Sex, Lies, and Survey Results

by by Maggie Lange

illustration by by Charis Loke

There is a seemingly ceaseless stream of studies that reduce each gender to a vaguely irritating stereotype. The men fear commitment, the women crave intimacy. One study suggests that a coquettish attitude and coy game-playing pave the road to seduction.
The two studies below have a characterization of gender that nearly describes the male and female leads of a formulaic romantic comedy. Though they come from peer-reviewed journals, their simplicity and repetition is reminiscent of Cosmo’s 500 variations of “500 Ways to Please Your Man – TONIGHT!”

Cuddling: Not A Male Priority
The Journal of Sex Research’s recent study “Sex Differences in Post-Coital Behaviors in Long- and Short-Term Mating: An Evolutionary Perspective” focuses on the intimacy gap between men and women after sex.
The study, conducted by Susan Hughes and Daniel Kruger at the University of Michigan, surveyed 170 college-aged students. The online survey listed options for the participant to rate their post-sex inclinations: talking, sleeping, cuddling, leaving the room, smoking and drinking, asking for favors, eating, and considering “the likelihood that pregnancy may have resulted.”
Women listed bonding activities like chatting and cuddling highest on the list of post-sex activities, while men preferred eating, smoking, or making a drink—generally activities that involved withdrawing into the next room.
The evolutionary analysis of this study explained: “Males tend to mate more opportunistically,” while females “are less likely to dissociate coitus from emotional involvement.” The “pair-bonding” activities were initiated and preferred much more by women than men, both in short-term and long-term mating. Enlightening: women prefer intimacy while men are programmed to sow their wild oats.
While these results are not particularly groundbreaking, the study of post-sex behavior is: this is one of the first studies to examine people’s predilections after sex. The vast majority of studies in human reproductive strategies discuss behaviors leading to sex: mating dances, primping, courtship rituals, and demonstrations of strength and desirability. But Hughes’s and Kruger’s study stresses that reproductive strategies don’t stop after intercourse. Mates are analyzed as long-term or short-term based on their actions following the main event. “These findings may not seem surprising, as they are consistent with evolutionary psychological theory,” Hughes and Kruger write, “but, to our knowledge, this is the first attempt to document and quantify post-coital preferences.”

Women Love Them Some Relationship Games
Meanwhile, another recent study in Psychological Science concluded that women are most attracted to men who make their feelings unclear. Conducted by two University of Virginia professors, Erin Whitchurch and Timothy Wilson, and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard, the “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not…” study found that men who send mixed signals are the most desirable.
The test surveyed about fifty female undergrads at UVA. Each girl was shown four men’s Facebook profiles (fabricated for the study, but the participants believed they were real). The girls were told these men had viewed her profile along with those of a dozen or so other coeds. A third of the girls were told they were the most highly rated, a third were told they were rated as average, and a third were told they were rated either the most highly or average. It was the third group—the group uncertain about their male prospect’s attraction—that ranked the males as most attractive.
The study noted that while hearing that someone is attracted to you is affirming, it is not thrilling. “In contrast,” the study reports, “when people are uncertain about an important outcome, they can hardly think about anything else.” The study concludes with this statement: the “popular dating advice is correct: Keeping people in the dark about how much we like them will increase how much they think about us and will pique their interest.” Does this conclusion, then, encourage people to play games in their relationships? To keep everyone guessing because they’re worried they will turn their crushes off if they show some straight-up affection?
Perhaps, but only in the beginning. It seems that the study, rather than looking at substantive attraction, focused on initial frequency of thoughts. In the beginning, it is the uncertainty that heightens the attraction. “I don’t think it’s that people enjoy the chase,” Erin Whitchurch wrote in an email, “but that uncertainty increases our thoughts about a person in a very subtle way and that is what, to a certain extent, increases attraction.”
Furthermore, it’s worth nothng that the researchers chose to examine this initial attraction through a virtual medium. This lens of removal, Whitchurch says, helped her and her co-writers build a more believable situation. Certainly, the scenario was believable—people do peruse and pursue their potential crushes on Facebook—but in reality, relationships are hardly built solely on the Facebook interface; they’re usually just sparked there, in the same way that seeing someone at a party might spark a little crush.
“This study only explored initial romantic attraction—so no, this study does not support the idea of playing games once in a relationship,” Whitchurch writes. “Personally though, the advice I give my friends is to play the game to the point there is an obvious attraction—right to the point where you both want to admit your feelings—then wait until the next conversation, text, date to do that.” After all she warns, too much uncertainty can cause a partner to “get frustrated and quit.”

Implicitly, these studies offer some form of advice, since empirical studies have an implied relationship to truth. In the case of these sex/love studies, they appear to shed light on the true predilections of members of the opposite sex.
The language often pits the genders against one another, and implies that there is an irresolvable gap between them. This might be why these peer-reviewed studies seem so close to magazine headlines. “16 Dirty Guy Phrases – Translated!,” actual Cosmo headline, runs off the same steam. Both these studies and “16 Dirty Guy Phrases” offer a translation of behavior between the two sexes.
Ostensibly, the information from these studies will wiggle into some advice offered in Cosmo or Maxim, as a sure-fire way to seduce the object of your desire. Though these studies are backed by empirical research, both will offer the same simplified vision of romance, sex, and love.

MAGGIE LANGE B’11 – translated!