Hypergamy, serial monogamy, and involuntary celibacy: Is there a connection?

(content warning: Happy Valentine’s Day!  Let’s talk about culture war, inequality, and loneliness.)

For the first time, I made some effort to promote a post on this blog, and I was rewarded with some interesting discussion on r/slatestarcodex.

To recap: The modern sense of the term “hypergamy”, popular mostly on right-leaning parts of the internet, means that women mate across and up dominance hierarchies whereas men mate across and down.  Some have claimed that, in the absence of monogamous norms, hypergamy makes sexual outcomes highly unequal; sometimes this is described as “20 percent of men getting 80 of the sex.”  In my prior post, I narrowed in on a particular set of claims about hypergamy and showed that they are probably not true.

Somewhat to my surprise, no one took issue with any of the data I presented or any of the concrete conclusions I drew from it. I’m satisfied that I made a strong case that hypergamy, in the narrow sense I described, does not exist.

What surprised me is that a lot of people thought I was arguing against weak man, and said that most people in the manosphere don’t actually believe in the theory I argued against.  The most common criticism was that the reason we don’t currently see harem-forming sexual behavior is that monogamy is a currently-enforced social norm, and that the Chad/Stacy dystopia is something that could happen in the future if we stop enforcing it.

I’ll talk about the implications of that broader, more plausible view of hypergamy shortly, with specific attention to issues involving involuntary celibacy, but first I’m going to show that many prominent people in the manosphere believe in the extreme version I originally argued against.

Hypergamy: Dystopia Now.

Here’s the vision of hypergamy that’s gotten me accused of nutpicking:  The Sexual Revolution in the 1960s and Second Wave Feminism in the 1970s did away with monogamy as a social norm, and we have been suffering the hypergamous fallout ever since. “Monogamy” in this sense means not merely having just one partner at a time, but also getting married fairly young with the expectation of not having many pre-marital partners and being unlikely to divorce over the the course of one’s life.

In this view, monogamy is pretty much dead in our culture, because “serial monogamy” — the current norm — is not really monogamy.  Presumably things could get a little worse in the future, if open relationships became more popular, but they’re already pretty bad.

(I will now display my extremely limited knowledge of French literature by pointing out that these ideas predate the manosphere — though Houellebecq blames the Sexual Revolution almost exclusively and seems indifferent to feminism.)

Examples of people who explicitly believe this include Francis Roger Devlin, who invented the modern use of the term “hypergamy”:

But while the revolution has not achieved its aims, it has certainly achieved something. It has destroyed monogamy and family stability. It has resulted in a polygamous mating pattern of immodest women aggressively pursuing a small number of men. It has decreased the number of children born, and insured that many who are born grow up without a father in their lives. And, least often mentioned, it has made it impossible for many decent men to find wives.

It is necessary to act quickly. It took us half a century to get into our present mess, but we do not have that long to get out of it. A single-generation Zeugungsstreik will destroy us. So we cannot wait for women to come to their senses; we must take charge and begin the painful process of unspoiling them.

(Incidentally, this what Google Translate says “Zeugungsstreik” means.)

The most widely cited “Red Pill” theorist of hypergamy is Rollo Tomassi of The Rational Male:

Once all social stigma and religious buffers were removed from Hypergamy (since the Sexual Revolution) it has been a rapid shift from a male-beneficial monogamy that’s been the social norm for millennia to a form of polyandry that benefits the female sexual strategy.

In the past, religious and social mores used to act as a buffer against Hypergamy, but the compromise for women was that they could expect to have the Beta Bucks provisioning aspects of their Hypergamy more or less provided for by the majority of men who adopted this strategy. In an evolutionary sense, protection and provisioning are already an integral part of the male mental firmware. But all of that went out the window after the Sexual Revolution, unilaterally female-controlled hormonal birth control and the socio-sexual/socioeconomic landscape that sprang from the Fempowerment narrative.

And for what it’s worth, the top-voted definition of “hypergamy” on Urban Dictionary says it is…

akin to the notion of serial monogamy acknowledged by mainstream culture.

