The most important part of successful mating is FILTERING. Finding someone attractive is easy. The hard part is throwing back the ones who are not viable for a relationship. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of attractive, effed up people, and it’s all too easy to get sucked in. And I do mean suck – these people are emotional vampires, and they will suck the lifeblood right out of you.
An article in yesterday’s New York Times - In Hookups, Inequality Still Reigns - tells us something we already know. (H/T: Stuart Schneiderman) Most women don’t get off during casual sex. What’s interesting about the article is that it casts the dilemma as one of equal rights – a feminist’s conundrum. With significant evidence that women vastly prefer sex in committed relationships, feminists find themselves forced to confront the thorny issue of biological sex differences.
But first, let’s look at the research to see what happens with female desire when women have casual sex. Natasha Gadinsky, 23, recalls a hookup she had at Brown University:
He “didn’t even care,” said Ms. Gadinsky, a health care case manager in New York City, “I don’t think he tried at all.” He fell asleep immediately, leaving her staring at the ceiling. “I was really frustrated,” she said.
…Like generations before them, many young women like Ms. Gadinsky are finding that casual sex does not bring the physical pleasure that men more often experience. New research suggests why: Women are less likely to have orgasms during uncommitted sexual encounters than in serious relationships.
Specifically, they are half as likely:
Research involving 600 college students led by Justin R. Garcia, an evolutionary biologist at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and researchers at Binghamton University found that women were twice as likely to reach orgasm from intercourse or oral sex in serious relationships as in hookups.
A study by Paula England found the same thing. Women had orgasms during hookups 40% of the time, compared with 75% in a committed relationship.
Keep in mind that a hookup doesn’t mean the two people are strangers – just that they’re not boyfriend/girlfriend. So this research includes all the “unofficial” couples, the FWBs, sex with exes, crushes getting busy, etc.
I find this really interesting – even when women get oral in casual hookups – the method that offers the best odds of female orgasm, they still only come half as often as when they’re with a boyfriend.
“We attribute that to practice with a partner, which yields better success at orgasm, and we also think the guys care more in a relationship,” Dr. England said.
There’s also a woeful lack of understanding of female physiology, especially among young men.
What women need to achieve orgasm can be very different from what they find in casual sex. Roughly one-quarter of women reliably experience orgasm through intercourse alone, according to a review of 32 studies conducted by Elisabeth Lloyd, a professor of the history and philosophy of science at Indiana University, in her 2005 book “The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution.” Another third of women rarely or never have orgasms from intercourse.
Vanessa Martini, 23, says:
“I haven’t hooked up with anybody who was so cavalier as to just, like, not even care. But I think most of them were somewhat baffled that it would require more than just them thrusting.”
There are two main reasons women don’t have orgasms during casual sex:
1. The guy has no incentive to unravel the mystery of the woman’s arousal triggers. He gets his, then he snores.
2. Women aren’t generally wired to reach climax without emotional intimacy.
The general lesson here seems pretty clear, right? If it doesn’t feel good, why do it?
Not so fast! The feminists have a different take on it:
Some women, confronted with these roadblocks, are redefining casual sex and the physical pleasure that they expect from it. Sex without strings has carnal and emotional benefits that don’t depend on reaching orgasm, they say.
“Something we don’t talk about is why having an orgasm is the main goal or the only goal” of sex, Dr. Herbenick said. “Who are we to say women should be having orgasms?”
Huh? If casual sex is not about sexual pleasure, which is obviously what an orgasm signals, then what is it for?
Casey Romaine, a 22-year-old Bard College graduate living in Nashville, Tenn., said that more than sex, hookups are often much more about two people giving each other the sense of intimacy, however brief, they need to get through the week.
But the key feature of the hookup is that emotional intimacy is avoided, so that neither party develops expectations of further contact. Whatever intimacy may be glimpsed is fleeting indeed, killed off before any life can be breathed into it. Kim Huynh, a 29 year old filmmaker said that she happily traded orgasms for freedom during a five year period:
“As far as my ability to climax consistently, that’s something I was able to have in my monogamous relationships that I never had” in less committed circumstances, she said.
Yet mediocre sex was a small price to pay “for the freedom to be able to enjoy it all.” The physical aspect of a tryst with a relative stranger was gratifying, she said, even if her chances of reaching orgasm were limited. When her partner’s performance was lackluster, she still took pride in her own sexual prowess.
