren't concious and are not goal oriented. If a high sexual drive correlates with evolutionary success, then sexually driven phenotype will begin to spread. Many of our psychological processes used to be correlated with evolutionary success but civilization has delinked the behavior and the blind "goal" of the gene (See Dawkins, Van Der Waal, or Wright).

We have an unconcious desire to have sex. Our conscious mind says wear a condom. Prostitutes are tapping into that evolutionary drive.

The unintended consequences of our evolutionary psychology are fascinating. The "Seven year itch" that ends many marriages correlates very nicely with the time frame in which the blind genes "want" to find a younger, more fertile partner because the children of the first partner are now old enough to do without parental support. The guy who feels dissatisfied with his marriage at the seven year mark isn't consciously thinking "Hey, if I leave my wife I can knock up some young chick." But the genes contributing to limiting the chemical phase of infatuation to that time period are kicking in.

The fact that men want to sleep with prostitutes without knocking them up does not undermine evolutionary theory at all.
3.13.2008 4:19pm
Brian K (mail):
Also, even on the simplistic level of this post, it doesn't get all the evolutionary incentives right. Hominids have a long gestation period and long, defenseless childhoods. Any father that was solely interested in simply having sex with as many partners as possible would not have had a lot of surviving offspring.

very good point. it is not enough to simply have more children, you also have to ensure they reach the reproductive age. otherwise you genes die out just the same as if you never had the child in the first place.

I also suspect, in the relatively small communities that humans used to live in, if a man had a reputation for not helping the mother care for the children he would find that women no longer were willing to have his children.
3.13.2008 4:20pm
theobromophile (www):
Also, even on the simplistic level of this post, it doesn't get all the evolutionary incentives right. Hominids have a long gestation period and long, defenseless childhoods.

I would also like to add that (as far as my understanding goes), early humans lived in relatively small groups. They were not running around NYC, with the possibility of having anonymous sex in a manner that would not likely influence other relationships; they were working together in groups of a few dozen people. The survival of the individual depends on the survival of the grou. Behaviour that may fracture the group (such as sleeping around with other men's girlfriends) has an evolutionary disadvantage. Furthermore, it's not like these children will ever be far removed from the father - depending on how resources were allocated among the group, everyone would be helping to raise them anyway.

It has always confused me when people talk about how men desire to spread their seed, while women want a man to stick around to raise the kid. Back in the Stone Age, was there really the option of him going off to surf in Mexico if fatherhood didn't appeal? How did early humans determine paternity, and what importance did they attach to it?

Finally, what emotions have always been attached to families? It's not like psychological reactions that go beyond sleepy, hungry, grumpy, and other Seven Dwarfs were invented in the last 300 years, either.
3.13.2008 4:21pm
Nathan2008 (mail):
NaG: interesting post but pointless. Spitzer is from a family worth half a billion dollars (literally) and was an extremely successful attorney. so anyway...he was hardly concerned about his wife's success.

as for the evolutionary psychology issue, the problem with the initial post is that it's too simplistic.

in evolutionary terms, only a few men, the most powerful and successful, can follow the "spread the seed everywhere" strategy and have it work. that strategy requires a. access to lots of women; and b. women with "lesser" male partners who will actually raise the children. so, yes, it is a genuine reproductive strategy but only for a minority of men (which Spitzer certainly qualifies for).

something closer to the traditional monogamous relationship (with the occasional stepping out when he can get away with it) is the most succesful reproductive strategy for women.

as for women, the second course of action is the only strategy available. "spreading the seed" just doesn't work for women because they can have so few offspring in a lifetime. human reproduction involved in a context where most offspring didn't make it to adulthood. so they need all the help they can get. which is why a woman is going to seek a guy able to help out. when women commit an infidelity, it is usually with a guy with apparently better genes than her partner (who is hopefully fooled into raising the offspring of that infidelity). that's the best strategy for a woman. (it also explains why women are most likely to commit an infidelity when ovulating)

the foregoing is, of course, still over-simplified...but it's less simplistic than the original post.

of course, none of this explains why Spitzer was this stupid.
3.13.2008 4:25pm
tvk:
1. It is fun looking at how just the implication (not even expressly using the words) of evolutionary biology drives modern liberals nuts. Can we all agree that "he wanted to get laid" had something to do with it, and that this drive is biological? Anyone who really wants to dispute that humans in general and men in particular have a biological desire to have sex really isn't worth debating with.