It’s clear that at least a substantial minority of people using the term “hypergamy” are using it in this way.  They believe that serial monogamy is not “real” monogamy — in that it does not restrict hypergamous behavior — and that we’re currently living in a state of hypergamous sexual dystopia.  Devlin invented the modern usage of the term “hypergamy”, which by definition makes him influential upon other manosphere writers, but his book is only the 1555th most popular book on sexuality on Amazon.  Rollo Tomassi’s book is much more popular — it’s the 43rd most popular self-help book.

However, this is all chump change compared to Jordan Peterson.  12 Rules For Life is the 35th most popular book overall, 2nd in social psychology, 2nd in ethics and morality, and so on.   Jordan Peterson is arguably more influential than the entire manosphere put together, and after watching a bunch of his videos I came to the conclusion that y’all are are right: When he talks about “hypergamy” he’s not talking about the Devlin/Tomassi “Dystopia Now” narrative.  I’m pretty sure what he believes is something more like the following…

Hypergamy: Our Slutty Future.

Jordan Peterson summarizes his views on the subject at 1:10 in this video:

His explanations in other videos are similar.  “Enforced monogamy” simply refers to the status quo.  In other words, Jordan Peterson is a rather mild social conservative who thinks polyamory is a bad idea.  Which is not so rare a view on the left, either:

But I’m struggling to reconcile “just the status quo” with the original quote that started the whole ruckus, with regard to Alek Minassian, the Toronto killer:

“He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Mr. Peterson says of the Toronto killer. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”

That doesn’t make much sense unless Alek Minassian was getting rejected because of hypergamy right now.  Alek Minassian wasn’t bitter that women might reject him in the future if weirdo polyamorists get their way; he was bitter because the world as it exists let him down.

Now, I suspect the real argument here is something like the following: “The norm of monogamy is under siege; we’re starting to see the bad effects caused by that, and if the norm continues to weaken, we’ll see those bad effects worsen” (for what it’s worth, a redditor from an incel sub verified that exact wording as a fair restatement of his viewpoint.)

But is the norm of monogamy really under siege right now?  Blaming things on the Sexual Revolution has an advantage in that everyone knows norms change a lot around that time.  “Our Slutty Future” has to argue, awkwardly, that female hypergamy didn’t result in lopsided sexual outcomes during the 70s, 80s, 90s, or 00s, and that it’s just starting to do so now in some strange way that doesn’t show up in the General Social Survey or other data yet, but does presently produce incels.

What seems more likely to me is the following: Traditional monogamy took a great big punch to the gut in the 60s, and what’s left of it has been fading very gradually since then.  Serial monogamy — shorter-term pair bonding, sometimes leading to a marriage that may or may not last a lifetime — is the new norm, and it’s been around plenty long enough for us to see its effects.  While it certainly hasn’t led to sexual equality within each sex, neither has it led to lopsided distributions that benefit harem-collecting Chads.

And I don’t see any looming threats to pair bonding as a norm.  Certainly not from polyamorists, who are a minuscule and extremely unpopular portion of the population, and while there are a handful of poly supremacists out there, most polyamorists I know assume that theirs is a minority orientation that doesn’t benefit from evangelism (also, most polyamorists still form de facto pair bonds, even if some won’t admit it.)

Likewise, for all the talk of a mating crisis among educated women, they still seem to be…well…mating.  In 2016, married, college-educated heterosexual men under 40 were 86% likely to have a college-educated spouse; women in the same demographic were 70% likely.  So it seems that however frustrated women are with their lack of suitably educated partners, they end up settling for working class schmoes if they have to.  The General Social Survey, incidentally, doesn’t show much difference in women’s distribution of numbers of sexual partners based on education, other than that women without a college education are slightly more likely to be virgins.

(Some have suggested that online dating, specifically, is beginning to exacerbate hypergamy.  This theory does potentially get the timing right, but as I showed in the original post, actual behavior on online dating sites — on OkCupid, at least — does not seem to be hypergamous.)

So if we aren’t currently living in a sexual dystopia, and there’s no reason to believe we’re going to be living in a sexual dystopia any time in the foreseeable future, is there anything left to argue about when it comes to hypergamy?  The only definition of hypergamy consistent with real-world evidence is an extremely limited claim: “Women mate across and up status hierarchies, if they can, and if they can’t, they mate down.”

