Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sexual strategies theory

The sexual strategies theory (SST) Buss & Schmitt (1993) has been very influential in a number of fields including anthropology, social psychology and attachment theory. In recent years it has impacted areas such as these in a profound way.  

It is based on a feature of human biology.

Men are able to reproduce their genes with as little investment as a few minutes and a few sperm
For women the cost is much higher involving years including gestation, lactation and childcare. 

This asymmetry has resulted in different sex specific strategies for achieving reproductive success.

robin hood

The mating behaviors seen today reflect the psychological mechanisms that evolved to solve specific adaptive problems faced by each sex. Unlike many female primates who has obvious sexual swellings to signal fertility in human females ovulation is concealed. Ancestral males had to therefore solve the problem of how to identify fertile partners. Given that female fertility declines with age, youth is one possible clue.

Another is physical attractiveness, the markers of which are hypothesized to correlate with health. In theory, the ancestral solution to the male problem of identifying fertile partners was an evolved preference for young and attractive mates. In addition the relatively small investment required for gene replication supposedly resulted in the male preference for multiple partners.

The situation is different for human females in that every sexual encounter is potentially quite costly and as a consequence she is far more cautious and choosy. The problem for ancestral females is to find a mate who possess the resources and was willing to commit to her and her offspring. According to SST, the most favorable female strategy is to hold out for one high status male who will provide for her and her children.

SST acknowledges that males and females can alter their strategies under certain conditions. A man can agree to long term mating in order to obtain a high value mate. A woman may accept a short term mating arrangement in order to extract needed resources.

According to SST mate selection is inherently strategic. Men and women are equipped with specific mate choice mechanisms that guide them to the best available mates. The male will look for the young attractive female and the female will look for the male with status, ambition and resources.

super analysis

Since SST has been presented there have been literally hundreds of studies done to test its validity. Most notably one involving 10,000 people in 37 different cultures, located on six continents. The results have have been  supportive of the theory.


This for some is a very controversial theory and to my mind there are some difficulties with it.

This theory will be assessed and some of the difficulties with it articulated in the workshop below. However it does have implications for how men and women view some aspects of sex differently. Sexual difficulties or perhaps difficulties as a result of miscommunication about sex are discussed and provide the counsellor with important information to use with clients.

SD workshop flyer Jpeg


Sunday, May 26, 2013

The dyadic approach to family therapy

Case 1. Present are mother, father and 18 year old son. Presenting problem is son’s addiction to the internet which results in little socializing, low income from a very part time job and not getting on with life in general.

Traditional family therapy would see the son’s difficulty as a response to the parents marital problems, designed to keep the parents distracted from it.

Another possibility is to look at the family as a collection of dyads. A collection of coupling within the family. These coupling relationships can be seen to

Strongest dyad  -  father son

Second dyad - husband  wife

Weakest dyad  - mother son

Walking ladies

Strongest dyad in the family is the father son. This can be seen to be the dominant dyad of the three possibilities in terms of it having the most influence on how the family functions and structures itself at this point in time. In this instance I highlighted to the family that it was being significantly effected by having two dominant males.

Like those nature shows where the bull sea lion has his harem of females on the beach. From time to time along comes another male who wants to be the dominant one and they have a fight to decide that. The loser then takes off and order is restored with the one dominant male on the beach. This family had the same kind of dynamic going on in the father son couple.

However in this family one of the males simply can’t leave like the sea lion can and so they have to some how coexist on the same beach. The son has however removed himself to his bedroom but still regularly asserts himself in the family and dominating by not doing what he is supposed to do - get a job and grow up basically.

The focus to date has been mainly on strengthening the mother son dyad. One of the most obvious ways to alter a family structure is to strengthen and weaken the various dyads. Once done then the family structure would be different.

woman pours paint

This view of families or human groups has direct and immediate consequences for couples therapy. Couples therapy is also a collection of three dyads 

Husband  wife
Husband  therapist
Wife   therapist.

In this case the dyads can be strengthened by having individual sessions with only one party with the other marital party not present but aware the other is having an individual session.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Family systems theory - the concept of the dysfunctional dyad.

(Note: In the past I have usually written here on my blog and then transferred some of the material to my FaceBook page. In recent times I have tended to adapt some of my writing for FaceBook such as this post here, which was presented in three sections on my FaceBook. It is now presented as a post here. If you wish to read some of the more recent writing I am doing now, just friend request me on Facebook.)

Traditional family systems theory says suicidal behaviour can be a leaving home problem. The suicidal teenager serves the function in the family triad where they distract the parents from focussing on their dysfunctional marriage. 

However it can be proposed that the leaving home problem may not necessarily be the result of a dysfunctional family triad but can be mainly based in the mind of the teenager and the parent and thus one has a dysfunctional dyad in the family.

Flower in pregnant tummy

The teenager has a strong need for separation and individuation and at the same time has a strong fear of it. The suicidal behaviour or ideation allows the teenager to remain attached to the parent(s) as it indicates to himself or herself that they are not coping with adult life. Hence they can justify to self reverting to the security of the pre existing symbiosis with mother because the stakes are so high. Others will also confer with this as they demonstrate that a young person's life is at stake here.

In the dysfunctional family dyad the level of fear of separation can exist in both parties in varying degrees. Mother and teenager may both have high fear of separation and a breakdown of the symbiosis. Or it can be high in the teenager and low in the parent or high in the parent and low in the teenager. The suicidality of the teenager prevents the separation from occurring.

The leaving home theory of psychological problems in teenagers can apply also for drug use, failure to get functional employment, social isolation, psychosis, eating disorders and so forth. 

However suicide can be seen to hold a special place amongst these because it involves the death of the person whereas the others do not. The vast majority of eating disordered teenagers will not die from their eating habits. Some anorexics can die from starvation but that would be seen as an act of suicide rather than an eating disorder. Some drug users can die from overdose but that vast majority of drug users do not. If they do that can be seen as an act of suicide as well.

Co dependent

Suicide as a leaving home problem is of course also symbolic. It is symbolic of the ultimate form of separation and leaving the symbiosis.

In family systems theory the concept of the triad rests on a remarkably simple principle - the distraction technique. The parent and child relate in such a way so as to distract the parents from focussing on marital disharmony. It seems almost inevitable that one must expand this to also include non pathological behaviour in the child. But of course this will never come to the attention of the psychotherapist. However it certainly needs to be proposed which I suppose I am doing right now!!