Artesia McDaniel

Margaretha Kasim

Thomas Valencia


Sexually Explicit Media, Gender Differences,

and Evolutionary Theory


Malamuth, Neil M. (1996). Sexually Explicit Media, Gender Differences, and

Evolutionary Theory. Journal of Communication, 46(3), p 8-31.


            Malamuth (1996) discusses two problems: (a) an overly simplistic view of evolutionary models, and (b) a distrust of ideological implications. Malamuth thinks that people might view evolutionary models to be oversimplified and erroneous.

            We are constructed by environmental or outside inputs, such as the influences of family, peers, schools, the media, and other aspects of society.

            Malamuth (1996) supports Darwin’s view that living organisms are formed by natural selection. Evolution is a continuous process of differential reproductive success, or fitness, whereby certain design differences are transmitted to subsequent generations. A complete theory needs to include the design of the mind, as formed by evolutionary processes, and its interaction with the physical and social environments, including the cultures created by those minds. The human mind was designed by natural selection operating over many generations. To understand the influences of current environments, it is important to consider the psychological mechanisms that are part of that design and are the result of an interactive blend of nature and nurture. Modern technological societies have created environments that re radically different. The processes of natural selection take many generations to significantly change features of the human mind. Researching the design of the mind helps up understand why one design was selected from another. Adaptations are responses that were naturally selected in the evolution of human.

            Even though the mechanisms are basically the same, variability still exits. Differences in mechanisms have resulted from natural selection of different solutions to adaptive problems in evolutionary history (which include gender differences). Environmental differences provide different input to the evolved mechanisms. Environment also influences the development of various evolved mechanisms at certain levels.  Inherited differences may affect how people select their environments.

            Evolutionary metatheory provides a framework for predicting when gender differences are or are not expected, the direction of the differences, and why these differences are predicted.  Males faced different problems in evolutionary history from females, causing the mechanisms to have evolved differently. One area of sex differences would be sexuality. Male and female have different strategies in solving their problems. Strategies are defined as a series of points wherein decisions, guided by underlying algorithms, are made. Psychological mechanisms governing male sexuality are not the same as female because of different reproductive consequences of sexual behavior for the two genders in ancestral environments.

Gender differences in orientation to mating strategies can be traced to the minimum parental investment required to produce an offspring. In humans, females produce greater parental investment. Females gain no benefits in having sex with a large number of males. They gain more advantages in carefully choosing one mate who will participate in raising offspring. For males, having sex with a large number of females will increase their reproductive success. However, there are selection pressures. Females prefer males who make long-term commitment and the importance of long-term bonding to nurture the young. Men and women differ considerably in their orientation to short-term mating. Malamuth thinks that we cannot say which gender’s mechanism is more superior to the other one. Rather, they form a co-evolved strategy.

            Gender differences in sexual media can be understood by using sexual strategies that evolved differently. Malamuth (1996) argues that the consumption of sexually explicit media is the result of inherited differences in evolved sexuality mechanisms interacting with environmental forces, and not the exclusive byproduct of differences in other evolved mechanisms or differences in environmental input, or both. The type of sexually explicit media more frequently consumed by males reflects elements of the short-term part of male sexual strategy. Females consume sexually explicit media that reflect the long-term orientation of their mating strategy. In current environments, the expression of sexual strategies is moderated by interaction with other mechanisms. However, attraction to sexually explicit media is not constrained to the same degree by compromises imposed by other mechanisms.

            When explaining gender differences relating to sexually explicit media, there are four stages for humans in sexual sequence. First is broadcasting of sexual attractiveness, availability, or interest. Second is making a decision regarding whether to enter actual physical contact. Third is having physical contact and forth is deciding whether to enter similar situations. Malamuth (1996) defines associative networks as interconnected perceptions, affect, cognition, memories, and motor tendencies designed to increase the likelihood of certain actions. We would expect attraction and responses to sexually explicit media to reflect the associative networks underlying female or male strategies.

            Evolutionary processes “designed” men to be more visually attracted to and aroused by sexual stimuli. Women are more attracted by auditory and tactile stimulation, which is more likely to be a means of communicating a feeling and to occur with more familiar persons. With respect to content, more are more likely than women to become aroused by physical appearance per se (sight of a nude, shapely woman of reproductive age), the display of a sexually available mate and of sexual acts. Women are more likely than men to become aroused by the inclusion of the interactive elements (the desire and passion experienced by participants) of sexuality.

