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|Wanting Casual Sex Doesn't Mean Not Wanting Love
Consider these two (real) people. One is my 45-year-old friend Sam. He’s a good-looking, charming man who’s had sex with over 800 women in his lifetime (or so he claims). Most of his partners have been one-night stands and short flings (how else do you get to 800, right?); he loves casual sex with new people. The other person is my 48-year-old colleague David. He’s also pretty attractive (though, admittedly, not as attractive as Sam), and has had four sexual partners, only one of which was casual. That drunken, college hookup had left him wanting, and he considers it a youthful mistake; “I was never much of a one-night stand kinda guy,” he says.
Given what you know about Sam and David, who do you think is more interested in having and maintaining a long-term relationship?
If you’re like most people, you wouldn’t think twice: David is clearly more into relationships than Sam. In fact, Sam probably doesn’t even want a romantic relationship; all he ever cares about is getting laid, right?
The belief that people who are into casual sex are automatically not into love and relationships is not just a layman’s assumption. Social scientists do this all the time in their theories and their research: They treat interest in short-term mating as the polar opposite of interest in long-term mating, as if everyone who scores high on interest in casual sex scores low on interest in relationships, and vice versa (an assumed correlation of -1.00). The unidimensional model below provides a graphic represention.
On the surface, the notion that there is an opposition between these two sexual strategies makes some sense, because time and energy spent engaging in short-term mating (e.g., pursuing one-night stands) is time and energy that cannot be spent engaging in the long-term mating (e.g., getting married and raising children) and vice versa.
However, it’s not like our lives consist of nothing but sexual or relationship/parenting activities: there’s eating, sleeping, working, exercising, travel, watching TV, going to the movies, reading books... Even those who are most interested in casual sex don’t spend all of their time seducing and having sex with people, and even those who are most interested in relationships/parenting don’t spend all of their time with their partners and children. If one wants to, the day is long enough to spend some time on both short-term and long-term mating—especially if spread over the many decades of the human lifespan.
So perhaps wanting casual sex does not automatically mean not wanting love and relationships. Instead of thinking of these desires/strategies as two ends of a single continuum, maybe it’s more appropriate to think about them as two separate, independent continua, one for wanting casual sex and one for wanting relationships (an assumed correlation of -0.00). In theory, some people could indeed be high on one and low on the other, but others could be high on both (a romantic hookup aficionado) or low on both (an asexual aromantic).
Surprisingly little research has attempted to figure out whether interest in casual sex and interest in romantic relationships are negative correlated, and if so, is this correlation strong (for example, -.85) or weak (for example, -.15)? In fact, I could locate only two studies looking into this, one published in 2007 in Evolution and Human Behavior, which surveyed 327 students at a Southeastern college, and one published in Evolutionary Psychology in 2013, which surveyed 209 students from a Midwestern university.
Both studies found that wanting casual sex was indeed inversely correlated with wanting romantic relationships. But these correlations were only moderate in size: -.23 in the 2013 study and -.42 for women and -.27 for men in the 2007 study. So, someone who strongly agreed with the statement “I can imagine myself enjoying a brief sexual encounter with someone I find very attractive” was less likely to strongly agree with the statement “I am interested in maintaining a long-term romantic relationship with someone special” compared to someone who strongly disagreed with the first statement. But there were many people who agreed with both statements or disagreed with both.
Based on these results, it seems that short-term mating and long-term mating are not the complete polar opposites of each other, as the unidimensional model would suggest. Nor are they completely independent dimensions, as the bidimensional model with right-angled axes would suggest. Instead, they are distinct, but correlated dimensions, best represented by a bidimensional model that looks something like the image below. In reality, those who love casual sex are indeed more likely to be not as crazy about relationships as those who hate hookups, but many hookup aficionados are in fact highly interested in relationships. Wanting casual sex with many people does not preclude wanting love and relationships.