But adding that last clause robs the theory of its teeth.  Because likewise: “Men mate across and up physical attractiveness hierarchies, if they can, and if they can’t, they mate down.”  This may limit your choices if you’re a low-status man or an unattractive woman, but it’s hardly a social crisis that calls for reevaluating our sexual norms.  In particular, hypergamy in this limited sense cannot explain the incel phenomenon; that is, it cannot explain why there are undesirable men who — rather than dating equally undesirable women — find themselves unable to date at all.

Having ruled out “the least-desired women are all holding out for Chad” as an explanation, I feel some responsibility to offer an alternative theory.  This is, after all, something of a personal matter for me.

How I Hit My Chad Stride.

As I mentioned briefly in the previous post, I went — in a little over a decade — from the bottom quintile to the top quintile in lifetime sexual partner count.  This is maybe not the most impressive accomplishment, given that what I was trying to do the whole time was find someone to settle down with, but it’s certainly an accomplishment — I suspect that many lonely men would literally kill to trade one set of problems for another in this way.

I certainly didn’t do it by listening to mainstream dating advice — incels are quite correct when they say that sort of thing is unhelpful and obnoxious.  On the other hand, everything I experienced during that time tells me that most of the beliefs central to the “Black Pill” worldview are flatly wrong.

The root of my problem — and I think this is true for the majority of involuntarily celibate, virginal men — was that I was a late bloomer when it came to social skills.  I was able to catch up with only mild difficulty in most social arenas, but playing catch-up when it comes to dating is — for men specifically, in our society — much, much harder.

The dilemma is that our society requires men to initiate the vast majority of romantic and sexual interactions.  As we can see from the linked article, most men like it that way.  But men for whom that initiation difficult can find themselves locked in a vicious cycle:

  1. Some men, for a variety of reasons, suffer from extreme shyness, social anxiety, inability to understand social cues, and other conditions that make it unusually difficult for them to initiate.
  2. Because women rarely initiate, men who find it hard to initiate do not build experience or confidence at dating.  They can end up with very little intuition or practical wisdom as to how to behave (in age-appropriate ways) in romantic and sexual scenarios.
  3. As a result, when they do work up the courage to initiate, they are unlikely to be successful — women will often be confused or creeped out by inexperienced men’s behavior.
  4. Many of these men will get lucky — they’ll blunder through the dating process correctly at least once, build some of the needed skills, and eventually hop off the involuntary-celibacy train.
  5. Others won’t — some estimates suggest it’s between 1% and 4% of the male population.  As they get older, their dating skills fall farther and farther behind their peers, and their chances of ever catching up get ever more remote.

This cycle has little to do with any sort of hierarchy of attractiveness or status.  Of course, it’s probably the case that very few involuntarily celibate men are extremely attractive or have extremely high status — if they were, at least a few women might break social norms to initiate with them, and be willing to overlook their initial sexual and romantic clumsiness.

But it’s quite possible for man of average attractiveness and status to find himself locked out of the dating scene in this way.  Involuntarily celibate men are often accused of having unrealistic standards — for being unwilling to settle for women whose attractiveness is roughly at their level.  Those who believe the incel ideology, in turn, accuse less attractive women of chasing after Chad and being unwilling to settle for anything but the best.

Neither of these accusations is correct.  It’s simply the case that most these men lack the prerequisite skills to “play the game.”  To use an economic metaphor, they are “locked out of the market”, to both their own detriment and to that of women who might otherwise date them.

Now, there are of course a minority of true lost causes.  It’s clear from Elliot Rodger’s manifesto that he suffered not just from severe shyness and depression, but probably also from narcissistic personality disorder, in addition to being classist, racist, sexist, and a self-professed fascist.  Had he learned age-appropriate dating skills, that would have simply transformed him from an asshole no woman wanted to date into a douchebag any woman would regret dating.

