Both men and women tend to experience regrets over one-night stands, but their reasons for this are quite different, according to a new study at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
“Women regret that they agreed to a one-night stand more often than men. Men regret passing up the chance more than women,” said Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.
The study is published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.
A previous American study found that around half of the population in the United States and Western Europe will have at least one one-night stand. In some of the European countries this number jumps to about seven in 10 people.
For the new study, Kennair and Associate Professor Mons Bendixen wanted to see whether these statistics and gender differences were similar in Norway, which is supposedly a more sexually liberal and egalitarian country.
The Norwegian researchers collaborated with evolutionary psychologist Dr. David Buss of the University of Texas at Austin. The study participants consisted of 263 Norwegian students aged 19 to 37 years. All had at least one one-night stand behind them.
Indeed, despite the more liberal culture of Norway, the country had the same basic one-night-stand and gender patterns as the U.S. Again, a larger proportion of women than men regretted the last time they had casual sex. Around 35 percent of women and only 20 percent of men regretted the experience to some degree.
“So we’re not saying that there aren’t men who regret casual sex,” said Kennair.
But it is far more common for women to regret saying yes. They are also less unequivocally happy about the experience. On the other hand, about 30 percent of women in Norway were happy about their most recent casual sex experience, as were over 50 percent of the men, according to Bendixen.
At the same time, only men were unhappy about saying no. And nearly 80 percent of women were happy that they said no to casual sex last time. Only 43 percent of men were totally happy that they passed it up.
“Women regretted having a one-night stand the most, but they weren’t sorry about saying no at all,” says Kennair.
But nearly 30 percent of the men regretted not having casual sex, according to Bendixen. So why such dramatic gender differences in regret?
The researchers looked at several possible reasons for regret, such as pregnancy concerns, STD infections and getting a bad reputation. Across the board, women did worry more about all these factors.
But this didn’t explain why Norwegian women regretted casual sex so much more than men did, though, said Bendixen and Kennair. They also looked at relationship status and whether or not the regretters had an orgasm. However, none of these factors explained the large gender differences either.
Overall, the findings ultimately support theories of parental investment and sexual strategy: Men and women have throughout generations invested differently in their relationships and any children that resulted.
In general, the quality of one’s sexual partner in short-term relationships plays a lesser role biologically for men. Assuming women did not avoid having sex with them, men who ran from woman to woman and got them pregnant would have scored best in the evolutionary race.
Few men have such unlimited access to the other sex, but quantity over quality has been the main strategy for men in general. As a result, men’s sexual psychology is highly attuned to sexual opportunities and they experience regret at missed sexual opportunities.
“Women and men differ fundamentally in their sexual psychology,” says Buss. “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, however, it has been important to secure a partner of high quality who was willing to invest more in their children together, and who did not waste resources by getting involved with other women and their potential children. Thus it is quite natural, the researchers said, that women regret casual sex much more with a man who is not an ideal partner. Women have for generations had much more to lose.
“Many social scientists expect that in sexually egalitarian cultures such as Norway, these sex differences would disappear. They do not. This fact makes the findings on sex differences in sexual regret in modern Norwegian people so fascinating scientifically,” said Buss.