Sexual Regret: Evidence for Evolved Sex Differences

Abstract

Regret and anticipated regret enhance decision quality by helping people avoid making and repeating mistakes. Some of people’s most intense regrets concern sexual decisions. We hypothesized evolved sex differences in women’s and men’s experiences of sexual regret. Because of women’s higher obligatory costs of reproduction throughout evolutionary history, we hypothesized that sexual actions, particularly those involving casual sex, would be regretted more intensely by women than by men. In contrast, because missed sexual opportunities historically carried higher reproductive fitness costs for men than for women, we hypothesized that poorly chosen sexual inactions would be regretted more by men than by women. Across three studies (Ns = 200, 395, and 24,230), we tested these hypotheses using free responses, written scenarios, detailed checklists, and Internet sampling to achieve participant diversity, including diversity in sexual orientation. Across all data sources, results supported predicted psychological sex differences and these differences were localized in casual sex contexts. These findings are consistent with the notion that the psychology of sexual regret was shaped by recurrent sex differences in selection pressures operating over deep time.

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Correspondence to Andrew Galperin.

Appendix 1: Sexual Regret Vignettes in Study 1

Appendix 1: Sexual Regret Vignettes in Study 1

Sexual Inaction Scenario (Male Version)

Please read the following statements and answer each corresponding question accordingly.

Mark had been at his friend’s party for about an hour. He had a few drinks and was dancing to a great DJ, when a woman walked past and accidentally bumped into him. When he turned toward her he felt that she was looking at him seductively. She was very attractive, so he smiled at her and as he did she anxiously fidgeted with the edge of her glass. When he approached her she looked back at him again and smiled. Upon reaching her and introducing himself, she moved a little closer to him.

After chatting a bit, Mark was sure she was flirting with him, so he asked her to dance. Just as he was thinking he’d like to be alone with her, she put her head next to his and started whispering into his ear, “let’s go…” Before she could finish her sentence one of Mark’s sister’s friends grabbed his arm and pulled him close to her face to ask where his sister was. Mark didn’t want to be rude, and he tried to answer her politely, but he could tell that the woman he had just met was wondering who this person was, and what their relationship was. Although Mark tried to deal with the interruption quickly, it ended up being pretty awkward, and the woman he was dancing with went off to get a drink. Mark couldn’t find her later, and was thinking it wasn’t meant to be, when some friends asked him to go to a bar with them. At the end of the night, Mark arrived back at his place alone. He wondered about the sexual opportunity he had missed at the party.

Please complete each of the following statements using the scale below.

Sexual Action Scenario (Male Version)

Please read the following statements and answer each corresponding question accordingly.

William went to a dance club with some of his friends on a Saturday night. While there he met an extremely attractive and sexy woman named Linda. She had thick and beautiful hair, a gorgeous face, and was wearing very fashionable clothes. William wasn’t the only man there interested in her. It seemed as though men throughout the club were admiring her.

After talking a bit and enjoying each other’s company, William left the club with Linda and went back to his place. Once they arrived, they quickly began to passionately kiss and later had sex. The next morning William awoke feeling uncomfortable. The sex with Linda was disappointing and he felt awkward about having sex with someone he did not know very well. William dropped Linda off at her place. They never saw each other again.

Please complete each of the following statements using the scale below.

Appendix 2 Complete list of regrets from Study 2

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Galperin, A., Haselton, M.G., Frederick, D.A. et al. Sexual Regret: Evidence for Evolved Sex Differences. Arch Sex Behav 42, 1145–1161 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-0019-3

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Keywords

  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Sex differences
  • Parental investment theory
  • Sexual regret
  • Mating behavior