When readers email me about the research behind relationships and sex the most common question is always the same:
Where should they meet that special someone? Bars? Online? Through friends? Book clubs? Terrorist cells? Religious cults…?
Yes, science has info. But the answers depend on what you're looking for.
Looking for love
Want to settle down? Ask a family member if they know anyone.
People meet all kinds of partners through friends. But you're far more likely to meet your future spouse via a family member.
While friends were a source of introduction for all kinds of sexual partnerships at roughly the same rate (35–40 percent), family members were much more likely to introduce people to their future spouses than to future one-night stands. [Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends' Friends' Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do]
In fact, any sort of organized group is a good bet. Sixty percent of those surveyed met their future spouse through school, work, church, etc.
…the Chicago Sex Survey also collected data on where Americans met their partners. Sixty percent of the people in the study met their spouses at places like school, work, a private party, church, or a social club — all of which tend to involve people who share characteristics. [Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends' Friends' Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do]
But you probably don't want to meet a serious partner at work — those relationships don't seem to last:
The vast majority of these relationships have not lasted, especially for older workers. For workers who are over 50, 77 percent of those sexual relationships have ended. Younger people appear to have had more luck with 58 percent of people in the 18-24 age group reporting that they are still in their relationship. But perhaps that is just because they have been in the workplace such a short period of time the relationships are still new. [Barking Up the Wrong Tree]
(And about half of people who cheat on their spouse met their lover at work.)
Only 10 percent of people found wedded bliss in a bar.
Ten percent met their spouses at a bar, through a personal ad, or at a vacation spot, where there is more diversity but still a limited range of types of people who might be available to become future spouses. [Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends' Friends' Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do]
Online dating is probably a better choice than the booze hall.
Seventeen percent of people who have dated online met a spouse or long-term relationship partner there.
And these stats are from 2006 — that number is likely to have grown and will probably continue to grow.
Of these "online daters," 43 percent — or nearly seven million adults — have gone on actual, real-life dates with people they met online, and 17 percent of them — nearly three million adults — have entered long-term relationships or married their online dating partners, according to a systematic national survey. [Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends' Friends' Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do]
So once you're talking to prospective partners, what do you want to be looking for?
Conscientiousness is the personality trait correlated with happy marriages:
…our findings suggest that conscientiousness is the trait most broadly associated with marital satisfaction in this sample of long-wed couples. [Barking Up the Wrong Tree]
In fact, it's correlated with a lot of good things including better health, longer lives, and greater success.
How do you detect conscientiousness? Look for formality of dress and signs of someone who is neat and organized.
More often than not you can get a feeling for how conscientious someone is just by looking at their face.
(Here's what to talk about on that first date and the best things to ask to bond with your partner.)
Looking for lust
Some of the answers here should be a bit more obvious now. Bars and clubs are good. Friends are fine and meeting through family members is probably a bad idea. In fact, you're also more likely to have sex with someone sooner if you met through friends or at a club and not through a family member. Meet through a family member and there's only a 24 percent chance you'll have sex within a month. Meeting at a nightclub doubles that.
And how people meet is also relevant to how quickly they have sex. In the Chicago study, those who met their partners through their friends were slightly more likely to have sex within a month of meeting than those who met through family members. A similar study conducted in France found that couples who met at a nightclub were much more likely to have sex within a month (45 percent) than those who met at, say, a family gathering (24 percent), which is not surprising since one typically does not have sex in mind at family events. [Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends' Friends' Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do]
Which countries are most promiscuous? Try Finland or New Zealand. Most promiscuous U.S. states? Nevada, Arkansas, and Rhode Island.
College is generally a good place for a fling — unless you go to Harvard.
Based on my study of Harvard undergraduates, the average number of romantic relationships over four years is less than one. The average number of sexual partners, if you're curious, is 0.5 per student. (I have no idea what 0.5 sexual partners means, but it sounds like the scientific equivalent of second base.) In my survey, I found that among these brilliant Harvard students, 24 percent are unaware if they are currently involved in any romantic relationship. [The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work]
While online dating gives you a better than average chance of meeting a future spouse, it's also good for just getting it on.
Thirty percent of women using online dating have had sex on the first date:
Thirty percent of respondents engaged in sexual activity on their first encounter. Seventy-seven percent of respondents who met an online partner did not use condoms for their first sexual encounter. [Barking Up the Wrong Tree]
Why is this?
Researchers believe having all that profile info up front along with email flirting leads to "accelerated intimacy" upon first meeting:
"Online dating can lead to feelings of accelerated intimacy," says Paige Padgett, PhD, the author of the study and a research associate in the UT School of Public Health's Division of Epidemiology and Disease Control. "You are able to disclose deeply personal information faster than you would if you were just meeting face to face for the first time," she explains… Because all of the nitty-gritty preliminaries are out of the way before you actually meet the person, Padgett believes that this may foster a sense of relationship before there is an actual relationship. [Barking Up the Wrong Tree]
(And if you're going to go the online route, here's how to make yourself most appealing.)
So the dual use of online dating sites raises a question:
What should you talk about if you're on the hunt for something less-than-serious and want to see if your partner's on the same page?
OkCupid found that a "yes" answer to "Do you like the taste of beer?" is the best indicator of who has sex on the first date.
Or simply joke about sex. Research shows the people who laugh are less likely to be focused on long-term relationships.
…in one observational study at a bar where male humorous sexual remarks ran rampant, it was noted that the women who laughed at such jokes did indeed seem sexually interested in the men, whereas (obviously) the women who didn't laugh were not sexually interested. These humorous sexually loaded attempts could be conceptualized as a test to gauge interest and receptivity to a sexual encounter. [Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love]
So alcohol and double entendres work for James Bond and they can work for you.
(And one might note that 007 never ended up with one of the Bond Girls because he asked his aunt if she could set him up with someone nice.)
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