Why Men and Women Have Different Sexual Regrets New research finds striking gender differences, regardless of sexual preference. Justin J Lehmiller Ph.D. Justin J Lehmiller Ph.D. The Myths of Sex Our most common regrets revolve around our love lives. Consider the results of a 2012 phone survey involving a national sample of adults in the U.S. Participants were asked to describe a memorable regret, and the most common things they said they were sorry about doing (or not doing) centered on love, sex and romance. Specific examples included lost opportunities (“the one that got away”) past instances of cheating and infidelity, as well as their "first times." One question that arises from these results is whether men and women have different regrets when it comes to sex. A recent set of studies published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that they do. The lead researchers on these studies predicted that, from an evolutionary perspective, male and female sexual regrets should differ. According to evolutionary psychologists, men and women approach sex and relationships differently because the amount of investment required to produce a child differs across the sexes: Since producing a baby requires a much greater investment for women than it does for men, it is thought that women would have evolved a preference for more reliable men—those looking to make a longer-term commitment—in order to increase the odds that the men will stick around to help care for any children produced. In contrast, because the investment required by men to make a baby is much smaller, it is thought that males have evolved a preference for shorter-term relationships with many attractive and healthy women in order to increase the odds of producing more offspring. Numerous studies have found support for the idea that men and women tend to have different mating strategies that fall along these lines—although, to be clear, evolutionary theory does not say that women are never interested in casual sex or that men are never interested in commitment. Given this reasoning, the researchers predicted that women would be more likely to regret sexual actions, whereas men would be more likely to regret sexual inaction. In other words, when it comes to sex, women should tend to regret what they did, whereas men should tend to regret what they did not do, particularly when there are “reproductive fitness” costs associated with the action or inaction. Women, for example, might be more likely to regret instances of casual sex that did not turn into a committed relationship, while men might be more likely to regret spending time in a committed relationship in which there was little or no sex. Both scenarios have theoretical costs—the women might become pregnant by someone who isn’t going to stick around, while the men may lose out on opportunities to pass along their genes. So what did the researchers find? In the first study, college students were asked to evaluate hypothetical scenarios in which someone took advantage of an opportunity for casual sex that they later regretted, or passed up a similar opportunity and regretted it afterward. Participants then rated how much regret they thought they would personally feel in those situations. Consistent with predictions, men reported significantly more anticipated regret for sexual inaction, while women reported significantly more regret for sexual action. In the second study, participants recruited online were given a list of common sexual regrets and asked to indicate which they had personally experienced. In line with predictions, women again indicated more action regrets, and men more inaction regrets. It is worth noting that of the 39 sexual action regrets listed, none were more common among men. Moreover, of the 30 sexual inaction regrets listed, only one was more common among women. For women, the most common action regrets were, in order: losing one’s virginity to the “wrong” person, cheating on a partner, and going to bed with someone “too fast.” For men, the most common inaction regrets were, in order: not telling someone they were attractive, not being sexually adventurous at a young age, and not being more adventurous while they were single. A third study sought to replicate the second, but with a much larger sample that included gay, lesbian, and bisexual participants. The basic finding that women tended to regret action and men inaction again emerged—and held true regardless of the participants’ sexuality. Thus, lesbian, heterosexual, and bisexual women were all more likely to regret previous action, while gay, bisexual, and heterosexual men all were more likely to regret inaction. These findings suggest that sexual regrets are common for men and women across sexual orientations, and that the nature of those regrets differs in line with predictions based on evolutionary theory. Does this mean that evolutionary theory is the “correct” or only way to interpret these findings? Not necessarily. There may be socio-cultural reasons for these differences instead of evolved processes. Women may feel social pressure to regret sexual actions because there is a societal expectation that women should not have casual sex, let alone enjoy it. Consistent with this idea, across the three studies, men tended to evaluate sexual action and inaction pretty similarly—they reported roughly equivalent levels of regret in each case. In contrast, women evaluated regrets quite differently, indicating very high levels of regret for action and very low levels of regret for inaction. This pattern suggests that women may be thinking more about the social consequences of their sexual behavior than men do. Although the results find clear support for the idea that men and women feel sorry about different things in their sexual histories, we cannot say with certainty why men and women report having these different sexual regrets. Source: PsychologyToday (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-myths-sex/201509/why-men-and-women-have-different-sexual-regrets?utm_source=FacebookPost&utm_medium=FBPost&utm_campaign=FBPost), Image Source: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock