Monday, July 09, 2007

Sexual frustration under Islam

I have asked Muslims I know what happens to all the men who miss out on getting a partner in an Islamic society when polygamy is practised? Assuming levels of homosexuality are constant across cultures and that the gender ratio is approximatetely 1:1, won't there be a lot of sexually frustrated men?

This article from Psychology Today suggests that frustration is inevitable and explains the concentration of terrorism and suicide bombers among Muslim polygamist societies as a consequence. The claim is that nearly all suicide bombers are single.

This is a corollary of the idea due to Robert Frank - discussed earlier on this blog - that polygamy favours females at the expense of males.

'The history of western civilization aside, humans are naturally polygamous. Polyandry (a marriage of one woman to many men) is very rare, but polygyny (the marriage of one man to many women) is widely practiced in human societies, even though Judeo-Christian traditions hold that monogamy is the only natural form of marriage. We know that humans have been polygynous throughout most of history because men are taller than women.

Among primate and nonprimate species, the degree of polygyny highly correlates with the degree to which males of a species are larger than females. The more polygynous the species, the greater the size disparity between the sexes. Typically, human males are 10% taller and 20% heavier than females. This suggests that, throughout history, humans have been mildly polygynous. Relative to monogamy, polygyny creates greater fitness variance (the distance between the "winners" and the "losers" in the reproductive game) among males than among females because it allows a few males to monopolize all the females in the group.

The greater fitness variance among males creates greater pressure for men to compete with each other for mates. Only big and tall males can win mating opportunities. Among pair-bonding species like humans, in which males and females stay together to raise their children, females also prefer to mate with big and tall males because they can provide better physical protection against predators and other males. In societies where rich men are much richer than poor men, women (and their children) are better off sharing the few wealthy men; one-half, one-quarter, or even one-tenth of a wealthy man is still better than an entire poor man. As George Bernard Shaw puts it, "The maternal instinct leads a woman to prefer a tenth share in a first-rate man to the exclusive possession of a third-rate one."

Despite the fact that humans are naturally polygynous, most industrial societies are monogamous because men tend to be more or less equal in their resources compared with their ancestors in medieval times. (Inequality tends to increase as society advances in complexity from hunter-gatherer to advanced agrarian societies. Industrialization tends to decrease the level of inequality.)

Most women benefit from polygyny, while most men benefit from monogamy When there is resource inequality among men—the case in every human society—most women benefit from polygyny: women can share a wealthy man.

Under monogamy, they are stuck with marrying a poorer man. The only exceptions are extremely desirable women. Under monogamy, they can monopolize the wealthiest men; under polygyny, they must share the men with other, less desirable women. However, the situation is exactly opposite for men. Monogamy guarantees that every man can find a wife.

True, less desirable men can marry only less desirable women, but that's much better than not marrying anyone at all.

Men in monogamous societies imagine they would be better off under polygyny. What they don't realize is that, for most men who are not extremely desirable, polygyny means no wife at all, or, if they are lucky, a wife who is much less desirable than one they could get under monogamy.

Most suicide bombers are Muslim Suicide missions are not always religiously motivated, but according to Oxford University sociologist Diego Gambetta, editor of Making Sense of Suicide Missions, when religion is involved, the attackers are always Muslim. Why?

The surprising answer is that Muslim suicide bombing has nothing to do with Islam or the Quran (except for two lines). It has a lot to do with sex, or, in this case, the absence of sex.

What distinguishes Islam from other major religions is that it tolerates polygyny. By allowing some men to monopolize all women and altogether excluding many men from reproductive opportunities, polygyny creates shortages of available women. If 50% of men have 2 wives each, then the other 50% don't get any wives at all.

So polygyny increases competitive pressure on men, especially young men of low status. It therefore increases the likelihood that young men resort to violent means to gain access to mates. By doing so, they have little to lose and much to gain compared with men who already have wives. Across all societies, polygyny makes men violent, increasing crimes such as murder and rape, even after controlling for such obvious factors as economic development, economic inequality, population density, the level of democracy, and political factors in the region.