2. Having said that, Russell, aren't you jumping to conclusions a little too quickly. Yes, impulse has something to do with it; but we didn't see Spitzer on heat running around the office naked chasing every fertile female for sex. He had choices, and he chose the $4300 prostitute which, in retrospect, doesn't seem like the smartest one. Explaining this particular choice requires more than just a general desire to have sex with fertile females.
3.13.2008 4:27pm
Wayne Jarvis:

Also, even on the simplistic level of this post, it doesn't get all the evolutionary incentives right. Hominids have a long gestation period and long, defenseless childhoods. Any father that was solely interested in simply having sex with as many partners as possible would not have had a lot of surviving offspring.

very good point. it is not enough to simply have more children, you also have to ensure they reach the reproductive age. otherwise you genes die out just the same as if you never had the child in the first place.

I also suspect, in the relatively small communities that humans used to live in, if a man had a reputation for not helping the mother care for the children he would find that women no longer were willing to have his children.


In many cultures rich dudes has lots of wives. Maybe they just loved fidelity so much that they wanted to practice fidelity with as many women as possible.
3.13.2008 4:27pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"This is precisely why more explanation is necessary to fully understand why Spitzer -- and many powerful individuals -- do this type of thing when rationality dictates that there's a not insignificant risk of getting caught."

It's no big deal. When two opposing forces are present, the stronger one wins. The strength of the forces can differ in different people and situations, so we get different behavior. It's just another choice of alternatives like we face every day.

Heidi Fleiss was right. He wanted to get laid, and that force overpowered any other. It worked for ten years because he reduced the odds of getting caught and therefore reduced the power of the counterforce. He didn't have an affair with someone in Albany because the risk there overpowered the drive to get laid.

I suspect the number of people who do this and get away with it vastly overwhelms the number who get caught. Add all the affairs and one night stands to the prostitutes and a huge segment of the population falls under Heidi's theory. Just look around the workplace.
3.13.2008 4:28pm
BU2L:
I think Spartacus just advocated for the return of the Roman orgy.... for evolutionary reasons, of course.
3.13.2008 4:29pm
Nathan2008 (mail):
edit:

that should read: something closer to the traditional monogamous relationship (with the occasional stepping out when he can get away with it) is the most succesful reproductive strategy for men.

(its the only strategy available to women)
3.13.2008 4:29pm
Spartacus (www):
Behaviour that may fracture the group (such as sleeping around with other men's girlfriends) has an evolutionary disadvantage

This is only the case in the absence of total domination of women by men, wheras the opposite has been the norm for most of history. Polygamy has been the rule until relatively modern times, while polyandry has not. Men have an evolutionary reason to exclude their mates from sleeping with others, while women do not, at least not as strong; a woman's mate's offspring with another woman may compete with her own offspring for scarce resources, but a woman having multiple sexual encounters within a relatively short time frame can actually prevent the propagation of all but one of the males she sleeps with--see my post above), as long as the male provides for the woman and child.
3.13.2008 4:30pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
I think a lot of people are getting the evolutionary argument wrong. Referring to Christopher M's comment, the idea is not that those who WANTED TO FATHER CHILDREN passed on more genes. Rather its that men who WANTED TO HAVE SEX A LOT passed on more genes. The fathering of children is incidental to the desire for lots of sex but still drives the evolutionary process.
3.13.2008 4:33pm
Mr. Wrestling II:
Spitzer did not pay $5000 for sex. He can get laid anytime he wants. He paid $5,000 for Kristen to leave after the sex was over. Just like pro athletes.
3.13.2008 4:39pm
Brian K (mail):
In many cultures rich dudes has lots of wives. Maybe they just loved fidelity so much that they wanted to practice fidelity with as many women as possible.

huh? what you said is consistent with what I said. rich men are perfectly capable of caring for many offspring which is why many women would have no problem having his children.
3.13.2008 4:39pm
Nathan2008 (mail):
Mr. Wrestling II is also correct.

(and it's complete balderdash to assume that a 22 year old from Jersey wouldn't necessarily want to sleep uncompensated with a 52 year old governor of NY. that's easily possible. even likely.)
3.13.2008 4:41pm
Wayne Jarvis:

In many cultures rich dudes has lots of wives. Maybe they just loved fidelity so much that they wanted to practice fidelity with as many women as possible.

huh? what you said is consistent with what I said. rich men are perfectly capable of caring for many offspring which is why many women would have no problem having his children.


Dudes want to have sex...period. Rich poor. Far-sighted. Near-sighted. Poor people are just as horny as rich people. 50 dollar hookers aren't exactly hurting for business.