But research on involuntary celibacy suggests that Elliot Rodger was an outlier.  The involuntarily celibate are the same mixed bag you’d find among any group of people frustrated with their condition in life: Some are angry and entitled, some are depressed, some are trying to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and some are asking for help (some are even female, though I’m guessing the issues involuntarily celibate women face are somewhat different.)  The only thing they have in common is that they’re tired of people assuming they don’t shower (note: given that it’s Valentine’s Day, the posts on that sub may be more negative than usual.)

There was no special secret to how I broke the cycle; I simply kept working at it.  I did have access to some advantages not all involuntarily celibate men have: I’m white, I’m slightly taller than average, and I have both supportive parents and marketable skills.

I sought treatment for depression and incorporated myself into social activities and meetup groups.  I asked lots of women out, most of whom rejected me.  I went on dozens of dates, all of which went more or less poorly.  I read online forums and talked to pick-up artists, painstakingly trying to separate the good advice from the bullshit and the rape-y high-pressure tactics.

Somehow in the midst of all this I convinced a female friend that she should fool around with me to educate me on the basics of sex, and from that point on I was more confident and things got quite a bit easier.  In my late twenties I fumbled my way through the steps most men went through ten years younger (I should note that several of the women I had my first early experiences with, including the very first, were partnered in open relationships, which argues against the idea that sexual open-ness harms shy men.)

Which leads to the following question…

Is there a sex-positive way to help involuntarily celibate men?

The most thorough, albeit overly long and sometimes strange and woo-ey, study of involuntarily celibate men is Dr. Brian Gilmartin’s Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment.  Gilmartin believes we should treat what he calls “love-shyness” as a distinct psychiatric condition and recommends two forms of treatment:

I had access to neither of these things.  Practice dating classes don’t exist, so far as I know, and surrogate partners are rare and were not legal in any state I lived in while I was a virgin (as I mentioned, I eventually found an informal substitute for the latter.)  Access to those things certainly would have made things easier for me, and could have spared a few dozen women the annoyance of being guinea pigs while I practiced behaving like a normal human adult on dates.

I’m not sure that “love-shyness” needs its own diagnosis, but it seems to me that the above treatments could added alongside traditional therapies for related conditions like social anxiety, chronic depression, autism spectrum disorders, and sexual dysfunction — given that involuntary celibacy is a common side effect of those disorders.

Alternatively, practice dating could be considered a remedial form of sex education, geared not only toward helping the socially awkward learn the basic steps of the dance, but also teaching everyone appropriate ways to sexually and romantically escalate while respecting consent.  I don’t imagine insurers would be willing to cover these things any time soon, but simply having them be available, legal, and licensed would be a good start.

This is, of course, a “liberal” solution in the broad sense — I propose not to reverse the Sexual Revolution, but to extend it by weakening taboos against sexual education and sexual therapy. Houellebecq wrote:

It is interesting to note that the “sexual revolution” was sometimes portrayed as a communal utopia, whereas in fact it was simply another stage in the historical rise of individualism.  The sexual revolution was to destroy the intermediary communities [the family, marriage etc], the last to separate the individual from the market.  The destruction continues to this day.

And elsewhere:

Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization.  Some men make love every day; others five or six times in their life, or never.  Some make love with dozens of women; others with none.  It’s what’s known as ‘the law of the market.’

Houellebecq, though he doesn’t believe in god, believes that society cannot survive without socially conservative, collectivist religious values, and that the Enlightenment (of which the Sexual Revolution is part) will ultimately bring down civilization.

As a liberal, I disagree.  I think the Enlightenment is pretty friggin’ great, including when it comes to sex.  That’s not to say pure individualism makes everyone happy: Loneliness and involuntary celibacy are real and painful things.  But the evidence and arguments in this pair of posts suggests to me that these forms of suffering are not inevitable result of hierarchical human nature in the wake of the Sexual Revolution, but of social and emotional obstacles that can be treated — with standard-issue Enlightenment tools like therapy and education.

One comment on “Hypergamy, serial monogamy, and involuntary celibacy: Is there a connection?

  1. Matth P says:

    Thank you very much for this post. As a male celibate in my late 20s, I absolutely recognize myself in your description of the involutary celibacy cycle. Your post both offers intellectual insights, and shows respect for the people involved regardless of their gender or relationship status. We need more of this.

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