Human Nature

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 367-386

First online:

Willingness to engage in casual sex

The role of parental qualities and perceived risk of aggression
  • Michele K. SurbeyAffiliated withSt. Thomas University Email author 
  • , Colette D. ConohanAffiliated withSt. Thomas University

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Sexually dimorphic mate selection strategies were examined in 200 university students reporting their willingness to engage in casual sexual encounters with hypothetical individuals of the opposite sex. Using a questionnaire format, the possibility of forming a long-term relationship was manipulated, while risk of disease, pregnancy, and detection was eliminated across all conditions. In addition, potential partners varied in level of attractiveness, and in personality and behavioral characteristics. As expected, men reported a greater anticipated willingness to engage in sexual intercourse across all conditions compared with women. The possibility of forming a long-term relationship elevated women’s, but not men’s, willingness for sexual intercourse. While a potential partner’s attractiveness had a significant positive overall effect on responses, reducing their relative attractiveness had a greater negative impact on men’s responses. Reference to the parental qualities of a potential partner significantly increased women’s, but not men’s, anticipated willingness for sexual intercourse. Describing a hypothetical partner as non-aggressive (safe) marginally increased women’s willingness (p<.09) and did not affect men’s responses. The wording of items relevant to this condition may have resulted in the potential partner sounding "wimpy" rather than nonaggressive, and this may have reduced the expected effect of this manipulation. The possibility that women may trade off personality and behavioral characteristics with attractiveness to a greater degree than men when assessing potential mates is considered.

Key words

Female choice Human mate selection Parental qualities Risk of physical aggression