Women: The choosier sex?

That isn't the case in speed-dating where ladies approach men, says a new study

Published July 8, 2009 10:15AM (EDT)

You've likely encountered this question many a time before: When it comes to sex, why do men do the chasing while women do the choosing? Maybe the query was first answered by your mother: Men have to fight for women because it's the fairer sex that gets pregnant, gives birth and does all the work of raising the kids! Perhaps at some point you got the sober evo-psych explanation: Females are more selective because they bear the greater reproductive burden. Or, maybe you're more familiar with pickup artist parlance: Chicks are choosier 'cause they're the ones who get knocked up. Most of us have heard the same answer put a number of different ways -- but now a team of researchers are casting doubt on our assumption about the push-pull of human courtship.

In a new study from Northwestern University, 350 college-age men and women attended speed-dating events. In half of the games of romantical chairs, the guys went from girl to girl; in the other half, the girls went from guy to guy. Each pair got four minutes to chat, after which they evaluated their interest in each other. When it came to the events where men worked the room, everyone performed just as expected: The men were less selective than the women. But when the usual speed-dating routine was turned on its head and the women made the rounds, the guys were more selective and the ladies were less picky.

The study's press release puts the findings simply: "Regardless of gender, the participants who rotated experienced greater romantic desire for and chemistry with their partners, compared to participants who sat throughout the event." Researcher Eli J. Finkel says the results suggest that research revealing women as the choosier sex might be best explained by "the roles men and women play in the opening seconds of new romantic contacts."

Now, don't go discarding the theory of human sexual selection just yet! Note that the study doesn't show that the sexes are equally selective. It does, however, raise some interesting questions: Could the disparity in sexual selectivity be a result of nurture (as in, "go out and get some nookie, you stud!") rather than nature ("man need sex -- grunt, scratch")? Are evolutionary tendencies easily overthrown by simple social engineering? One thing is for sure: This study will set the so-called seduction community abuzz with debate on how to recreate this speed-dating reversal in everyday life.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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