Space & Innovation

Here's Why Some Women Regret Casual Sex More Than Men

Low gratification and concerns about pregnancy and STDs give women pause.

It may not surprise anyone that women tend to regret one-night stands more than men. In terms of groundbreaking revelations, it leaves a little to be desired. But dig into the psychological conjecture behind it all, and it gets pretty interesting. ' Researchers at the at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NUTU) surveyed 263 students aged 19 to 37 years, all of whom had experienced at least one one-night stand. The team wanted to determine why, exactly, reactions to casual sex encounter vary so greatly by gender. The research was inspired by a previous U.S. study and it reached similar conclusions.

First, the numbers, and keep in mind that Norway is generally considered to be a much more sexually liberal and progressive country than the United States. According to the survey, around 35 percent of women said they regretted their last one-night stand. Only 20 percent of men said the same.

Women are also more likely to be less than fully satisfied with the encounters they do have. Only 30 percent of women said they were totally happy with their last hook up. For the men, it was an even 50 percent.

The numbers on the flip side of the issue are even more intriguing. Nearly 80 percent of women in the poll said they were happy that they passed up their last opportunity for casual sex. Only 43 percent of men had similar feelings. And 30 percent felt active regret that they missed their shot.

So what's behind the difference in these numbers? The researchers propose several explanations that include psychological, societal and biological, depending.

For one thing, previous studies suggest that women are generally more prone to worry than men, researchers said. Concerns about pregnancy, STDs and reputation may prevent women from doing things that men just don't fret over. Lead researcher Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair summed it up in press materials issued with the research: "Men do stupid things that they die from. Fewer women do these stupid things."

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Then there's the matter of simple gratification. In yet another revelation that will surprise approximately no one, more men than women reported having an orgasm during their last hook up.

But the strongest explanation for one-night stand regret, according to the researchers' assessments, has to do with evolutionary psychology. The short version: When it comes to propagating the species, males are hardwired to look for and take advantage of sexual opportunities - they want to make lots of babies. Females, on the other hand, are more concerned with selecting an appropriate partner - they're wired to take care of those babies, and they want to find a proper partner.

"Women and men differ fundamentally in their sexual psychology," said evolutionary psychologist David Buss of the University of Texas at Austin, who collaborated with the Norwegian team on the study. "A key limitation on men's reproductive success, historically, has been sexual access to fertile women. These evolutionary selection pressures have created a male sexual mind that is attentive to sexual opportunities."

For women, Buss said, the situation is different. "Female choice, deciding when, where, and with whom to have sex, is perhaps the most fundamental principle of women's sexual psychology," said Buss.

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These are very old and traditional ideas, of course, and many would argue that they're patronizing and outdated, too. But according to the researchers, their study does indeed support traditional theories of parental investment and sexual strategy, at least when it comes to the glorious cultural institution of the one-night stand.

"Many social scientists expect that in sexually egalitarian cultures such as Norway, these sex differences would disappear," said Dr. Buss. "They do not. This fact makes the findings on sex differences in sexual regret in modern Norwegian people so fascinating scientifically."

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