A new U.S. study finds that women are more likely than men to regret having casual sex, moving too fast in a relationship, or sleeping with the wrong person. Meanwhile, men just regret not having sex with more people.
University of Texas at Austin researchers examined the "stark contrast" in sexual remorse between men and women, with their findings recently published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
"Prior sex researchers have focused primarily on the emotion of sexual attraction in sexual decisions," researcher and evolutionary psychologist David Buss says. "These studies point to the importance of a neglected mating emotion - sexual regret - which feels experientially negative but in fact can be highly functional in guiding adaptive sexual decisions."
In one study, subjects evaluated hypothetical scenarios in which someone regretted pursuing or failing to pursue an opportunity to have sex, with subjects rating remorse on a scale of one to five. Another study used a sample of 24,230 gay, lesbian, and bisexual subjects, who were given a list of common sexual regrets and were asked to indicate which ones they have personally experienced. The same list was given to a smaller pool of hetersexual subjects.
The top three most common regrets for women were losing their virginity to the wrong partner (24%), cheating on a present or past partner (23%) and moving too fast sexually (20%).
For men, top regrets included being too shy to make a move on a prospective sexual partner (27%), not being more sexually adventurous when young (23%) and not being more sexually adventurous during their single days (19%).
More women (17%) than men (10%) said "having sex with a physically unattractive partner" was a top regret. Although rates of casual sex were similar among participants (56%), women reported more frequent and more intense regrets about it.
Comparing gay men and lesbian women, and bisexual men and bisexual women, a similar pattern held: women tended to regret casual sex more than men did.
"For men throughout evolutionary history, every missed opportunity to have sex with a new partner is potentially a missed reproductive opportunity -- a costly loss from an evolutionary perspective," said Martie Haselton, a UCLA social psychology professor and a PhD student at the University of Texas at the time of the research. "But for women, reproduction required much more investment in each offspring, including nine months of pregnancy and potentially two additional years of breastfeeding."