In the second part of our series of sex, productivity and motivation, we’re going to talk about why human beings aren’t amoebas, why men wage wars, and how Sex and the City has changed modern sex lives.
Update: click here for part 3.
If you haven’t read our introduction to this series, you can find it here. You’ll notice that originally this article was titled Biology and Society (and sex). Remember the cover photo above as your read this article – there’s something important going on in there.
Let’s get into it.
The AE Sex-Motivation Flowchart
Using our patented black box information crunching process, we came up at with this at the AE Labs:
This image explains the role that biology and society play when it comes to our sex lives, and subsequently, the remainder of our lives (outside of sex). We would like to think that this is a fairly accurate depiction of the interplay of biological and social forces when it comes to sex and productivity.
On the left side, we have the two prime biological forces, according to evolutionary psychology: survival and replication. They’re called many different things, but essential they are:
- A living organism’s will and effort to survive, and
- A living organism’s will and effort to reproduce, passing its genes onto its offspring.
These are the two main functions of life.
These two forces create what we like to call “pursuit motivation” – the set of behaviors and actions that we do in order to survive or reproduce. Because we’re talking about sex in this article series, we left survival off the diagram.
Once we have sex, we gain what are known as post-sex benefits. These are basically the biological and social benefits that we derive from having sex, regardless of if offspring was conceived or not (though that is a benefit in and of itself).
These two sets of motivation/benefits in turn, can lead to increased or decreasedproductivity, depending on their interaction with what society says. Society typically provides us with either good and productive messages, or bad and detrimental messages. Essentially, it is a combination of what nature wants us to do (survive + reproduce) and what society says we must do in order to do that (conditioning). A miniature version of nature and nurture if you like.
Note: When we say “society” we are referring to the set of cultural ideas that media, religion, family, our education system etc have provided us with.
The rest of this article will break down this chart even further, and show you how you can use it to your advantage. While we’re going to be as-comprehensive as we can be, each part of this article could in fact be a book in-and-of-itself, complete with diagrams, a historical catalog of research studies and numerous examples. For anyone who’s interested in further reading, I suggest Sperm Wars and The Red Queen. AE Thanh suggests The Selfish Gene and The Evolution of Desire.
Let’s start with the biology.
The biological value of all life comes down to its ability to survive and reproduce. It is ingrained (via the pain-pleasure mechanism of the limbic system) in all living organisms that we are supposed to do these things. Survival is pretty straightforward (everyone wants to live), and here’s the high-school-science version of why species replicate:
- It’s about furthering the species.
- Reproduction in sexual organisms leads to genetic diversity through mutation and taking different sets of genes from two separate organisms, leading to stronger genetics for each subsequent generation.
- Sexual reproduction exists for the evolutionary advantages it provides, otherwise we would go at it like Amoebas and just clone ourselves.
As we mentioned in the introduction to this series, this is not the end-all picture – evolutionary psychology is just a shortcut method of looking at how this works. Obviously there are other strong and motivational forces on the level of surviving and reproducing, such as drug or chemical addictions, but in the context of a “normal” living beings, they don’t play into this equation.
Astute readers at this point will likely start to wonder if these biological imperatives differ for men and women, and the answer is yes, they do.
The explanation of this difference could be the subject of an entire book or blogs, but here’s the simplified version:
- Men’s reproductive value lies in non-physical traits.
- Women’s reproductive value lies is physical traits.
Now before I’m hung, drawn and quartered by feminists, let’s look at some evidence of this in the modern world.
If you examine popular “top 10” lists around the world, a simple trend emerges. Lists of men typically use wealth, power and influence as a measure of ranking. Lists of womentypically use physical traits, such as sex appeal or beauty. We all know that typically, men who would have the largest choice in reproductive mate aren’t always the most attractive. On the flipside, women who could have any man they want, usually are quite attractive. There is a reason why there is a concept of “ideal child bearing age” for women, and why marketers tend to bombard us with photos of models and attractive women, rather than attractive men.
Sure there are likely some counter-examples out there (and we’ll explain why in the section on Society and Influence below), but for the most part, men are biologically valued for non-physical traits, and women are biologically valued for physical traits. It isn’t good or bad – it’s just biology.
What you can takeaway from this, is that an understanding of how this biological dynamic works makes life and the choices you have to make much, much simpler. Despite what direction society may push you towards, biology tends to be pretty clearcut about what it wants.
One of the biggest motivational forces on the planet is the pursuit of sex.
Most of the things that we do in life are designed to get us sex. Men try to build empires, and wage wars. Women aspire to be fashionable, and become models or actresses to gain popularity. There are subtle differences between the goals of men and women of course (men typically want more sex, women typically want sex from a specific man), but the drive still comes from the pursuit of sex.
These different expressions in the pursuit of sex exist because of the way that society has evolved. If you think back to caveman times, sex worked very differently. Typically, men would just go up to women, grab them and have sex with them – sex was just one of those things that could happen anywhere and anytime, and if you think about it it makes an awful lot of sense. Despite what society tells you, the only precondition for sex is the presence of two willing people. And the willing part is a modern development that has come with the evolution of human rights.
