Clearly the reason that sex is so pleasurable is because that motivates us to have a lot of it.  It is evolutionarily advantageous to desire the things that make us more fit. Sex feels good, we seek that feeling, we have a lot of sex, we reproduce more.

But that is not the only way to get motivated.  It is also advantageous to derive pleasure directly from having children.  We see children, we sense the joy we would derive from our own children and we are motivated to do what’s necessary to produce them, even if we had no particular desire for the intermediate act of sex.

And certainly both sources of motivation operate on us, but in different proportions. So it is interesting to ask what determines the optimal mix of these incentives. One alternative is to reward an intermediate act which has no direct effect on fitness but can, subject to idiosyncratic conditions together with randomness, produce a successful outcome which directly increases fitness.   Sex is such an act. The other alternative is to confer rewards upon a successful outcome (or penalties for a failure.)  That would mean programming us with a desire and love for children.

The tradeoff can be understood using standard intuitions from incentive theory. The rewards are designed to motivate us to take the right action at the right time. The drawback of rewarding only the final outcome is that it may be too noisy a signal of whether he acted.  For example, not every encounter results in offspring. If so, then a more efficient use of rewards to motivate an act of sex is to make sex directly pleasurable. But the drawback of rewarding sex directly is that whether it is desirable to have sex right now depends on how likely it is to produce valuable offspring.  If we are made to care only about the (value of) offspring we are more likely to make the right decision under the right circumstances.

Now these balance out differently for males than for females. Because when the female becomes pregnant and gives birth that is a very strong signal that she had sex at an opportune time but conveys noisier information about him.That is because, of course, this child could belong to any one of her (potentially numerous) mates. Instilling a love for children is therefore a relatively more effective incentive instrument for her than for him.

As for love of sex, note that the evolutionary value of offspring is different for males than for females because females have a significant opportunity cost given that they get pregnant with one mate at a time. This means that the circumstances are nearly always right for males to have sex, but much more rarely so for females. It is therefore efficient for males to derive greater pleasure from sex.

(It is a testament to my steadfastness as a theorist that I stand firmly by the logic of this argument despite the fact that, at least in my personal experience, females derive immense pleasure from sex.)

Drawing:  Misread Trajectory from www.f1me.net

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