I have never heard of aby couter-veiling instinct to "be careful not to have too many kids so that you can be a good provider." In the grand scheme of things, infant and child mortality have always been very high. Even the best father in the world (the cave man with the #1 Dad coffee mug) faced a substantial chance that a good number of his children would not reach adulthood.
3.13.2008 4:58pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
My father remarked about Clinton that he didn't have any affairs with high-class women. I can't say "his" class, since he didn't have any.
But no dean of a woman's college, corp CEO, non-profit leader, wealthy socially active divorcee.
Nope. Low level state employee, second-rate lounge singer, freshly-widowed volunteer, half-wit intern his daughter's age.
Spitzer... We don't know, but hookers are, whatever their qualities, generally considered lower-class and disposable.
It's possible she was a great date, through dinner and a show--but he couldn't possibly have risked that--or drinks in the room while discussing interesting subjects and chatting.
But that's not the way to bet.
Starbucks vs. Folgers, guys. That's the key.
3.13.2008 5:00pm
SenatorX (mail):
Actually loophole "want" has nothing to do with it. Are fruits sweet because the tree wanted animals to eat it and crap out the seeds everywhere ensuring its species survival?

Anything that increases propagation is likely to become a more dominant characteristic over time. This can be carried down from sexual species all the way to flagella and light sensing organs.
3.13.2008 5:01pm
SP:
Um, it feels better without a condom. I think that was guiding Spitzer's thinking.
3.13.2008 5:05pm
Archon (mail):
A lawyer I know had a female client come in and retain him for divorce proceedings. Her husband had cheated on her with two other women over the course of ten years. They reconcile after the first encounter, but she decided to call it quits after the second.

During some informal settlement meetings, the woman demanded to know why her husband did it. He refused to answer at first and then she started to cry. She said, "you had everything, a nice house, a nice car, two lovely children. Why would you want to lose all that?"

The man, looking at the display, got somewhat agitated and said something to the effect, "it's because we haven't had sex in twelve years. I told you it was driving me crazy, but you didn't listen, so I finally after years and years of being frustrated I went off the farm to get the milk."

The look on the woman's face suddenly changed just like she could finally see the truth. She had realized that a man's concept of what makes up a happy marriage is much different than a woman's.

The revelation must have triggered something upstairs, because the couple was able to reconcile and avoid divorce.

I wonder if Spitzer has a similar story...
3.13.2008 5:10pm
IB Bill (mail) (www):
I wanted to know why he didn't just get a mistress and put her up in a nice apartment in the city. That's the time-honored way of handling things like this, and mistresses are expected to go on business trips.

Sure, it's a little more expensive, and there are other, lesser risks. But it's not illegal ... for starters.
3.13.2008 5:25pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
The news outlets should stop interviewing "experts" and read some Poe. He had a pretty secure handle on The Imp of the Perverse.
3.13.2008 5:39pm
Asher Steinberg (mail):
On CNN last night a psychologist said that, because Spitzer had surpassed his father (sort of debatable claim, Spitzer's father came from nothing and made half a billion in real estate), he was driven by guilt to self-destruct.
3.13.2008 5:56pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I just love when lawyers who have no professional degree in science (your page at UCLA doesn't say what your BA is in) proclaim themselves experts in evolutionary biology.

It takes a complete lack of understanding of how complicated natural selection is to blithely make a comment like
It only takes a little bit of knowledge of how natural selection works to understand no such complicated explanations are necessary. In the evolutionary environment, men's best reproductive strategy was to have sex with as many fertile women as possible.

3.13.2008 6:01pm
LM (mail):
Bert Campaneris,

I think the Spitzer case is more about people insisting on doing things that might get them in trouble, because without the fear and the danger, the thril just isn't there.

There certainly are danger junkies, and I'd guess for them it could be an alluring cocktail to mix it with the sex drive.

There's also the question of whether the grandiose personality types who crowd politics are more inclined to believe they will be magically protected from the catastrophes that deter many of us from such high risk behavior. It might help to know what the frequency of this sort of behavior actually is among public officials compared to the general population. (No, I don't mean $4,000 hookers, and I don't mean getting caught.)
3.13.2008 6:04pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
It is a safe bet that Spitzer would never in a million years consider shoplifting from a department store, even if he saw something he wanted and found he had left his credit cards at home.

