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Male submission, Evolution and Enslavement

One repeated accusation levelled against the Internal Enslavement website is that we are in some way opposed to female dominance or male submission.

This is simply false.

In attempting to understand relationships of Enslavement between masters and female slaves, we have limited the scope of our work, without claiming that similar relationships do not take place between people of other genders and orientations.

Part of the reason for this self-imposed limitation, is that we suspect that different forces are at work in men and women, just as we subscribe to the existence of the more "vanilla" gender differences identified in Evolutionary Psychology and other fields. Consequently, we limit the size of the field we're trying to understand at this stage.

This essay is a departure from that policy and is the result of a recent discussion on the interplay between genetics and D/s, and outlines some ways in which one candidate theory about D/s - that men are genetically predisposed to submission - fails to measure up. Since the interactions of sex, genetics and power naturally apply differently to men and women, these arguments start to map how D/s might relate to Evolution (in this case, by excluding one possibility.) As such, it provides one part of the wider landscape into which an understanding of female internal enslavement must eventually fit.

Are men naturally submissive?

(This essay mostly discusses Evolution, which naturally deals with averages and statistically significant tendencies. So these trends are observable in populations, even if some individuals choose to deviate from how most behave.)

The assertion I'd like to discuss goes like this: "Since men want sex, and can reproduce by getting a woman pregnant even in a casual encounter with no committment, men are more likely to be submissive, since they will do anything the woman wants to get sexual access to her. This leads to submission in men having a genetic basis - that is, as an adaptive trait which has been selected for."

Human males use two reproductive strategies. First, they try to get casual access to as many females as they can outside of a relationship (the "mate once" scenario, or "Extra-Pair Copulations"), since these are almost "free" (the effort required to generate a table spoon of semen is negligible.)

However, their second strategy is more common: they form a long term bond with a female and expend most of their own resources supporting her and her offspring (in the hope that her offspring are also his.) They then employ various control tactics to try to prevent other males getting sexual access to her, and all of these tactics involve relationship skills (things like love, but also threats of punishing infidelity, or forming coalitions with family members or other men to enforce female fidelity [which ultimately leads to institutionalised marriage, for example.])

If a human male can control his long term sexual partner, he gains by being able to put resources into supporting her offspring with some confidence they are also his offspring. If this isn't possible, then males and females become solitary rather than mated because it's not in males' interests to offer that support. The fact that humans, unlike many other species, haven't lost this behaviour, shows that this confidence has largely been present during the period of human evolution.

As long as a man is sure his partner is faithful, she doesn't need to control him to get him to support her and her (his) children, since that is in his reproductive interests too (of course, this is a statistical statement, and specifics can kill a relationship too: for example, loss of access to resources themselves ["When the wolf is at the door, love goes out the window."])

Even more fundamentally, why do females want to engage in extra-pair sex? (and risk losing their long term partner and his contribution.) They do this when a "fitter" (in terms of long term reproductive success) male comes along, that her genes will benefit from mixing with in her pool of offspring.

(This is a bit like the man who asked his wife, after seeing Indecent Proposal, "Would YOU sleep with Robert Redford for a million dollars?" She replied, "Yes, but they'd have to give me some time to come up with the money.")

In these encounters, the man is of higher status in the "market" than the women, and he is exchanging his fitter genes in return for access to her womb (and the resources of the poor sap at home who is supporting her day in day out.) Consequently, he doesn't need to submit to her, since he's in something like a seller's market.

And as I've outlined above, men in long term relationships supporting women and their offspring need to control them (at least as far as their sexual encounters with other men goes.) If they don't, their line dies out, since other, higher status men, win out. (They are documentated cases of pre-industrial societies where 50% of each generation are offspring of the village chief, one way or another, so this danger is very real.)

For these reasons, we argue that male submissiveness is not an adaptive trait which has been selected for (that it "does not have a genetic basis" and is "not part of human nature".)

Objections to an Evolutionary Psychological approach

This kind of attempt to understand the interplay between genetics, human nature and behaviour offends some people's sense of Political Correctness, even when the conclusion is in accordance with the PC orthodoxy of "nurture not nature": we're saying that the male submissiveness we see is a product of culture and environment, not of genetics.

In doing this, we suffer from the same kinds of objections as are levelled at Evolutionary Psychology in general.

First, that if male submission is not genetic or part of human nature, it is "Unnatural" and therefore Bad. This is a restatement of the Naturalistic Fallacy, which claims that which is Natural is Good, and that which is Unnatural is Bad. A brief look at the statistics of murder in hunter/gatherer societies (where something like one third of all young men are killed in fights, disputes or warfare) quickly dispells this myth.

Consequently, we do not for a moment claim that there is anything wrong with male submission, because (like brain surgery and web design) it's not a genetic trait that evolution has selected for over hundreds of thousands of years.

Secondly, that evolutionary arguments are meaningless, because many things about humans have no genetic basis. This is a more subtle argument, but it falls down when the predictions of evolutionary arguments are looked at: if we are able to identify possible features of human nature which have been selected for or selected against, we can make predictions about human behaviour in general, and test our claims.

For example, it could be asserted that "masturbation doesn't lead to offspring, but people masturbate, so leading to offspring can't solely determine what behaviours people show. So presence or lack of male submission in human nature tells us nothing about whether male submission happens."

The most likely explanation of masturbation is as a by-product of human (mostly male) sexual drives. By products themselves don't need their own explanation, since they are perfectly well explained by something else which is adaptive (ie promotes reproductive success) and they don't get in the way of success themselves. For example, the utility of the umbilical cord provides a perfectly good explanation of the belly button as a by-product.

This hypothesis predicts that if masturbation is a by-product, sex with another person must be preferred over it in human nature (as is indeed the case.) Therefore it's presence, like the belly button's, is mostly safely hidden from the reproductive fitness of the individual. (For example, if a man jerks off and then, to his dismay, immediately gets a chance to have sex with an attractive woman, he's still usually got another "one in him" for sufficiently exciting situations like this.)

However, as explained above, male submission isn't a neutral by-product of this sort, because it interferes with both human male reproductive strategies, and in particular, increases his risk of bringing up other men's offspring instead of having children with his own genes.

Consequently, these issues are crucially important to reproductive success. This importance naturally has a huge effect on how many men exhibit these behaviours.

So one prediction of this conclusion is that if there was a widespread genetic trait that produced male submissiveness, we would expect to see that behaviour widespread in the general human population. We don't. There is not one human society led by its women, as a class, rather than by its men, as a class.


This is not to say that male submission doesn't exist: it is merely a statement about how common it is in the wider human population. We don't believe rubber or fur fetishes have a genetic basis either (other than people's general ability to build up associations between sex and random stimuli.) That doesn't for a moment mean that fetishes don't exist or that they are wrong: just that a population that naturally preferred fur to sex would not have survived for hundreds of thousands of years into the present day.

Last updated 5 April 2004.

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