However, polygyny itself is not a sufficient cause of suicide bombing. Societies in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean are much more polygynous than the Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa. And they do have very high levels of violence. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from a long history of continuous civil wars—but not suicide bombings.

The other key ingredient is the promise of 72 virgins waiting in heaven for any martyr in Islam. The prospect of exclusive access to virgins may not be so appealing to anyone who has even one mate on earth, which strict monogamy virtually guarantees. However, the prospect is quite appealing to anyone who faces the bleak reality on earth of being a complete reproductive loser.

It is the combination of polygyny and the promise of a large harem of virgins in heaven that motivates many young Muslim men to commit suicide bombings. Consistent with this explanation, all studies of suicide bombers indicate that they are significantly younger than not only the Muslim population in general but other (nonsuicidal) members of their own extreme political organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. And nearly all suicide bombers are single'.

Of course these arguments are a bit suspect when it comes to the welfare of women. If women are in scarce supply then extremely strict regtulations might be imposed by men to stop them exerting their market power. There are few societies on earth where women have a narrower range of options than Islamic societies.

Also if women must live with the consequences of terrorism - response attacks by those who don't like seeing their citizens blown to pieces by sexually frustrated bigots - then they will be disadvantaged anyway. I can't see women living with their homes being bombed and their sons and husbands being killed enjoying that much advantage irrespective of their monopoly power.

Excerpted from Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa, to be published by Perigree in September 2007. Among the other issues analysed are why men prefer blondes and women with blue eyes, why couples with at least one son divorce less frequently, why beautiful people have more daughters, and why male harrassment of women is not sexist.

25 comments:

rabee said...

A number of suicide bombings facilitated by Hizbollah against Israel during Israel's occupation of Lebanon were not Muslim. The most famous in fact was a Christian woman; who as far as I can tell is a local (north lebanon) candidate for sainthood.

Many of the recent suicide bombings facilitated by Hamas are women. Many Iraqi bombers are also women.

Further, the argument concerning polygamy is not in any way relevant in the Palestinian context since for many decades the refugee camps have had many more women than men.

rabee said...

By the way, here is an article that is actually coherent

Links (salon)

hc said...

The argument in this article is a generalisation that splits into two parts: the first parts suggests that sexual frustration among young males will be extreme if sexual partners are denied them. Anyone can relate to that.

The second part says that this frustration coupled with the promise of 72 virgins if you blow yourself up might trigger you to become a suicide bomber.

Pointing to a few exceptional cases (including the Palestinian case where woman you claim are in excess supply rather than in short supply - not a counterexample) doesn't convince me the argument is incoherent. The 72 virgins argument is treated as a ridiculous belief by people in the West but is it to these ratbags?

I agree with the Salon argument that suicide attacks can be motivated by misguided religiosity. But what motivates this religiosity? Living in a miserable joyless society, no economic prospects and no chance of having a family?

Enough to drive you to the madrassa and fanaticism?

Its an empirical question but seems a reasonable hypothesis as a causal factor. I'd welcome some decent evidence.

I agree some terrorists now are married and some are middle class. But I think they normally get others to make the suptreme sacrifice.

derrida derider said...

Gee, Harry, if a sex imbalance has these sorts of consequences middle-eastern Muslims are the least of our worries. Have you had a look at the population pyramids for China and India? And, taking the argument in reverse, we should have been relaxed and comfortable during the Cold War - the USSR had a huge excess of female adults after WWII.

And a BTW: monogamy is only a relatively recent part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Read the Old Testament if you don't believe me.

derrida derider said...

Oh, and another thing: the bit about 72 virgins is not in the Koran. It's a tradition rather than a core feature of Islam, and not an all that widely followed one.