Oh really? A high official in the Bush administration had to resign because he got caught shoplifting at Target and a Secretary of the Army during the Clinton Administration was caught shoplifting a pen and was forced to resign.
3.13.2008 6:19pm
wfjag:
UW2L wrote:


Christopher M, I agree with your criticism that this is a facile argument, but I suspect that oral sex did not become a widespread, frequent sexual practice until the advent of regular bathing. Condoms have been around since the Egyptians, but good personal hygiene was only practiced at scattered times by scattered societies, as I understand it, until quite recently.


UW2L, you might want to read the comedies of Aristophanes (reading translations by someone other than Edith Hamilton, who edited out things she found offensive, which was quite a lot), and reconsider that statement. I'm not sure we have thought of anything that the Classical Greeks hadn't thought of and tried long ago. There are also reports that the Persians were quite willing to "experiment" with a large variety of practices.
3.13.2008 6:22pm
Aultimer:
Obviously the evolutionary/Fleissian hypothesis is correct in a general sense - Spitzer wanted to have relations with that woman.

So what? The reason for meeting his desire with an interstate call-girl - whether it was out of self-desctructiveness, hubris, frustration, convenience, or even an agreement with the Mrs. is the more interesting question if you want to understand the apparent inconsistence between his public persona and private actions.

If you think there's only one motivation for extra-relationship relations, you should read Dan Savage's column.
3.13.2008 6:27pm
A.C.:
Add me to the list of those who wonder why he didn't find a conventional mistress, which rich men have done throughout history. Not to mention all the ambitious Tracy Flicks out there who would have been happy to do the job for the thrill of it and the chance of promotion to the next grade of internship. Or, if a prostitute, why not the mid-priced kind he could have paid for without leaving a paper trail?

No, he's got to go for maximum risk. For some people, it isn't the sex alone. It's the sex plus the danger. I'm not sure why evolutionary biology would wire that in. Maybe it's an outsider thing... the young lion on the fringes taking the mate that really "belongs" to a more established rival. That's not literally true in this case, but it could explain why some men are wired to go for very risky sex.

My only question is, what does it say about our society that we elect that kind of person to political office?
3.13.2008 6:27pm
Cold Warrior:

It is a safe bet that Spitzer would never in a million years consider shoplifting from a department store, even if he saw something he wanted and found he had left his credit cards at home.


No, but Spitz -- like most of these guys -- wasn't picking up a hooker on the street based on some lack of impulse control.

So he may not be tempted to shoplift, but he may be tempted to take up a friend's offer to make a quick hundred thousand in cattle futures, or to make a quick few hundred thousand through a shaky property deal with Rezko, or to pick up a couple million through a series of phony deals with a defense contractor (Duke Cunningham), or to try to work out some nice deals for an S&L contributor-buddy (Charles Keating).

If the need for more money or for gifts obtained in exchange for favors is not explained by evolutionary biology, then I don't see why the Spitz-like scandals are.
3.13.2008 6:58pm
LM (mail):
Thanks for bringing up Tracy Flick. Reese Witherspoon's never been better.
3.13.2008 7:02pm
Wayne Jarvis:

Add me to the list of those who wonder why he didn't find a conventional mistress, which rich men have done throughout history. Not to mention all the ambitious Tracy Flicks out there who would have been happy to do the job for the thrill of it and the chance of promotion to the next grade of internship. Or, if a prostitute, why not the mid-priced kind he could have paid for without leaving a paper trail?



How do we know he hasn't done everything on this checklist?
3.13.2008 7:13pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Oh really? A high official in the Bush administration had to resign because he got caught shoplifting at Target and a Secretary of the Army during the Clinton Administration was caught shoplifting a pen and was forced to resign."

And, let's not forget Sandy Berger stuffing national archives down his pants.
3.13.2008 7:24pm
Fub:
A.C. wrote at 3.13.2008 5:27pm:
Add me to the list of those who wonder why he didn't find a conventional mistress, which rich men have done throughout history. Not to mention all the ambitious Tracy Flicks out there who would have been happy to do the job for the thrill of it and the chance of promotion to the next grade of internship. Or, if a prostitute, why not the mid-priced kind he could have paid for without leaving a paper trail?

No, he's got to go for maximum risk. For some people, it isn't the sex alone. It's the sex plus the danger. ...
Just to mention one alternative explanation for that choice: cluelessness.

It's possible that he simply had no experience in, or other useful knowledge of, the demimonde, so he just chose what he believed to be a reasonable strategy for trysting outside his marriage. His strategy was to apply very large sums of money where lesser sums and well thought out arrangements and communication methods would have been a better strategy. His strategy was terribly flawed, but he didn't realize it.

