The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating

Look away if you want to stay a naive romantic

To make the best decisions, we cannot delude ourselves.

I've posted many studies offering hope and inspiration but to be honest and fair, we also need to look at facts about people many like to deny.

And that's where the science of sex comes in.

If you wish to retain illusions that the realm of sex and relationships is pure as the driven snow or that outside of physical dimensions there are no fundamental differences between men and women, turn back now as I am about to open a large can of peer-reviewed whoop-ass.

Naive romantics, I warn you one last time:


So what are some harsh truths that the science of sex has shown us?

1) Those things we say we hate actually make us more attracted to people.

When someone plays hot-cold, keeps you guessing, makes you constantly uncertain?

Yeah, that makes you even more attracted:

Participants in the uncertain condition were most attracted to the men — even more attracted than were participants who were told that the men liked them a lot. Uncertain participants reported thinking about the men the most, and this increased their attraction toward the men. [Psychological Science]

Playing hard to get? It works.

Had it up to here with narcissists? No, we haven't because they really are more attractive.

You know what we like about them the most?

The worst parts — their entitlement and exploitativeness:

…narcissism leads to popularity at first sight. Second, the aspects of narcissism that are most maladaptive in the long run (exploitativeness/entitlement) proved to be most attractive at zero acquaintance. [Journal of Personality and Social Psychology]

2) Yes, guys are pretty shallow.

The stereotypes are true: men want sex more than women and, yeah, guys are more likely to hit on girls with big boobs.

(Most of us didn't need scientific studies for that but, hey, I'm thorough.)

Studies show that often the main reason men kiss is to progress toward sex. The main reason men cuddle after sex is… to get more sex:

…females were more likely to engage in post-coital behaviors related to bonding with both short- and long-term partners, whereas males were more likely to engage in ones that were extrinsically rewarding or increased the likelihood of further coital acts. [Journal of Sex Research]

What determines how much a guy spends on an engagement ring? The younger the woman, the more he spends:

The total spent on rings was positively correlated to the annual incomes of both men and women but negatively correlated to women's ages. [The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature]

Research shows, if men didn't need to impress women, they probably wouldn't leave the couch:

The results show that if there were no returns to career choices in the marriage market, men would tend to work less, study less, and choose blue‐collar jobs over white‐collar jobs. [Journal of Human Capital]

Statistics show men are about as likely to cheat on their wives as they are to experience a flight delay.

Not dark enough for you?

Guys are more likely to cheat when their wives are pregnant:

Controlling for marital dissatisfaction and demographic variables, infidelity was predicted by greater neuroticism and lower religiosity; wives' pregnancy also increased the risk of infidelity for husbands. [Journal of Family Psychology]

3) Women can be quite dastardly too.

The science of sex tells us that the romantic comedies lie. Sex is an area where nice guys do finish last:

In one survey of men, Trapnell and Meston (1996) found that nice guys who were modest, agreeable, and unselfish were disadvantaged in sexual relationships. Men who were manipulative, arrogant, calculating, and sly were more sexually active and had a greater variety of sexual experiences and a greater number of sex partners. [Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy]

Women are very often attracted to bad boys like James Bond. In fact, research shows young women sometimes prefer out-and-out jerks:

In the end, young women may continue to claim that they find certain qualities in a "good guy" nice guy as highly desirable and that they want to be in a committed relationship with one man as their ultimate goal, but, at the same time, they seem content to spend "the meantime and in-between-time" going out with fun/sexy guys who may or may not turn into "jerks." [Sex Roles]

Happy guys, it seems, can be a turn-off:

…happiness was the most attractive female emotion expression, and one of the least attractive in males. [Emotion]

What do studies say can make a man more attractive? Among other things, a flashy car and throwing money around. Yes, that works.

Women find married men more attractive than single men:

…a group of women again rated photographs of men for attractiveness. The photos were accompanied by short descriptions, and when the men were described as "married," women's ratings of them went up. [Connected]

And they find sexist men more appealing than non-sexist men, too. Wow.

4) Little of the above will be changing anytime soon.

This is the science of sex, not the culture of it. Most, if not all, of these things are true around the world.

In a study of over 1000 participants in three dozen cultures it was consistently found that men are focused on looks and women on status:

Several standard sex differences replicated across cultures, including women's greater valuation of social status and men's greater valuation of physical attractiveness. [Personality and Individual Differences]

But we grow out of it, right? Nope.

Our tastes do not mature as we get older:

Findings suggest that although emerging adults believe that their peers' mating desires change systematically over time, emerging adults' self-reported mating desires vary little with age. [Evolutionary Psychology]

In fact, when men and women are in nursing homes, the guys are still looking for hot younger women and the ladies are still interested in men of high status:

Across the life span, men sought physical attractiveness and offered status-related information more than women; women were more selective than men and sought status more than men. [Psychology and Aging]

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