If you are actually interested in the motivations of suicide bombers rather than just using them as a prop for your Islamophobia, try reading the work of Ariel Merari - an Israeli generally considered the leading expert in the subject.

hc said...

Gee, Derrida. You can't read and article and comment civilly without making snide, irrelevant remarks. Go on prattle again about my 'track record'. It's you that has the prejudices mate not me.

People do worry about the consequences of gender imbalance for Chinese crime rates and general aggression.

Who cares whether the Judeo-Christian tradition practised polygamy - what's that got to do with anything? Are you suggesting I somehow defend or deny this? Where? I am not a part of this tradition.

Who said the 72 virgins message is in the Koran. Not me. What's it got to do with anything anyway.

A prop for my 'Islamophobia'. Really why not cut out the crap and the foolish personal attack. If you disagree with an argument say so and set out your reasons.

lesleym said...

As I've said before, I'm only a musician and not an economist. I read economists' blogs to get an economist's estimation - and that usually includes some salient facts. I was very disappointed with this latest post, Harry. A number of your assertions are at variance with my (admittedly anecdotal) understandings.
For example, I thought that a Muslim man wishing to take more than one wife needed to weigh up the *economic* effects upon his present family before undertaking such a step - and thus is hamstrung by his present earning capacity.
Also I find no evidence in your post of awareness that different Muslim countries have different systems - polygny is not universally allowed.
I also thought that polgyny happened when so manv of the men were killed off in their interminable wars that females were forced by necessity to share a mate in order to breed.
Methinks your prejudices are showing.

hc said...

By in large LesleyM its not my post. Its a claim about sexual frustration and the causes of terrorism that I came from a popular psychology mag.

It interested me because I had previously posted on Robert Frank's theory of polygamy which is pretty much the same as that given - namely that it benefits women not men.

Yes, I think there is something to this argument otherwise I wouldn't have posted it. So do a lot of other writers in this area.

But I am not going to be placed in the position where I have to defend line-by-line something written by someone else.

I don't think there is a gender imbalance in these countries that would justify polygamy. As far as I know there is a shortage of women.

What instrument do you play?

Yobbo said...

Polygamy is more associated with large inequalities of income than of gender.

If 80% of the male population makes $1000 US dollars a year, and 20% make $30,000 us dollars a year (which is a not too far-fetched example in a lot of corrupt countries in the world), then it makes financial sense for women to share one of the rich blokes with 4 other women than it does to marry the poor bloke.

Of course, people don't marry for money much in the developed world any more, but they sure do in the undeveloped world.

This situation is very common in places like China still, but rather than have more than 1 wife, the rich blokes will just have 1 wife and many mistresses.

I did meet a Malaysian Chinese bloke in Thailand who had 2 wives though (1 Chinese, 1 Thai), so I'm guessing polygamy is still not entirely off the table.

lesleym said...

Hi Harry, sorry to be so tardy in catching up with this post. I am a keyboards person, although I learnt flute and viola da gamba for a while just so I knew about some of the instruments I was accompanying...
The other comments to this post indicate quite clearly that your original reference makes some claims that don't generalise very well.

Anastasia said...

I came here via the article, it's been a popular discussion. I don't think there is any proof that men are by nature are polygamous. It just fits into the current sexual nous of some men who'd like that to be the case.
Islamic societies didn't (and don't) practice polygamy for sexual ends. There were times, in history, where women were left widowed as a result of war, hence a man marrying more than one wife. In the Koran, a man also has to provide equally for each wife, and this is always omitted from popular American articles. These days the idea of polygamy is based on how many notches a man can score on his bed head.

hc said...

Anastasia, I think men have polygamous instincts though I think society is better-off with monogamy. It minimises the transaction costs of getting a mate because it prevents rents being earned by either gender.

I think the 'equal shares' rule is well-known - you cannot play favourites.

Anastasia said...