The extremely wealthy often have never learned "street smarts" simply because they have had no experience.
3.13.2008 7:26pm
A.C.:
Oh, heck, I found a mid-priced prostitute at a professional conference once, and I'm female. I did NOT hire her services. I thought I was just talking to another woman in the same field at a meeting where most of the participants were much older men. But it didn't take me long to figure out that she was at the meeting for an entirely different professional reason, and that she wanted me to shove off because I was interfering with her trade.

I was also on a business trip recently, and one of the men in my group was solicited at the -- extremely conventional -- hotel where we were staying. This stuff is not hard to find.

Maybe rich men live in a bubble and get to claim innocence, but surely they at least know middle class people who can connect them with the same world the rest of us live in.
3.13.2008 7:42pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
@ Senator X - Actually "wanting" has everything to do with it, since we are talking about why Spitzer, as a product of the evolutionary process, wanted to have sex with that woman despite the high risk.
3.13.2008 8:13pm
LN (mail):
So why didn't Spitzer hire cheaper prostitutes 4 at a time? Why didn't he masturbate more? Why didn't he have sex with his wife more often? Why didn't he find women to sleep with for free? Didn't he want to get laid?

Someone please help me understand the power of evolutionary theory, or accuse me of not believing in biology, or something...
3.13.2008 8:37pm
Brian K (mail):
Wayne Jarvis,

go back and reread my post. what you think i said and what i actually said appear to be two different things.
3.13.2008 9:09pm
Kingsley Browne (mail):
I think some people are misinterpreting the situation. A common theme in the comments is that Spitzer chose the "high risk" option of seeing a professional when he could have chosen the "low risk" option of setting up a mistress in a little pied-à-terre.

In many ways, his way was a lower-risk one. It eliminated the emotional issues that may occur between a man and his mistress (when are you going to leave your wife?). It is almost certain that his wife would prefer him visiting a professional (especially a clean one) than supporting a mistress; I know mine would (I just asked her:) The earlier comment suggesting that Spitzer paid them to leave captures the point that Clark Gable made many decades ago.

If Spitzer had been a little more careful about his financial transactions, this probably never would have come to light. As some of the comments point out, this is a relatively common form of activity that for the most part flies under the radar of law enforcement.
3.13.2008 9:19pm
glangston (mail):
I'm wonder if Nightline paid Heidi Fleiss for her "expertise" on this subject.
3.13.2008 9:24pm
Gaius Marius:
For $4,300, Kristin must be quite fluent in the languages of French, Russian, and Greek.
3.13.2008 9:34pm
Toby:
Somewhere in the discussions of which practices are new, and which are old, I think of the Australian report, echoed in New Scientist, that engaing in Oral Sex with the father of her childdren---

- remakably reduces rates od preeclampsia
- reduces many sorts of dismenorhea
- icreases birth weight of children

The theory is that it in somewaty hapituates the women to the genetic material of the father, an advantage that does not accrue to the offspring of the father who is not well liked by the mother...

THe researchm, although appearing in referreeed journals by a well respected practitioner, has failed to take off in the press.
3.13.2008 10:29pm
Phil Ament:

Toby, you wrote (3.13.2008; 9:29 p.m.))

(re oral sex) "The theory is that it in some way it habituates the women to the genetic material of the father, an advantage that does not accrue to the offspring of the father who is not well liked by the mother... "


Interesting. Having worked years ago on ovulation tests and also on how histo-incompatible antigen profiles don't generally lead to inactivation of spermatazoa, and as I am also a sailor, all I can say to to the ladies about this important report is "run out me short arm and make sail", or the ever popular "come about, or you'll be boarded".


Blow me down. This finding makes sense, actually... well... possibly. Some of those HLA antigens or peptides might make it downwind to the Peyer's patches, or right through the epithelium of the buccal cavity, especially the dental pockets, ultimately desensitizing the (Ahem!) subject.

Anyway, I sure wish I had this argument at hand when I was a young man hanging out with the nurses and science babes. Back then I was stuck with "I bet you could suck the chrome off a trailer hitch". This is (a) inelegant and (b) doesn't have the same ring of therapeutic probity that the new finding provides. This was even true in a rodeo parking lot at 2 a.m.*

*Note: horsey girls are generally in great physical shape. Be warned.
3.14.2008 1:46am
Fuz (mail) (www):
Bruce said, "So, yes, there's a puzzle to be explained here, the puzzle of why the controls apparently weren't effective on Elliot Spitzer." I think because Spitzer saw himself as "the controls." And saw himself above the reach of his own kind. This isn't (or isn't explained by) evolutionary psychology, it's libido hotwired by ambition.