            Table 1 below summarized the evolutionary adaptive problems of both males and females and the content of sexually explicit media they would most likely consume. It is no wonder that the types of physical attributes recurrently featured in sexually explicit media are likely to have been associated with reproductive success in ancestral environments. Humans consciously or unconsciously perceive subtle variations in body symmetry as predictive of attractiveness. Men are more likely to seek out, to consume more regularly, to be more sexually aroused by, to have more favorable attitudes towards, and to react with less negative affect to portrayals featuring nudity of the opposite sex or sexual acts devoid of relationship context, or both. Among men, there do not appear to be differences between those who volunteer for erotica studies and those who volunteer for nonsexual studies. Among women, self-selection is evident. Women are less likely to volunteer for studies involving sexually explicit media.

            In watching films specially developed to appeal to women in an attempt to show that women could respond just as favorable to visual sexual stimuli as men, women experience more negative affect and became less absorbed in the firms. In the 48 hours after watching the films, the men masturbated more and experience more orgasms.

            There are other researches saying that when men and women are exposed in the laboratory to casual sex themes, women are as sexually aroused as men. Malamuth (1996) provides five criteria to avoid obtaining wrong results: (a) obtain a representative sample of males and females, (b) medium of presentation is relevant, (c) content is important, (d) the number of presentations and the type of novelty portrayed are relevant, (e) consider the context of presentation, (f) type of dependent measures used is relevant.

            The gender differences described are often explained by the socialization of our cultural roles and institutions that create differing social environments for females and males. These environments could include messages from parents, peers, media, and other cultural institutions, including messages about the dangers inherent for girls in sexuality. Culture does not address the question why humans have recurrently developed certain types of culture, including ones in which the social environments differ for males and females.

            Exposure to sexually explicit media is a form of fantasy that had no impact on subsequent responses. Other might argue that the content of such exposure is likely to influence subsequent reactions in a variety of ways.

            Men and feminists might wrongly use relevant findings about gender differences. Men might use this knowledge for gender differences to justify being unfaithful in their monogamous relationships.










Table 1. Similarity between evolutionary adaptive problems and content of sexually explicit media


Males’ Short-Term Mating Problems

Content, Male-Targeted Sexually Explicit Media

1. Partner number problem

1. Numerous women depicted

2. Sexual access to women problem

2. Women eager to “service” men sexually

3. Identifying fertile women problem

3. Youthful women with “shapely” bodies (cues associated with fertility)

4. Minimizing investment problem

4. Casual sex without investment



Females’ Long-Term Mating Problems

Content, Female-Targeted Sexually Explicit Media

1. Problem of Identifying man who is able and willing to invest in her

1. High status man who desires and eventually loves only her

2. Physical protection problem

2. Man is powerful, often “brutish” toward others

3. Problem of identifying man with good parental abilities and skills

3. Man becomes kind and gentle with her by end of story











I.                    Introduction

a.       Two problems

                                                               i.      Overly simplistic view of evolutionary models

                                                             ii.      Distrust of ideological implications

II.                 Resistance to Evolution-Based Models in Pornography Research

III.               The Evolutionary Framework

a.       Darwin’s natural selection

b.      Variability in Human Behavior

c.       Sex Differences

                                                               i.      Males and females faced different problems

                                                             ii.      Different strategies in solving problems

                                                            iii.      Sexuality as one area of sex difference

                                                           iv.      Parental investment and reproductive success

IV.              Evolutionary Psychology and Pornography

a.       Strategies, Stages, and Associative Networks

                                                               i.      Four stages in sexual sequence

                                                             ii.      Associative networks defined

b.      Form and Content of Associative Networks

                                                               i.      Men

1.      Visual stimulations

2.      Physical appearances

                                                             ii.      Women

1.      Auditory and tactile stimulation

2.      Interactive elements

V.                 Evidence Pertaining to the Evolutionary Paradigm

a.       Adaptive problems and content of sexually explicit media

b.      Different responses in men and women watching sexually explicit media

c.       Contradictory Evidence?

                                                               i.      Five criteria

d.      Cultural Socialization as Explanation

                                                               i.      Culture does not address why humans develop certain type of culture

e.       Effects of Exposure

                                                               i.      Other’s arguments

f.        Gender Differences and Personal and Public Policy

                                                               i.      Men and feminists might use this knowledge wrongly.



Test Questions

1.      In what ways are adaptive evolutionary problems similar to content specific pornography?

2.      What are some differences in sexuality exhibited by males and females?