I think that before foreign journalists discuss the 4 wife rule in Islam, they have to read the Koran to understand it prior to writing articles because most of the time their articles get it wrong (eg the majority of Middle Eastern couples, in the Middle East practice monogamy for starters). The 'equal' I mentioned isn't about equal time, or equal sexual intercourse, it's about ensuring that all wives have a roof over their head, and that children are provided for economically.A man (historically, in this culture) can have a favourite wife, but its not permitted to have one favorite and three starving (food, clothes, etc) wives.

The modern polygamous fantasising male (in today's society this is usually a swinger sort) can't even provide for one woman with the way the economy is structured or the way societies are structured, and in many cases, goes Dutch on the first date (because militant feminism has open the door to this). How is this type of man supposed to understand Islamic culture on a marital level (polygamy being phased out in many parts of the Arab world for young couples - because they can't afford it). The majority of men in the Middle East do have one wife. Few have four, maybe the wealthier strata. The majority are practising monogamy, so the article in Psychology Today is another, perhaps too strong word to use, form of propaganda, and it's writers try to plant seeds by inferring things that aren't backed with proofs. It's difficult to explain, but some cultures aren't motivated on sex alone, which probably explains (partially) why there has been a rise in female suicide bombers. Marriage in the western world, or say within Australia (because this is what I've seen) is motivated on romance, the idea of romance, and sex. In my culture (and I'm not Middle Eastern) a relationship is not motivated by romance 'first' or the idea of sex. Sex is sex, love is love, and a relationship is founded on something that is more significant than whether or not someone is attractive physically, and the only reason why I can understand, on some level, the way a Middle Eastern person operates in a relationship setup is because I've had relationships with that culture, and that of my culture being similar (with the exception of 4 wife option - and it is an option, not a rule). It's laughable or I laugh now when I think of it, but the first time I've experienced the going Dutch phenomenon, was when I was 29, and I couldn't believe it but it's prevalent in Anglo cultures, yet unheard of in other European cultures or Middle Eastern cultures. For a woman to pay (when a man wants to date or be in her company)? Unheard of.

The most sexually frustrated cultures or societies are those that feature high incidences of porn usage. The United States produces the most porn in the world, and this American magazine of pop psychologists (Psychology Today) discusses sexual frustration of Arabs? It's amusing.

Yobbo said...

The most sexually frustrated cultures or societies are those that feature high incidences of porn usage.

What evidence do you have to back up this assertion?

I would say that China is the most "sexually frustrated" society. A very conservative attitude towards sex before marriage coupled with a large gender imbalance due to the one-child policy being the major causes.

The sexual revolution began in the US and UK. The US is probably the least sexually frustrated country in the world after Japan.

Which are, coincidentally, also the 2 largest producers of Porn.

Anonymous said...

harry you need to do real research and not pull stuff out of your head. your assumtions are the most ignorant assumptions. marriage to more then one woman in islam has nothign to do with suicide bombing or with competition and in islam marrying to more then one wife was encouraged to help the growth of the religion. that and what the other commentee's posted is just one of the many reasons of polygamy in islam. please research some more about this topic before you post any sort of so called fact. thanks

hc said...

This is a review of an article iin Psychology Today. You should learn to spell and to deal with arguments presented before you offer your insulting and foolish views.

There is nothing wrong about analysing the implications of polygamy for social wellbeing. Grow up.

Anonymous said...

Some people have a lot of trouble with the idea of multifactorial causes and circumstances, coupled with the notion that just because they don't produce 100% verifiable outcomes, all the time, there aren't some useful truths to be gleaned Harry.

Anonymous said...

observa as last anonymous

Anonymous said...

May Allah guide Harry Cleake and see the light of islam because he is lost and he doest even have an idea of what he is talking about.
Brother in Islam.

Anonymous said...

Harry dont try to insult Islam with your stupid assumptions. Your society is the most rotten in terms os sexual frustration. so you should do something about your society before insulting other. may Allah guide you and join Islam.

Anonymous said...