Now obviously, this concept of “club-her-over-the-head-and-drag-her-to-your-man-cave” doesn’t really work any more.
As an interesting aside, it doesn’t work for men but it does for women. Women wanting sex from a random guy typically can just approach and offer sex with few social repercussions.
Society now has an intricate set of rules, laws, checks and systems in place that create different pathways to sex. Because of this, men (not so much women) have had to find alternative pathways to getting sex – some of which are productive, some of which are not.
As we’ve mentioned, the main expression of this pursuit for men comes from showing achievement in non-physical traits. This is done through pursuing careers, accumulating money, waging war, creating empires and generally competing with each other for the attention of women.
Women take a different route – they try to stay healthy and fit (the appearance of “child rearing age”), they learn to use makeup and fashion to make themselves stand out, and they forge social alliances with friends and family to get them more visibility and access to particular men.
Sometimes though, society gives us mixed messages about how to go about getting sex. Some of these are outright ridiculous, and a heavy expenditure of time and resources, and yet we pursue them in the name of reproduction (and survival).
- The recent Jersey Shore-fuelled trend of men looking ripped and buff.This goes against most biological imperatives, as it is a huge expenditure of time and resources if it isn’t a direct result of lifestyle (e.g., you are a soldier in an army). Interestingly enough, this message has been pushed hard enough by society that a certain subset of women have begun to take the male physique as an indication of reproductive value.
- The idea that women pursuing higher levels of education and career success will help them find a better partner. In reality, the opposite is true. The more education or status a woman has, the smaller her potential partner pool shrinks. This is because women are biologically hardwired to seek out men of higher status of themselves, to ensure genetically superior offspring, and future security and protection for them both. As a woman climbs the ladders of education and life, there will be fewer and fewer men who are regarded as higher status than her. As Vera Farmiga says in Up in the Air, “Please let him earn more money than I do, you might not understand that now but believe me, you will one day otherwise that’s a recipe for disaster.” We’re not saying that women should not pursue higher education or climb the corporate ladder – that would be ridiculous. We’re just pointing out the biological and social costs of doing so.
- The idea that life is like a Hollywood movie. Movies are essentially compressed and caricatured depictions of real life – they often paint unrealistic scenarios of how romance works, how falling in love works, and then set them to perfect art direction and lighting. Movies are not supposed to depict real life – they’re supposed to entertain us, educate us or generate emotion – otherwise we wouldn’t pay to watch them.
- Pornography. Pornography creates expectations very much the same way that Hollywood films do – they fill our minds with expectations of male-female sexual behavior that doesn’t reflect reality. Much like Jersey Shore however, porn has had a bleed-through effect on society, where men have begun to respond more positively to women who exhibit porn star-like behaviors.
This is not to say that all social messages and pathways are bad – most are actually good, like the promotion of pair bonding for raising children, or working hard to provide for a family.
Pursuing sex is a powerful motivational force and you should most definitely use it to help you get things done. Most of the people who we discussed our research with suggested some form of using sex as a reward for achieving certain milestones, and we definitely agree. Just make sure that what you’re doing to get sex is actually benefiting you (both productively and biologically), rather than leading you down a path that leads to nowhere.
On the other side of sex are the benefits that you derive from having sex. Most of these are biological – there are actually few social benefits that come from the act of sex itself. In general, all these biological benefits make you healthier and more psychologically and emotionally stable, thus helping increase your ability to work and be productive. Here they are:
- Reduced stress. When you have sex, your body produces hormones that reduces your stress levels. This creates mental and emotional stability.
- Less worry. This is a result of hormones as well.
- You are happier. A 2004 British study showed that sex is better than money for general happiness. They found that having regular sex once a week produced happiness equivalent to an extra $50,000 a year income. Being in a stable marriage (with regular sex) was equivalent to an extra $100,000 a year in income. Interestingly, divorce was equivalent to a loss of $66,000 a year.
- You get “the glow”. This is a result of hormonal changes and neurotransmitters in the body and brain. People who have just had sex look healthier, and exude a certain confidence.
- Sex is cardiovascular exercise and promotes better blood circulation and cardiovascular health.
- Sex promotes pair bonding (relationships). This is a result of biology (through hormones, we’ll explain this in great detail in a future article), and of positive social conditioning. Pair bonding makes people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.
- Orgasms lower the death rate, and give you up to 3-8 extra years of life.
- Regular sex means fewer colds and viruses. This comes from a Wilkes University study done where regular sex was shown to effectively boost the immune system.
- Having sex doubles women’s estrogen levels. This means softer skin and shinier hair.
- Semen acts as an antidepressant for women when absorbed. This is because it contains a substance called prostaglandin, which has been shown in studies to induce a withdrawal effect when regular exposure is stopped (basically, they measured depression in women with partners who used condoms compared to those who did not).
- I’ll quote this one: “Seminal plasma contains zinc, calcium and other minerals shown to hinder tooth decay. It could be a far richer, more complex and more satisfying experience than squeezing a tube of Crest.”
