Monday, February 07, 2005

Risk Preferences and Promiscuity

Jim Lindgren examines Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s claim that homosexuals think less about the future (or plan less for the future) than heterosexuals. [Note: The permalinks for these posts aren’t working properly, so you may have to visit Volokh and scroll down.] Lindgren finds there is some evidence for that proposition, but (in Lindgren’s assessment) it’s pretty weak. One piece of such evidence is that homosexuals tend to have more sexual partners than heterosexuals.

The implicit assumption is that greater willingness to take risks corresponds to thinking less about the future. Let’s suppose that’s true. Even so, greater promiscuity among homosexuals doesn’t directly reveal their willingness to take risks. Why not? Because one’s actual risk-taking is a function of two things: first, one’s attitude toward risk; and second, the availability of risk-taking opportunities. For example, even if a Floridian and a Californian had identical attitudes toward risk, the Californian might engage in more snow skiing – a risky activity – because of the greater opportunities for skiing in California.

Similarly, homosexuals might have more sex partners not because of any greater preference for promiscuity than heterosexuals, but because of greater opportunities for having sex with new partners. I hypothesize that this is especially likely with men, who (at least stereotypically) have a greater drive for multiple partners. For heterosexual men, this drive is curbed by the need to find willing female partners, whose drive for multiple partners is usually not as great. For homosexual men, on the other hand, the drive is met by a similar drive on the part of their potential partners. Thus, while sex drives, and corresponding attitudes toward sexual risk, are (I surmise) essentially the same for both groups, the constraints differ, thus resulting in different behavior.

My specific hypothesis may be mistaken, but here’s the broader point: even if attitudes toward risk do differ between heterosexuals and homosexuals, differences in sexual behavior cannot cleanly reveal the attitudinal differences if constraints on behavior also differ.


Anonymous said...

You're right, you're probably not going to find too many women engaging in polyamory because women fuse emotions often with their sexual partners. Unless you're Anjolina Jolie who just takes on lovers because she doesn't want string of different men to disrupt her adopted child's life.
I haven't thought of the "availability of willing partners" for the reason why homosexual men tend to have multiple partners more often. But I guess that makes perfect sense because if you look at rock stars, they are never short of groupies they can sleep with. And their risk-taking behavior is definitely faciliated by the hordes of panty-throwing, willing women. Not so easy for the average guy.
I have to disagree with Hoppe's claim that homosexuals necessarily plan less about the future. I think Palmer has it right when he says that it's the child-factor that changes risky behavior in a couple's life. And it is also true that even in a homosexual relationship (assuming that it's a committed one), an introduction of children will alter their behavior the same way--being more risk averse.


Maestro said...

Are risk-taking and short-term thinking even all that connected? Howard Hughes took tremendous risks, but he was definitely a long-term thinker.

gt said...

There are huge data collection and definition problems with this issue.
He is undercounting celibate and closeted people, and, i would think, lesbians. It's easy to focus on the highly visible minority who claim to have had a thousand or a million sex partners, rather than the average guy who think it's none of your business.
Rigorously define the terms, explain the data colection process, then I'd be willing to look at what conclusions can be drawn.
Did Allan Turing plan for the future?
Some might say that heterosexuals tend to be too busy changing diapers to build spaceships.