Human Nature

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 367–386

Willingness to engage in casual sex

The role of parental qualities and perceived risk of aggression


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 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bateman, A. J. 1948 Intra-sexual Selection in Drosophila. Heredity 2:349–368.Google Scholar
  2. Buss, D. M. 1985 Human Mate Selection. American Scientist 73:47–51.Google Scholar
  3. 1989 Sex Differences in Human Mate Preferences: Evolutionary Hypotheses Tested in 37 Cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 12:1–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 1994 The Evolution of Desire. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  5. Buss, D. M., and M. Barnes 1986 Preferences in Human Mate Selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50:559–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buss, D. M., and D. P. Schmitt 1993 Sexual Strategies Theory: An Evolutionary Perspective on Human Mating. Psychological Review 100(2):204–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cashdan, E. 1993 Attracting Mates: Effects of Paternal Investment on Mate Attraction Strategies. Ethology and Sociobiology 14:1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark, R. D., and E. Hatfield 1989 Gender Differences in Receptivity to Sexual Offers. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality 2:39–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Daly, M., and M. Wilson 1983 Sex, Evolution, and Behavior, second ed. Boston: PWS.Google Scholar
  10. 1988 Homicide. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  11. Eagly, A. H., and S. Chaiken 1993 The Psychology of Attitudes. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  12. Ellis, B. J., and D. Symons 1990 Sex Differences in Sexual Fantasy: An Evolutionary Psychological Approach. Journal of Sex Research 27:527–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Feingold, A. 1990 Gender Differences in Effects of Physical Attractiveness on Romantic Attraction: A Comparison across Five Research Paradigms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59(5):981–993.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fishbein, M., and I. Ajzen 1975 Belief, Attitude, Intention and Behavior: An Introduction to Theory and Research. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison Wesley.Google Scholar
  15. Ford, C. S., and F. A. Beach 1951 Patterns of Sexual Behavior. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  16. Gangestad, S. W. 1993 Sexual Selection and Physical Attractiveness: Implications for Mating Dynamics. Human Nature 4:205–235.Google Scholar
  17. Graziano, W. G., L. A. Jensen-Campbell, M. Todd, and J. F. Finch 1997 Interpersonal Attraction from an Evolutionary Psychology Perspective: Women’s Reactions to Dominant and Prosocial Men. In Evolutionary Social Psychology, J. A. Simpson and D. T. Kenrick, eds. Pp. 141–167. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  18. Jensen-Campbell, L. A., W. G. Graziano, and S. G. West 1995 Dominance, Prosocial Orientation, and Female Preferences: Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 68:427–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kenrick, D. T., G. E. Groth, M. R. Trost, and E. K. Sadalla 1993 Integrating Evolutionary and Social Exchange Perspectives on Relationships: Effects of Gender, Self-Appraisal, and Involvement Level on Mate Selection Criteria. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64:951–969.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kenrick, D. T., E. K. Sadalla, G. Groth, and M. R. Trost 1990 Evolution, Traits, and the Stages of Human Courtship: Qualifying the Parental Investment Model. Journal of Personality 58:97–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Pérusse, D. 1994 Mate Choice in Modern Societies: Testing Evolutionary Hypotheses with Behavioral Data. Human Nature 5:255–278.Google Scholar
  22. Regan, P. C. 1998 What If You Can’t Get What You Want? Willingness to Compromise Ideal Mate Selection Standards as a Function of Sex, Mate Value, and Relationship Context. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 24:1294–1303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Singh, D. 1993 Adaptive Significance of Female Physical Attractiveness: Role of Waist-to-Hip Ratio. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65:293–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Sprecher, S., Q. Sullivan, and E. Hatfield 1994 Mate Selection Preferences: Gender Differences Examined in a National Sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 66:1074–1080.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Surbey, M. K. 1998 Developmental Psychology and Modern Darwinism. In Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology: Ideas, Issues and Applications, C. B. Crawford and D. Krebs, eds. Pp. 369–404. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  26. Symons, D. 1979 The Evolution of Human Sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Symons, D., and B. Ellis 1989 Human Male-Female Differences in Sexual Desire. In The Sociobiology of Reproductive Strategies, A. Erach, C. Vogel, and E. Voland, eds. Pp. 131–146. New York: Chapman and Hall.Google Scholar
  28. Thornhill, R., and S. W. Gangestad 1994 Human Fluctuating Asymmetry and Sexual Behavior. Psychological Science 5:297–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Trivers, R. L. 1972 Parental Investment and Sexual Selection. In Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man, 1871–1971, B. Campbell, ed. Pp. 136–179. Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  30. Warr, M. 1985 Fear of Rape among Urban Women. Social Problems 32:238–250.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Walter de Gruyter, Inc 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.St. Thomas UniversityUSA
  2. 2.School of PsychologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

Personalised recommendations