Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Female Mate Choice (Intersexual Selection)

  • Anthonieta Looman MafraEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_3575-1



Romantic or sexual partner selection by women; characteristics that guide female choice of their romantic or sexual partners.


Parental investment theory (Trivers 1972) states that male and female have different court behaviors because of the amount each sex invests in offspring. In general, females invest more energy and time in them. This investment becomes even clearer in mammals since gestation and breastfeeding are mandatory for descendants’ survival. Because of the energy spent by females, they are limited to a certain number of children they can have and raise. This number depends on several factors such as length of gestation, necessity of taking care of children after birth, and available resources. Thus, females are considered the limiting sex, investing more in parenting effort, while males are known as the competitor sex. For men, greater access to females means a higher probability of increasing their reproductive success, while females’ access to resources is a limiting factor for their reproductive success.

Sexual Strategies Theory

Buss and Schmitt (1993) noticed that men and women have a different pattern of choosing their romantic partners. Natural selection has acted on both sexes behavior and modulated their mate preferences in order to maximize individuals’ reproductive success.

Women have 9 months of gestation, at least 6 months of breastfeeding and the primary care with children. Due to this high investment in offspring, a mate who helps her with protection against predators and rivals and provides resources to her and their offspring increases the possibility of survival and tends to be considered more attractive (Buss 1989; Buss and Schmitt 1993).

Long-Term Relationship Preferences

According to the evolutionary perspective, women who chose a partner that could provide protection and resources to them and their offspring had greater reproductive success. Due to females’ high investment in children, they tend to be more selective than males when looking for their romantic partners and to prioritize long-term relationships. In order to help her to raise children, a man needs to establish a commitment with her. Because of that, they also look for a partner who is willing to invest in them and in their offspring, which may be observed through traits like faithfulness and commitment (Buss 2003). Besides being committed, being faithful assures women that her partner invests in her and their offspring, decreasing the risk of having to share his resources and time with another woman and her family.

Environmental Influence on Females’ Mate Choice

In general, women tend to invest more in long-term relationships and choose their partners accordingly, as aforementioned. Such strategy and preferences may change, however, depending on the environment.

Gangestad and Simpson (2000) claimed that women change their strategies according to environmental features, such as pathogens’ level and amount of resources available. In general, women prefer a partner with high socioeconomic status, as predicted by the sexual strategies theory. Nevertheless, it occurs in an environment where pathogens’ levels are not too high or when biparental care is important for children survival. In high pathogens’ levels environment, women face another problem: assurance of good genes, a good immunological system in order to survive. For this matter, they no longer use a long-term strategy. Instead, they tend to choose a partner who is physically attractive. Physical attractiveness is related to the good capacity to protecting the human body against pathogens. Body and facial symmetries, for example, gives men and women clues about their pathogens’ history. A symmetrical person indicates that she or he had enough energy in the childhood to develop their body symmetrically at the same time their immunological system was fighting against external and internal agents (Pawlowski 2000; Thornhill and Gangestad 1993). A woman who chooses a more attractive partner, in a harsh environment, tend to have children both more physically attractive and with better pathogens resistance, increasing their capacity of survival and procreate, and consequently, higher probability of increasing women’s reproductive success (Gangestad and Simpson 2000).

Menstrual Cycle

Besides environmental conditions, women’s mate choice can suffer influence of other factors, such as menstrual cycle. Women who do not take contraceptive pills tend to rather more masculine men when they are in the most fertile phase, while women who were in other phases (luteal phase, for example) found more attractive as a romantic partner men that have more feminine traits (Jones et al. 2008). Men with more masculine faces, bodies, and voices, in general, have higher testosterone levels and are considered also as more aggressive, unfaithful, prone to engage in more risky behaviors, having a higher number of sexual partners, and less prone to engage in a long-term relationship. These men, at the same time that signal good genes, signal less probability of invest in them and in their children. However, men with more masculine characteristics are good partners to have a short-term relationship with, increasing the change of successful pregnancy, and to provide good genes to their children when women are most fertile (Jones et al. 2008).


Due to the high investment (energetic, physiological, and in time) women make in children, they tend to choose a partner who can help them with their offspring, investing with resources and being committed to them. However, the environment also modulates females’ mate choice. In harsh conditions, they may change her mate preferences in order to maximize their reproductive success, investing more in short-term relationships and preferring characteristics that indicate good immunologic system quality, such as physical attractiveness, instead of resources.



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidade de São PauloSão PauloBrazil

Section editors and affiliations

  • Douglas Sellers
    • 1
  1. 1.Penn State Worthington ScrantonScrantonUSA