Two recent studies have discussed the behavior of men vs. women in two situations where decisions are commonly required in dating: selecting a partner of interest and deciding how far you might be willing to go with that partner, from a date to a one-night stand. In the first study, the theory that women are more selective than men in dating situations was put to the test. In the second, both sexes were tested regarding the likelihood of whether they would agree to casual sex based on the imagined attractiveness of a potential partner.
While neither study was perfectly constructed, the former came to far more solid conclusions, ones which may shed some light on a bias that has long existed in the dating environment—that women are choosy and men are not (at least, not as much) in partner selection–a perception which has affected both sexes throughout dating history and possibly compromised opportunities in all our dating lives at some point.
The latter study has many flaws, but brings up a few points for discussion. Boiled down, the study found that, where one-night stands are concerned, men become less choosy and women raise their standards. That said, the willingness of women to engage in the behavior at all was extremely low, not just compared to the male response, but in general.
The researchers themselves mention a definite cultural bias to the reactions of respondents. The study was conducted in London and included U.S., German and Italian students. Still, the results are surprising, considering the manner in which casual sex is portrayed in the media, particularly on television and in the movies. Either students are reluctant to report their true tendencies, students in London (or possibly at the schools from which these students were chosen) have a completely different level of participation in these encounters than we understand or we are being fed some very inaccurate information about our own behavior.
One important issue with the study–participants were asked to imagine their potential partner. These partners were rated as exceptionally attractive, moderately attractive or slightly unattractive. The participants were then asked to rate the likelihood that they would agree to go out with, to the apartment of, or to bed with that imaginary person.
Women reported an average rating of 8 for likely agreement to visit the apartment of/engage in casual sex with an exceptionally attractive man and approximately 2 for a slightly unattractive man. Women scored a 4 as an overall average response rating to a sex request alone. Compare that to the average male response of 46. This was on a scale of 0 (no chance) to 100 (absolutely). Judging from my experience of humanity, I wonder if the women were thinking of specific people from their past when reporting and whether men had imaginations gone wild.
Depending on how you look at the results, you could draw many conclusions. They may not be correct conclusions, but that is demonstrative of how loose numbers can be taken (or twisted) to mean many things. Maybe women have far more complex reasons for agreeing to everything from dating to casual sex; perhaps attractiveness is very low on the spectrum for women. I don’t think that’s completely true, but it is something the numbers seem to support. Men should be shouting out their relief.
I don’t know, to me, there is a big difference among going out, going over for a glass of wine and agreeing to sex. I would expect a large difference in reported numbers (I don’t yet have access to the full study, only what has been eked out to generate interest). Perhaps the women involved were hearing only the sex portion of that offer (or reading between the lines and considering it to be implied) and that lowered their scores in general.
Many studies, these two included, draw upon a population of students to act as participants. Students are easy because you can find a group of them in one location, usually willing to trade a couple of hours for some quick cash. However, constant use of college students is also a flaw in studies. Studies with greater merit draw from a cross section of society (unless the specific focus of the study is behavior in college students or people of that age group).
College age men and women are likely to base any of their decisions on a wholly different set of experiences, values, norms and reasoning than groups younger or older. Being in college may also affect the choices made or the choices reported (which, remember, may differ largely from actual behavior in real world situations). College students do not draw upon the same experiences as those who lack higher education or who have moved beyond it, often have not (fully) experienced the working world and live in a more insular environment. Their age range is usually from late teens to early twenties, a time in life where dating choice and attractiveness may both be considered optimal but where decisions may not be as well-rounded. Certainly they are not as affected by the perception of time–as pressure increases regarding age, marriage, the biological clock–as more mature daters.
In studies like the one where people were asked to imagine and report on moral (sexual) behavior, participants may be reluctant to report their true choice if it may make them appear to be immoral or potentially cause embarrassment. A student may be affected, for example, by the gender, age or appearance of the person conducting the study or explaining the scenario.
Sadly, not all science is good science. You can’t always trust what a study says because sometimes it is based on a faulty technique or it fails to control elements which could affect the results. You also can’t trust what a media headline reports regarding the result of a study. Many sites and sources tend to dress up or sex up the meaning or take the results to an extreme to draw in readers.
The more interesting article covered research which found that women are not necessarily as picky as has been reported. A new study has revealed a flaw in how many other dating studies have been conducted. Because of a cultural bias regarding gender norms, when groups were presented with speed dating/rotation dating situations, women were primarily allowed to sit while men circulated from area to area.
This turns out to be an important influencing factor upon behavior. The study revealed that no matter the gender, the person allowed to remain seated during the rotations was the more choosy of the pair. The study did find that women are more selective than men in general, but that this may be due to a number of hidden factors, ones not controlled for in many studies. Also, the expectation that men act as initiators in dating may explain some of the numbers.
Our own rules and modes of conduct (and those of our culture and society) may be producing these effects in our interactions. We ourselves are to blame for all that men go through regarding approaching a female. We put the pressure squarely on his shoulders. Society has made him bear the burden alone for decades. But this seems to be slowly changing with each generation.
I’d like to go a step further in exploring the research and question whether it is being put in the position of having to approach several members of the opposite sex in turn that makes the people who are rotating (and so expected to visit everyone at least once or to rotate according to a set procedure) more open, more likely to agree to see any of the other people again. At the very least, it could work hand in hand with the reported effect that those who remained seated and who experienced being approached repeatedly felt that they could be more selective.
If so, this is yet another artificial environment. However, those who enter such a setting can use the knowledge to their benefit. Any of you considering speed dating in the near future? Claim that seated position for best results. Those whose experiences fall outside of that setting may have no use for what was revealed.
Men Not Choosy in One-Night Stands
11 August 2009
Study Questions Whether Women Are More Selective at Dating
John M. Grohol, PSYD
29 September 2009
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