Why not argue that he sought to 'expand the relative reach of his seed' by shutting down prostitutes in his territory, while hiring them elsewhere? I'm reminded of an old panel about a cowboy who would kill to keep a Yankee from driving up the price of whores in Texas.

Smallholder said, "The fact that men want to sleep with prostitutes without knocking them up does not undermine evolutionary theory at all." But it may point those same men into a genetic dead end, in comparison to men who stick around to raise the children they father.

Fub wrote, "His strategy was to apply very large sums of money where lesser sums and well thought out arrangements and communication methods would have been a better strategy. His strategy was terribly flawed, but he didn't realize it." Didn't realize he could be caught with techniques he used against his genetic competitors? Risible.
3.14.2008 1:56am
Toby:
Phil

Of course avoiding preeclmpsia is not so powerful a notion with someone who is not, in fact, intending to become pregnant. It is probably best for all concerned that I never tried using this fact when I was of a certain age and life-style.
3.14.2008 7:03am
Miked0268 (mail):
Actually, I think Spitzer's use of prostitutes rather than having an affair with some young woman suggest that his marriage wasn't all that bad. An affair with a young woman carries zero criminal risk and probably less risk to his political career as well. I'm not sure he would have been pressured to resign over such an affair.

Using prostitutes, on the other hand, carries lower risk to destroying his marriage. I'm sure Mrs. Spitzer is not exactly overjoyed at this situation but I bet, deep down, she finds it preferable to him having a romantic affair requiring some emotional commitment on his part.
3.14.2008 8:27am
IB Bill (mail) (www):
Kingsley Browne: Thanks for your thoughts. I was really just asking the question of mistress/prostitute. Your answer makes a lot of sense, as does your wife's answer.
3.14.2008 11:36am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It's hard to find the thrill of the illicit with one's spouse.
You have to work pretty hard to set the stage. Put in large hedges and spend Saturday afternoons rolling around on a blanket in the back yard?
That might pall.
You can't get illicit licitly. You just can't.
And if that's what it takes to ring your bell, you are in trouble.
3.14.2008 11:46am
JosephSlater (mail):
Kingsley Browne:

So, when you asked your wife whether she would prefer that you hire prostitutes or have a mistress, after she answered the question, did she have any questions for you? Just thinking that my wife might have had some if I had asked her that question.
3.14.2008 1:12pm
Kingsley Browne (mail):

Kingsley Browne:

So, when you asked your wife whether she would prefer that you hire prostitutes or have a mistress, after she answered the question, did she have any questions for you? Just thinking that my wife might have had some if I had asked her that question.

Good question, but she knows that I have an academic interest in such matters. (And I was careful to make the hypothetical actor Eliot Spitzer rather than myself :) Her reaction was that the relationship with the prostitute would not entail emotional involvement and therefore would not be as great a violation of the marital relationship. She didn't (and didn't need to) point out that she was not authorizing any activity on my part.
3.14.2008 2:11pm
SenatorX (mail):
For many social animals the women share collective responsibility for raising the children. Like lions or feral cats they will all chip in together in the raising. I am not so sure it follows that a man in ancient history had to stick with his chosen women in order to raise the child.

Spartacus is exactly right about the blocking sperm (forgot the killing sperm though) that indicate women had multiple partners in a short time period often and that this type of behavior occurred for quite a long time (in order to have those mutated sperm be ubiquitous in our species). I think "cave men" probably had orgies (maybe the strongest man went first) and it was probably difficult to determine who the father was of any child. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the children were raised collectively by the women after that.
3.14.2008 4:07pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Lots of compare-and-contrast papers could be written for the mental processes involved in the 4 following scenarios:

Eliot Spitzer: hires prostitute at significant expense, with advance planning of trysts

Bill Clinton: makes passes at women he is in positions of power over, regardless of physical attractiveness or age

Rudy Giuliani: regular mistress of similar social class

Larry Craig: seeks anonymous same-sex sexual encounters while identifying as heterosexual

I suppose I could raise other possibilities, but I'm not sure they're really different archetypes.

Nick
3.14.2008 10:30pm
Richard Dawkins:
Reading through these comments, it strikes me as interesting how so few of an obviously educated group of VC readers don't truly understand natural selection.
3.15.2008 2:00pm
Fuz (mail) (www):
"how so few of an obviously educated group ... don't truly understand natural selection."

High specialization.
3.15.2008 10:46pm