The sexy son hypothesis suggests that females obtain future fitness benefits from mating with polygynous males through the inheritance by their sons of traits contributing to mating success. It proposes that a female animal’s optimal choice among potential mates is a male whose genes will produce male offspring with the best chance of reproductive success.
What matters are her so-called sexy sons’ future breeding successes (like that of their promiscuous father) in creating large numbers of offspring carrying copies of the female’s genes.
Sexual selection by direct and/or indirect benefits as well as sexual conflict determines the evolution of animal mating systems. Female mating preferences are widely recognized as being responsible for the rapid and divergent evolution of male secondary sexual traits. In 1976, Richard Dawkins wrote in The Selfish Gene:
‘In a society where males compete with each other to be chosen as he-men by females, one of the best things a mother can do for her genes is to make a son who will turn out in his turn to be an attractive he-man. If she can ensure that her son is one of the fortunate few males who wins most of the copulations in the society when he grows up, she will have an enormous number of grandchildren. The result of this is that one of the most desirable qualities a male can have in the eyes of a female is, quite simply, sexual attractiveness itself.’
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