An analysis of data collected across 10 world regions suggests that men’s self-esteem is more strongly tied to their sexual success than women’s. The findings were published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
The study authors accordingly proposed that having a greater number of past sexual partners should increase self-esteem. They further reasoned that this positive link between self-esteem and number of past sexual partners should be stronger among men since greater sexual acceptance is more adaptive for men. That is, men’s ability to pass on their genes relies strongly on having a high number of sexual partners, while women’s success in passing on their genes rests on having higher quality sexual partners who will invest in offspring.
The first thing that came to mind when reading this was, “Correlation doesn’t mean causation. Perhaps having a high self-esteem, as a consequence of such things as job success, physical attractiveness, etc. contributed to the higher number of sexual partners.”
The authors are concerned about that as well:
The authors note that past experimental studies have found that manipulating self-esteem seems to impact sexual desire differently among men and women, suggesting that self-esteem might be “both a cause and a consequence of short-term mating success in men.”
“Future work should seek to disentangle the many functions of self-esteem within men’s short-term mating psychology,” the researchers write, “including work to identify how self-esteem may serve specially-designed functions as both a consequence, and a cause, of short-term mating success.”
Many years ago I would hear things to the effect that women with high number of sexual partners by women was frequently a result of low self-esteem. At the time I knew two young women (in their mid 20s) who that seemed to apply to but it did not appear to be a consistent pattern. More recently with women in their 50s and 60s I have talked to about numbers of sex partners don’t seem to show any correlation one way or the other. But this did not involve any accurate self-esteem measurements.
More study is required before, if ever, the head shrinks start prescribing lots of sexual partners to increase self-esteem.