As for my friends Sam and David, they clearly differ in their interest in short-term mating (Sam is extremely high, David is extremely low), yet they happen to be equally strongly interested in long-term mating. They both believe in love, and seek, enjoy, and have had several satisfying, long-term relationships. After one high-school and one college romance, David has been happily and monogamously (or so he claims) married to the same woman for almost 20 years. Sam was married monogamously for seven years (a marriage that ended due to his ex-wife's drug problem and despite his best efforts to save it), and is now engaged to another woman he’s been deeply in love with for over four years. Their relationship is not sexually exclusive, but as he says "My desire to have sex with many different women has absolutely no impact on my love for my fiancée or my commitment to her."
Where are you on the spectrum?
Have a casual sex story to share with the world? Or want to read other people's hookup experiences? That's what The Casual Sex Project and @CasualSexProj are for.
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Holtzman, N. S., & Strube, M. J. (2013). Above and beyond shortterm mating, long-term mating is uniquely tied to human personality. Evolutionary Psychology, 11, 1101–1129.
Jackson, J. J., & Kirkpatrick, L. A. (2007). The structure and measurement of human mating strategies: toward a multidimensional model of sociosexuality. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28, 382–391. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2007.04.005
Desire for hookups and romance are not polar opposites of the same continuum
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|Nice Guys or Bad Boys: What Do Women Want?
Welcome back to The Attraction Doctor
I have previously discussed the confusion around what women want and the dissatisfaction they face in modern dating (here). I have explained how this creates a double-bind, no-win situation for men as well (here). Ultimately, this leaves everyone feeling afraid and reluctant to date (here). The confusion leads to ideas such as nice guys finish last (here), the friend zone (here and here), and difficulties with male/female friendships too (here).
Underlying this confusion are the mixed messages sent in modern society. Both men and women are uncertain about what women want. Is it the "nice guy" who treats a woman well, provides for her, and takes care of her needs? Or, is it the "bad boy" who is masculine, sexy, and makes a woman's heart race?
What Women Ideally Want
Women's mate preferences, along these lines, were explored by Buss and Shackelford (2008). The pair gave married individuals questionnaires that assessed both their own value as a mate and their preferences for a mate too. Results indicated that women in the study desired men with traits in the following four dimensions:
Good Genes – Men who were more masculine, physically attractive, good looking, fit, and high in sex appeal.
Good Investment Ability – Men with high potential income, good earning capacity, educated, and older than the woman herself.
Good Parenting – Men who want a home and children, who are fond of children and like them, who want to raise them well, and are emotionally stable and mature.
Good Partner – Men who want to be a loving partner.
Buss and Shackelford (2008) also found significant correlations between the women's own physical attractiveness (as a measure of their mate value) and the levels that they expected of male partners on each of the traits. In other words, as the title of their article indicated, they found that "attractive women want it all". Less attractive women, in contrast, tended to reduce their expectations on all traits across the board, settling for a bit less in each area.
Depending on the circumstances, however, the authors hypothesized that some women would employ a mixed-mating strategy. Rather than settling for less-than-ideal traits in one single man, these women would mate with more than one man, to mix-and-match the best traits overall. Usually, this would involve short-term sex (single parenting, cheating, cuckolding, etc.) to get good genes from a fit and masculine man, while getting investment and parenting from another man with good resources. Such an arrangement would most likely occur when, 1) the woman was lower in mate value and could not secure a single man high in all traits, and 2) the situation allowed her to mix-and-match without penalty or obstacles.
Thus, women appear to want BOTH the nice guy and bad boy. Ideally, they want to get all of the above in one man too. If they cannot find a single man to fit the bill, or they do not have a high enough mate value to get him, however, then they might settle for less all around, or mix-and-match between the two types.
Changing Wants Over Time
Additional research by Tifferet and Kruger (2010) suggests that what women want in a partner may change over time too. The researchers surveyed 1,365 women from 11 countries, ranging in age from 14 to 68, about their preferences in a male partner. Specifically, these women were asked to rate how likely they would be to have a long-term, short-term, and brief sexual relationship with depictions of a "hero dad" and "dark cad" type man.
Their results indicated that women generally preferred the "dad" type for a long-term partner and the "cad" for a short-term sexual affair. Compared to younger women, however, older women tended to prefer the "dad" type for all relationship lengths and saw themselves as more investment and long-term relationship focused themselves. Young women, in contrast, were more likely to consider brief sexual affairs, particularly with the cad.