“To sort of know yourself to be sort of skilled in a way or to be able to see someone else’s pleasure that was your own doing, I think there’s definitely something very empowering about that,” she said.
There you have it:
- Sexual freedom
- Sexual prowess, as perceived by the male
- Sexual empowerment
Sex-positive feminism has been reduced to women objectifying themselves without pleasure for the purpose of being validated by men.
Why does a feminist have sex like a man? Because she can. But she can’t enjoy it like he does. That’s the conundrum that cannot be solved.
Five years ago today, I sat down at my kitchen table and made a little blog. It was meant to be a tool for keeping in touch – the girls I had grown close to during their high school years were now off at college and struggling to make sense of the hookup scene. I’ll never forget my surprise the first time a stranger left a comment – and then Google told me I’d had 50 visitors that day. We were only 11 people – who were the other 39?
Hooking Up Smart has come a very long way since then. The blog has grown large, advertisers have arrived, and it’s a profitable business. The ideas I’ve been working to communicate here continue to gain broad favorable exposure in the mainstream media.
Thank you to all my loyal readers – you’ve pushed me to learn a great deal about a wide variety of topics, defend my arguments with solid analysis, and alter my views when the evidence pointed in another direction. You’ve kept me honest.
You’ve inspired so many posts with your comments, questions and emails! I get hundreds of emails per year, and it’s impossible to answer most of them, but please know that I read every single one and that they are vital in adding to my understanding of what’s going on between young men and women out there in the real world.
I also want to offer a warm welcome to the many new readers who arrive at HUS every day, especially those who have taken the time to comment on posts. I appreciate your contribution.
A special shout out is a must to four women who have given their time here for years without any tangible reward. They’re the unofficial HUS Board of Advisors – they moderate commentary, advise me on blog issues, and talk me off ledges when necessary. Thank you Ana, J, Jackie and SayWhaat.
Here is a snapshot of the first five years of Hooking Up Smart.
Visitors: Over 7 million
Pageviews: 14 million
Posts published: 770
Comments logged: 187,000
Facebook Page (since 08/13): 221
Reader Demographics Today
(This last one never fails to surprise me – more guys than girls read here! I’m sure it speaks to the dearth of rational advice out there for young males. Guys, you are welcome.)
The Focus Groups – Where are they now?
The 20 women from my two original focus groups now range in age from 24-27. Most of them have hooked up smart and done quite well for themselves. :
1. Married: 1
The first! Just last month.
2. Engaged: 3
3. In long-term relationships of 1-4 years duration: 10
Of these 10, all are on a path to marriage.
4. Single wanting to meet someone special: 3
These women are all 24 and pretty career focused, but they do plan to marry and have children, and are dating actively.
5. Single wanting to stay that way: 3
These women feel little interest in settling down or having children. They were the women who clearly expressed an unrestricted sexuality from the start, and their priorities have not changed. They’re still the ones with the crazy hookup stories.
Opportunities for dating increased dramatically after college graduation, which was a great relief. The same women who felt anxious during college that they would never have a boyfriend are contentedly settled now with attractive men of good character.
I feel very gratified by these results, both personally and professionally. Hooking Up Smart is an incubator of ideas, strategies and real life relationships. Effectively supporting young people in their desire to connect has been incredibly rewarding work.
I suppose at some point I will run out of things to say – I’m frankly amazed that hasn’t happened yet! Most of my ideas come directly from readers, either via comments left here or links shared via email. I encourage each and every one of you to join the conversation and become part of our supportive and vibrant community.
Women understand very well that eagerness in men is a huge turnoff. In fact, nothing can kill attraction faster than being pedestalized by a guy who doesn’t know you well. Though there is a large body of research on the detrimental effects of feeling undervalued by a partner, a new set of studies is the first systematic research to be undertaken looking at the opposite question:
How do people feel when their partners put them on a pedestal?
Previous work suggests that idealizing a partner has positive effects on the relationship (Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996), as a partner’s idealization can communicate positive regard.
I hypothesize that being overly idealized may also be detrimental because being put on a pedestal may threaten one’s sense of personhood or create fears of being unable to meet partner’s expectations or having to meet undesired expectations.
