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A new study shows that female promiscuity can lead to healthier offspring.


Melissa Lafsky
November 3, 2006 11:00PM (UTC)

Finally, after all this news of state-sponsored abstinence and rumors of women fudging their numbers, science offers women a reason to put those come-hither stilettos back on. According to Agence France-Presse, Australian scientists have discovered that female promiscuity can have positive effects on marsupials. Specifically, females having frequent sex with multiple partners increased the survival rate for babies born to the brown antechinus, a mouselike creature related to the Tasmanian devil (we'll let you make your own jokes about that one).

This conclusion comes after researchers spent two years examining antechinus sex activity in enough detail to make even webcam voyeur blush. One group of breeding-ready females was allowed to mate with a single male, while another group was given free rein to get cozy with as many mates as possible. The rate of offspring survival for the free-love cluster was nearly three times that of the monogamous pack. The reason? "Paternity tests showed that the sperm of some males were far more successful than others and ... that babies fathered by these males were twice as likely to survive."

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These findings make perfect Darwinian sense; stronger and more varied sperm lead to stronger offspring, which in turn lead to still-stronger sperm and offspring, and so forth. Applying this conclusion to humans leads to inevitably messier results, though. Issues of STDs, unwanted pregnancies and paternity tests aside, we still have that whole intimacy factor to contend with. As William Saletan summed it up in Slate, "Fidelity isn't natural, but jealousy is. Hence the one-spouse rule. One isn't the number of people you want to sleep with. It's the number of people you want your spouse to sleep with."

Still, it's nice to hear something about females benefiting from plentiful sex in any capacity. But the research ends on a sad note: Most of the males in the study died after a single mating season, killed by exhaustion and fights with other males. Imagine the mess we'd have on our hands if human sexual practices had the same downside.


Melissa Lafsky

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