The authors suggest that this effect might be due to changing fertility. Younger women may be more interested in securing "good genes" from attractive men, even if that means a short-term sexual affair. Older women, in contrast, may change focus away from sex and getting pregnant, toward securing good provisioning and resources for herself and any existing children.
Putting it Together
No wonder everyone is confused about what women want (even the women themselves)! At the heart of it, women want it all—an attractive, masculine man, who also cares, has resources to share, and will take care of kids too. Due to differences in time, preferences for short- or long-term mating, the woman's own value, and/or the pool of available men, however, women usually end up compromising on those traits. Other women end up mixing-and-matching among more than one guy. Thus, what women "want" ends up looking like a confusing, moving and changing target—depending on the women you ask and their individual needs at that moment.
Fortunately, there is hope for clarity for both men and women...
For the women. You may not realize it at this moment, but you most likely want all of the above traits in a man. Given the research, you will most likely prefer it all in a single man too, if possible (rather than mixing). However, if you are young and single right now, you might feel the pull of sexy cads more acutely for a short-term hook-up. If you are older and have kids, then those dependable dads may catch your eye more for a committed relationship.
Nevertheless, if you have the motivation and ability, you might maximize your long-term happiness by first developing your own physical appearance (here), personality (here), and unique appeal as a partner (here). Then, carefully evaluate what you want in a man (here), pick a good boyfriend (here), and have a satisfying relationship (here). This will help you find one single man who has the best total package you can get.
Otherwise, bouncing between getting your heart broken by sexy cads, then trying to secure commitment from older and wary dads, can be a difficult process. Unless, of course, you are set with only having sexy flings or companionate relationships for the rest of your life. In that case, just pick a single type of man and enjoy!
For the men. Again, women want it all. That means the guy who ultimately has his pick is the guy who has it all. They desire a man who has developed his masculine good looks (here), warm personality (here), and unique resources and abilities (here). Of course, that is not attainable for all men. However, the next best thing is to be balanced. In other words, women looking to find it all in one guy would prefer a guy with a bit of each trait, over those who are high in one and non-existent in the others.
Given that, if you already have a successful career, you would be better off spending extra time in the gym. If you are already physically fit, then work on your personality and charm. The only exception to this rule is that, if you just want short-term sex, then simply max out your looks, masculinity, and sex appeal. Otherwise, the guy with a bit of balance seems to have the most satisfying long-term relationships.
In any case, just remember to figure out what you want in return (here), find a girlfriend that can meet those needs (here), and get what satisfies you too (here)!
What do women want? They want it all—good genes, investment, parenting, and love. Ideally, they want it all from one guy too. Although, what women prioritize, settle for, and mix-and-match to get changes over time, relationship goals, and their own attractiveness as a mate. Therefore, the best strategy is to figure out what type of partner you want to attract and try to tune yourself to their specific desires. For most, that will be an attractive woman looking for a balanced man, for a long-term and satisfying relationship. For others, it will be a more difficult negotiation among dads and cads, to meet short-term sexual goals and long-term investment needs. Unfortunately, however, such a strategy often does not satisfy or mutually-benefit all parties. Thus, the confusion, struggle, and hard feelings involved in this process.
Go to www.AttractionDoctor.com for more dating and relationship advice (in helpful categories)
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Finally, remember to share, like, tweet, and comment below. Until next time...happy dating and relating!
Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
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Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (2008). Attractive women want it all: Good genes, economic investment, parenting proclivities, and emotional commitment. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 134-146.
Tifferet, S., & Kruger, D. J. (2010). The terminal investment hypothesis and age-related differences in female preference for dads vs. cads. Letters on Evolutionary Behavioral Science, 2, 27-30.
© 2015 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Do women prefer "dad" or "cad" type men as partners?
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The Attraction Doctor
What do women want in a romantic partner? Men often do not know. Women are sometimes confused themselves. Fortunately, science does have a clue. Read on to find out too!
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