In addition, over-idealization might create a perceived imbalance of power in a relationship, such that the partner who feels over-idealized may perceive their partner to be relatively more dependent than the self on the relationship.
Tomlinson believes that there are several detrimental consequences in relationships characterized by this kind of outsized admiration, or worship :
1. It may cause the pedestalized partner to become selfish.
Little effort is required to maintain strong feelings from their partner. She notes that “it takes work to behave well” and being overly appreciative essentially encourages your partner to get lazy, which results in poor behavior.
2. The person engaging in the pedestalization has significantly less power in the relationship.
This creates an imbalance of dependence. According to Tomlinson this may “give him or her the perceived freedom to behave in ways that do not take the partner’s interests into account.”
3. The person on the pedestal may feel like an impostor.
They’re waiting for the partner to discover that their true self does not live up to the partner’s expectations.
“In addition, the impostor hypothesis suggests that impostors might sabotage themselves such that outcomes meet their expectations, and it is possible that individuals who feel over-idealized might similarly undermine their relationships.”
The studies included 300 couples, many in college. I found the design of one of the studies quite amusing. It was called the Egregious Virtue Experiment. Couples were given questionnaires to fill out, believing they all received the same materials. One half of the couple was instructed to list their partner’s “extremely valuable and positive qualities,” and reassured that even one item would be fine for the purposes of the study.
At the same time, the other half of each couple was asked to list as many items as possible from their dorm room, with a minimum of 30 items. As you can imagine, the second group wrote much faster and listed many more items. After a 5 minute period where only the second group kept writing, the session was ended.
Those who had listed their partner’s qualities now believed that their partners had written fast and furiously about their wonderful qualities – far more than they themselves had written. As the couples were brought into a different area and seated together, researchers observed that those who had been idealized sat much further away from their partners than those in the control group. They wished to distance themselves emotionally from their partner, simply by virtue of realizing how highly they were valued.
Interestingly, this was true for both men and women. Who knew, it’s not only women who dislike being pedestalized! Specifically, those who thought they had been idealized perceived both a threat to their autonomy and a fear of discovery (impostor syndrome).
In another study, participants were asked to describe their partners in two areas:
- social skills
- emotional stability
- sense of humor
- kind and affectionate
- artistic ability
- athletic ability
What they found was that both men and women can’t get enough of being idealized on their traits. However, they did find gender differences with regard to abilities. In particular, men’s responses were linear (the more praise, the better), while women’s responses were curvilinear (good to a certain point, then negative effects kick in at high levels).
For example, Greg may feel positively about Sally’s opinion that he is a very athletic guy, even though he has never received accolades for his athletic abilities. On the other hand, if Sally knows she is not a good dancer, she feels uncomfortable if Greg claims that she’s amazing on the dance floor.
Note that both genders welcome idealization on relationship relevant variables, while only men do on non-relationship items, i.e. abilities.
Tomlinson believes that women especially perceive over-idealization of abilities as potentially damaging to the relationship. In short, “people prefer to be seen by their partners for who they really are.”
Of course, attachment style and self-esteem play a large role – some people are far more likely to pedestalize their mates based on their own life experience and personality traits.
In addition, idealization may serve a purpose in preserving relationships. For example, the woman who has been cheated on repeatedly by her husband may need to idealize him to justify remaining with him. This is a common pattern in relationships where people are emotionally or physically abused. Obviously, this last type of idealization crosses over onto the submission/dominance spectrum and is generally highly dysfunctional.
Social scientists agree that the three core aspects of “perceived partner responsiveness,” which is critical to healthy relationships, are (Reis & Shaver, 1988).:
- Feeling understood
- Feeling validated
- Feeling cared for by the partner
Idealizing your partner’s abilities too much, whether he appears to like it or not, , threatens the first of these, and makes him feel overwhelmed by the third.
Tomlinson said the take-home message for couples is that while “it may be tempting to give effusive praise, you need to be cautious that it’s not unrealistic.”
A good way of thinking about your potential life partner would be to seek someone who is not perfect, yet perfect for you. As always, character is king.
There is no one narrative that explains marriage trends in the U.S. today. Slicing the data by education, age and race reveals a diverse and troubling tale. Writing in the Atlantic, Derek Thompson looks at what’s going on. First, it remains true that just about everyone gets married: