Sexual Regrets Have Not Changed for Men or Women
Overtime, Study Finds
Large study examines potential evolutionary role of
'sexual regret' in human survival and reproduction
Nov. 25, 2113 – It has been awhile since many
senior citizens had to worry about their sexual regrets. They may be
surprised, however, that the largest and most in-depth study to date on
regret surrounding sexual activity of men and women finds there has not
been much change from even since the days when contraception was not
very available or reliable.
The team of psychology researchers found a stark
contrast in remorse between men and women, and says the information
potentially sheds light on the evolutionary history of human nature.
"One thing that is fascinating about these
emotional reactions in the present is that they might be far removed
from the reproductive consequences of the ancestral past," says Martie
Haselton, a UCLA social psychology professor.
"For example, we have reliable methods of
contraception. But that doesn't seem to have erased the sex differences
in women's and men's responses, which might have a deep evolutionary
The findings show how human emotions such as regret
can play an important role in survival and reproduction. They suggest
that men are more likely to regret not taking action on a potential
liaison, and women are more remorseful for engaging in one-time
The study was led by Andrew Galperin, a former
social psychology doctoral student at the University of California-Los
Angeles; and Haselton. Researchers for the peer-reviewed study also
included University of Texas at Austin evolutionary psychologist David
It is published in the current issue of Archives
of Sexual Behavior.
"Prior sex researchers have focused primarily on
the emotion of sexual attraction in sexual decisions," 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."
Evolutionary pressures probably explain the gender
difference in sexual regret, says Haselton, who earned her Ph.D. in
psychology at UT Austin.
"For men throughout evolutionary history, every
missed opportunity to have sex with a new partner is potentially a
missed reproduce opportunity - a costly loss from an evolutionary
perspective." Haselton says.
"But for women, reproduction required much more
investment in each offspring, including nine months of pregnancy and
potentially two additional years of breastfeeding. The consequences of
casual sex were so much higher for women than for men, and this is
likely to have shaped emotional reactions to sexual liaisons even
In three studies the researchers asked participants
about their sexual regrets.
In the first study, 200 respondents evaluated
hypothetical scenarios in which someone regretted pursuing or failing to
pursue an opportunity to have sex. They were then asked to rate their
remorse on a five-point scale.
In the second study, 395 participants were given a
list of common sexual regrets and were asked to indicate which ones they
have personally experienced.
The last study replicated the second one with a
larger sample of 24,230 individuals that included gay, lesbian and
According to the findings:
• The top three most common regrets for women
are: losing virginity to the wrong partner (24 percent), cheating on a
present or past partner (23 percent) and moving too fast sexually (20
• For men, the top three regrets are: being too
shy to make a move on a prospective sexual partner (27 percent), not
being more sexually adventurous when young (23 percent) and not being
more sexually adventurous during their single days (19 percent).
• More women (17 percent) than men (10 percent)
included "having sex with a physically unattractive partner" as a top
• Although rates of actually engaging in casual
sex were similar overall among participants (56 percent), 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 sexual activity more than men did.
Regret comes after the fact, so it's not
protective, Haselton notes. But it might help women avoid a potentially
costly action again.
Archives of Sexual Behavior,
the official publication of the International Academy of Sex Research,
is dedicated to the dissemination of information in the field of sexual
science, broadly defined.
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