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Mating in the Modern Era: What are the New Fitness Indicators?

What is the best way to look after your evolutionary interests? In a two part blog about the ethics of sexual choice in the modern era, I’ll talk about you as the hunter and you as the prey!

two people laying on a bed covered with a floral comforter

What’s love got to do with it?  Mating is both a biological imperative and a choice.

Human Evolution

The progression of human evolution is a story about human beings selecting mates with features suggestive that the offspring will be a reproductive success.  Human beings subconsciously choose mates who show signs of physical health and mental ability in order to combine and reproduce evolutionarily desirable DNA.  The physical appearance of strong men and feminine women advertise the ability to produce, protect, and nurture the children. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s a biological imperative to admire and desire physical health and intelligence.

Choose Adaptations for Modern Survival

If we want to be smart about choosing a mate in the modern era, we should use this information wisely. After all, the threats to human beings have shifted drastically since the introduction of cities, the internet, and the five day work week.  No longer do we require physical strength for hunting wild animals and fast legs for running from predators.  Rather, we face new mental dangers that threaten our species’ survival.

Four Dangers of Modern Life


Depression affects 25% of the population at one time or another. Suicide is now listed as the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 15-24 and 11th overall.  A healthy brain chemistry and resilience are keys for modern survival of severe social pressures.


The physical survival activity that used to keep human beings from boredom and hopelessness is a luxury in modern cities.  Exercise is free; however, in cities we are kept indoors by pollution. Cramped, shared living spaces don’t give us room for much more than kettlebell swings.  Yoga studios and gym memberships are pricey.  Scientific studies of trapped animals show that confinement and lack of activity cause animals to act in self-destructive ways.  Birds pluck their own feathers and rodents placed in water refuse to swim. Being trapped is now a human way of life; the human who can cope is the human who survives.

Suppressed Sexuality

The sexual drive that used to keep us engaged in life must be repressed by social rules.  When humans were evolving, sexuality was relevant everyday, all day.  Although women can only become pregnant within a 24 hour period when the egg is released, it’s not advertised on our foreheads. We were meant to try often!  It seems that suppressing our sexuality is correlated with suppressing our body’s reason for living. Our minds can avoid sex, but our biology was designed for it.

The 9 to 5, Monday to Friday

The evolving homo sapien man at most needed his brain to be sharp for hunting only three hours per day.  The modern human being needs his brain to be “on” for eight-to-ten hours per day, five days per week.   Many of us even find our brains buzzing at midnight when we’re trying to sleep.  And even when we have time to rest we insist on stimulating an overtaxed brain.  Fatigue sets in and we become more clumsy, neurotic, and irritable – in short, a terrible date!  The modern era demands mental stamina to survive the demands of work.  It also requires the maturity to put down our technology to let ourselves rest.

It seems that some of the traits required for modern survival are healthy brain chemistry, a positive attitude, perseverance, and intelligence. But what about physical strength and genetic fitness?  In light of the modern era, are these aspects still relevant?

Overcoming Genetic Defects

Modern medicine has changed evolution and the way we view our reproduction. Human beings can now overcome hereditary diseases through the manipulation of DNA.  A wonderful partner and otherwise healthy mate who exhibits a physical deformity and carries a genetic disorder is no longer necessarily determined to pass that to his children.  In the past, some people might have excluded him from consideration when the conflict arose between love and biology. Nowadays, love can win.

What new “Fitness Indicators” should we seek?

bird pattern colorful green

Flaunting his Fitness Indicators!

The evolutionary imperative to prefer fit partners still stands. But how do we know that a potential mate is survival adapted?  What physical signals and behaviors tell us this information?

Fitness indicators are the outward signs of reproductive fitness and adaptation to one’s environment. Birds are excellent examples of extravagant fitness indicators.  The complex pattern and bright colors of the peacock’s tail show off how well his genetic material works together.  A lyrebird indicates his superior genetics by composing unbelievably complex melodies and imitating the strangest sounds he can (even chainsaws, camera shutters, and car alarms!). Nest building birds create nests from the greatest variety of artifacts they can.

From the preceding discussion of the new dangers we face, it’s clear we need some higher-order cognitive functioning and emotional intelligence.  Only when we have all these things working in harmony, our behavior will be well-adapted to our environment.  A modern human’s reproductive fitness is indicated in activities and behaviors that display balanced cognitive function and emotional well-being.  So, it seems we ought to look for the mental well-being of a potential mate.  I’d like to suggest that this might be indicated by some outward displays of kindness, patience, pleasant attitude, generosity, resilience, confidence, and a relaxed demeanor.

Critical Thinking Questions:

  1. What traits signaled reproductive fitness in historic humans?
  2. Do you agree that the threats to human survival have changed? What do you think are the greatest threats in a modern city-dweller’s life?
  3. Do you prefer physical fitness or mental maturity in a partner? What traits are most important to you? What kind of evolutionary value do they have (if any)?
  4. What attitudes are basic and which are more complex?  Consider: anger, fear, jealousy, contempt, sadness, VS. happiness, friendliness, trust, and forgiveness.
  5. How might a well-adjusted attitude indicate that complex mental systems are working below the biology?  
  6. Are there ethical values as a type of reproductive fitness that apply to modern humans but did not apply to historic humans?  For example, an egalitarian today is someone who values equality, whereas in the past “might makes right”.  Is an egalitarian partner a better partner?

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Mating in the Modern Era: Attraction, Advantage & Lies – Emily's Everything

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