We had a hard time locking down any positive post-sex social benefits that derive from sex. This is largely because any social gains will come from how the act of sex is presented to and interpreted by other parties. For example, a man telling male friends that he just had sex is largely greeted by congratulations and camaraderie. Unless his friends think the women he just had sex with is unattractive. Similarly, a woman telling her friends that she just had sex will largely depend on what her friends think of the man in question, and her behavior leading to the act itself.
We know that sex is important and that it provides a multitude of benefits for us. Simply put, having sex means that you’ve fulfilled one of your core biological imperatives, and you can get back to the rest of your life. Sex is important for your health – have more of it.
Society, Influence and Conditioning
Let’s refer to our flowchart again:
You’ll see that society (and its forces, conditioning and influences) can either add or drain. This is because society tends to send mixed signals about sex, and how to get it.
95% of the things you believe in (including sex), are not your original thoughts. They come from society telling you to believe in them.
Most people don’t think about their friends having sex. It’s like a mass-omission of the act from conscious thought. There is more sex happening than any of us can really fathom, but it’s still a taboo topic that is never discussed directly.
Society also heavily influences sexual behavior, and thus also influences the motivations leading to sex. This is the Sex and the City Effect. For those old enough (like me) to remember, Sex and the City essentially promoted the idea that it was OK and even cool and hip for women to openly discuss their sex lives and escapades with their female and gay friends. It wasn’t always like this – it’s a cultural meme that has worked its way around the world. Contrast this with men, who have no equivalent meme – outside of select social groups (or the gay community), men typically don’t discuss sex with each other.
Society also promotes the separation of sexual expression from the act of sex. This likely has something to do with sex being taboo and off-limits to polite conversation – we’re forced to find other ways to express sexuality. For women, this is obvious – sexuality is expressed through fashion, makeup and appearance. These are the ways that women tell the world “yes, I am a sexual person”. For men, it less obvious. Women are generally attracted to men with high social standings, be they athletes, celebrities or generally dominant men. It’s just that society doesn’t make the direct connection.
This is not to say that there are not positive messages that society sends. There are most certainly are. Society telling men to pursue “success” (money, career etc) is typically good for both society and a man’s reproductive success. Society telling women to stay healthy and to have children, is good for both society, and for a woman’s reproductive success. Society encouraging both men and women to enter into sexual relationships and produce offspring, and to pair bond and remain around to raise that offspring, is good for both society, and male/female reproductive success.
With the good though, there is also the bad. Pornography, emotional pornography and the idea of the modern dating cycle, are all examples of negative messages that society has put out there that actually hamper reproductive success (and your productivity!)
If you want to use these social messages to your benefit, you need to use your own experience as a filter to assess the benefits of each activity that society is suggesting you do. Don’t trust social portrayals that you see in the media, especially when it comes to pursuing sex.
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
Given that you now understand that the impact of sex on productivity is a delicate balance between biological imperatives and social influences, the question remains – does this apply differently for men and women?
Well, it does.
Men have a biological imperative to impregnate as many women as possible. They have reliable orgasms, and because orgasm is typically accompanied by the ejaculation of sperm, this means a reliable measure of how well they’re doing reproductively. Note that I said “typically” – we’ll talk about tantra a bit in the article on Sexual Energy.
Women are the sexual gatekeepers of the human race. By and large, women are the more valuable sex in terms of reproduction. This is because women can only produce one egg per month, as compared to the millions of sperm contained in a man’s single ejaculation. Female fertility also declines after the age of 30, and ends with menopause. Men have no such limit on fathering children.
At face value, men and women are locked in a biological arms race when it comes to reproduction.
If you internalize this one simple idea, you’ll start to understand why people interact and do the things they do as they navigate relationships, sex and life in the modern world. Men are biologically encouraged to impregnate as many women as possible, they have an easier time having sex with multiple partners, sans the emotional ties. Women are the opposite. It is in a woman’s interest (reproductively speaking) to stay with one partner who will protect her and her offspring during its infancy. It is in a man’s interest to have as many offspring as possible.
Society plays into this difference as an evolved method of letting both sexes pursue their separate and often-conflicting biological agendas. As an example, there is a popular social notion that women don’t enjoy sex. This is simply not true – both men and women seek out sex for pleasure nowadays (with varying levels of consciousness thought). Men may be well-known for enjoying pornography, but women have their equivalent in the form of love/relationship guides, and romance novels.
As an interesting aside, this notion that women don’t enjoy sex has become the culturally-accepted norm in some Asian countries, to the point where most women believe it themselves.
Using all this for Productivity
We know that:
Productivity is the amount of time you spend directed towards your goals.
We also know of the Inspiration Effect – which is the ability to get extraordinary amounts of work done in a short amount of time when you are highly motivated.
Sex, as we’ve seen, is one of the most powerful ways to generate motivation – it helps you emotionally, it helps you psychologically, and it helps you physiologically. Have sex – it’s good for you, makes you healthier, and makes you more productive.
95% of the things you believe in (including sex), are not your original thoughts. They come from society telling you to believe in them.
We’re going to go into more detail about exactly what society tells us in the next article.
Update: click here for part 3.