Many suicide bombers/terrorist are young, educated, middle class males. They are not at the bottom of the social ladder. Hence, their status would make them prime candidates for women seeking suitable mates. However, since most of them end up unemployed, and premarital sex is taboo, then I can imagine how that leads to radical Islam and 72 virgins and the whole bit.

Wal said...

Hi Harry, obviously you don't live in an Islamic country and you don't have the slightest idea what's going one, so, let's keep your philosophy about Islam aside and let me tell you a little about what's going on in the real world .. you suggest that sexual frustration in Islamic countries is because Islam allows for polygamy for males, it's so clear to me that you didn't spend even a few minutes to get some stats on this because if you did you would have realized it's incredibly rare (even though it's allowed) to find a man who's married to more than one woman, the true reason behind sexual frustration in Islamic countries is because of poverty, because young men can't afford to pay the expenses needed for marriage and even a lot of them are not employed and the majority of those who are employed get paid very low, it's all about poverty Harry, please do some research before you talk about anything whether it's Islam or anything else .. have a nice day

Ian said...

Wal - did you make these discoveries? If not, don't present the facts as "I know." You don't have to be an asshole to present opposing points of view.

It seems apparent from good points made on all sides that the Psychology Today article places human existence in black and white, "if-then" terms. Clearly life is more complicated than that. Reducing existence to formulas only works on evening TV shows (and then it still sucks).

I can say from experience that sexual frustration leads to violence. It's not the only factor, but it's huge. I used to be a nerd at a ritzy but third-rate college with no trust fund or frat-bro status, having women treat you as gum on the sidewalk is extraordinarily demoralizing. You start to fantasize about violence and, in my case, enjoy violent video games.

Some guys - Seung-Hui Cho as a great example - have more darkness in their lives and games offer no placation for their frustration.

Anonymous said...

as a young half middle eastern male raised in a very nonreligous christain setting in the west, I think middle eastern males are generally more sexually frustrated not because of religeon but because of some racial factors. Were just hot blooded. Vitriol or whatever. I think we have a lot of sexual desire and anger, haha...... thats my honest opinion no joke. I however find that the more women im around the more sexually frustrated i am if i think of them in a sexual way, so i prefer to not have sexual relations, cause my sexual desires are just ENDLESS. so ya if i use porn or have sex i just get more frustrated and have unsatiable desires to the point of being compulsive.....however i also think having a lot of friends that are girls helps somehow relive this frustration.....just as long as they are not sexual friends. anyways my point being is that were probably the horniest people on the planet with insatiable sex drives that easily turn to anger drives if that makes any sense?? excercise helps a lot I think just socializing with women is a good cure for sexual tension or fruustration.....which is not something you find in many middle eastern societies.....and about suicide bombing....id much rather just use my phallus bomb to cause any half decent girl at the uni to explode joyfully..... :O

Ali Rashid said...

Dear Sir

I am a Muslim man of 27 myself, and cannot help myself but agree with many of your points that why Muslim men are prone to violent means.

As a matter of fact for myself, I face terrible sexual frustration as living in a conservative Muslim society as Pakistan, I have never had any sexual relations with a woman. Neither would a Pakistani Parent marry his/her daughter to a guy until he gets 'well-established' in financial terms. This is ofcourse, a very subjective debate. And when it comes to being 'well-established', the competition with other more 'well-established' fellows usually pops up against you (as at any point of time, there will be someone more successful than you).

Even I personally face this dilemma, despite of having a good job and benefits. Fortune of marrying a girl of my choice would be too unrealistic in a society where there are already much older men, who exherted the best parts of their lives into getting more and more financial status-partly, in order to increase the chances of marriage.

It is not to say that I never got a chance to have any sexual relations without marriage; but I could not chose this way due to solely personal religious reasons.

I guess the elders of Muslims should realize what kind of a society are they cultivating by suppressing their youth's sexual and other natural instincts.

At the end, A nice article written by you.