Psychological Evidence for Short-Term Mating

Casual sex usually needs the permission of both partners. Ancient males could not have handled transitory matters on their own. If all women had mated monogamously for life with a single guy and had no premarital sex, the options for casual sex with consenting women would have evaporated. Short-term mating, such as affairs, one-night encounters, and short liaisons, is common in many cultures and not new at all. Furthermore, several signs in our current physiology and behavior point to a lengthy history of casual sex dating back to our evolutionary beginnings.

Psychological Evidence for Short-Term Mating

A wealth of evidence from empirical studies on actual mate selection and marital dynamics supports evolutionary predictions of mate preference. Convergence of evidence from extrinsic sexual patterns, partner poaching, sexual fantasies, pornography consumption, postcoital remorse, prosocial attitudes, and willingness to have casual sex often support the idea that males and females have different short-term mating mentalities.

According to psychology and science, mating is the totality of behaviors that animals, including humans, engage in search of a mate for intimacy or reproduction. It includes acts from flirting to one-night stands to marriage and more. Some mating behaviors are ingrained in the nervous system and operate without consciousness – attraction, for example – and some, such as wedding ceremonies, are carefully scripted, with every detail planned.

Personality and Short-Term Mating

A personality psychologist's essential task is identifying the individual differences most closely associated with short-term mating. This will provide scientists with a better framework for understanding the causes of permissive sexual attitudes and risky sexual behaviors. Several characteristics show a consistent association with short-term mating.

Extraversion was positively correlated with short-term mating preference, free social sex, engagement in short-term poaching efforts, yielded to others' short-term poaching efforts, and lack of exclusivity in the relationship. Low levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness are also associated with short-term mating, especially sub-pair mating. Neuroticism and openness are also associated with short-term mating, but these links are less consistent across gender and country.

Studies have consistently linked sensation-seeking with short-term mating. Impulsive feeling-seeking is closely related to the Big Five Aspects of low agreeableness and conscientiousness. The strongest personality predictor of short-term mating is impulsive sensation seeking. Studies have consistently linked sensation-seeking with short-term mating. Extroverts are more likely to maintain an attitude in favor of having multiple partners and have sex with more partners than introverts are more likely than introverts.

Some researchers have found that neuroticism is correlated with aspects of short-term mating. The dark triad and short-term mating association were more robust in males than females. The dark triad partially mediates sex differences in short-term mating behavior. The results are consistent with the idea that the dark triad facilitates short-term mating strategies in males.

Possible implications include that the dark triplet trait represents a set of individual differences that drive adaptive reproductive strategies. Schizophrenia, anxiety, and neurosis have all been indirectly linked to short-term mating success, again only for males. Some forms of mental illness may persist in the gene pool because specific personality traits associated with milder mental illness (i.e., schizophrenia) are also indirectly associated with successful—delivery in a short time.

The Motivation behind Short-Term Mating

Not all men are the same regarding motivations for engaging in short-term sex. However, interest in uncommitted sex represents one of the most significant psychological differences between the sexes. Aphrodisiacs may aid a striking mating strategy.

For example, men who pursue a long-term mating strategy may show an increased sexual desire for a committed partner when aroused. In addition, stimuli can facilitate strategic changes, such as a temporary readjustment of short-term mating preferences to take advantage of opportunities to improve fitness. Differences in motives for pursuing short-term mating strategies exist within each sex and between them.

For example, social sexual orientation (SO) represents the openness of individuals to short-term mating. People with relatively high (unrestricted) SO are likelier to engage in short-term relationships. In addition, high SO correlates with various tactics that improve short-term mating strategies, such as avoidance. Not surprisingly, relationship status was negatively associated with short-term mating preference, such as those paired up showing reduced, but not always absent, interest in uncommitted sex. There is indirect evidence that increased sexual arousal leads to psychological changes that facilitate short-term mating.

For example, studies have demonstrated that increased sexual arousal in men leads to a greater willingness to have unprotected sex with strangers and an increased acceptability of sex through the act. Another study has shown that arousal favors attention to sex-related cues in possible partners, increasing men's motivation to date women.

The Desire for a Variety of Sex Partners

The primary reproductive benefit of casual sex for prehistoric people would have been increased children. Therefore men faced a critical adaptive dilemma of having sexual access to a diverse range of women. As a result of this adaptive dilemma, males have evolved several psychological processes that lead them to seek a wide range of sexual partners. Lust is one psychological answer to the difficulty of gaining sexual access to a diverse range of partners: males have developed a great desire for sex. Men do not always act on this urge, yet it serves as a motivator: Even if just one impulse out of a thousand is fulfilled, the role of lust is to inspire sexual activity.

Researchers asked unmarried U.S. college students how many sexual partners they would ideally want to have over various periods, ranging from the next month to their whole lifetimes, to determine how many sexual partners people desire. Men prefer more sex partners than women at all periods, according to the findings.

During the following year, men, on average, claimed they would like to have more than six sex partners, while women said they would like to have only one. Men wanted ten sex partners over the next three years, while women wanted only two. The gap between men and women in the optimal number of sex partners sought grows with time. Men, on average, want eighteen sex partners in their lives, but women want just four or five.

Time Elapsed before Seeking Intercourse

Another psychological answer to the problem of getting sexual access to a range of partners is to keep the period between meeting the desired female and pursuing sexual intercourse as short as possible. College men and women evaluated how likely they would consent to sex with someone they deemed appealing after merely an hour, a day, a week, a month, six months, a year, two years, or five years of knowing the individual.

Both men and women said they would have sex after five years of knowing a suitable potential spouse. Men outnumbered women in the reported chance of having sex every shorter period. Even after only one week of knowing a possible partner, males are still optimistic about the chance of consenting to sex.

Conversely, women doubt having sex after only a week of knowing someone. Men are marginally disinclined to contemplate having sex after only one hour of knowing a possible partner, but the disinclination is not great. Sex after just one hour is nearly impossible for most women. Men's proclivity to seek sexual intercourse quickly, like their urges, provides a partial solution to the adaptive dilemma of having sexual access to a range of partners. Males are more likely than women to consent to sexual intercourse after a short period has been extensively duplicated in samples of diverse ages and geographical areas across the United States.

Minimizing Commitment after Sex

Martie Haselton, an evolutionary psychologist, discovered evidence for a probable adaptation in men to improve the success of a short-term mating strategy: an emotional change immediately following sexual intercourse. Men who had more sex partners had a dramatic drop in how sexually appealing they viewed their partner immediately after intercourse.

However, neither women nor men with less sexual experience experienced this drop. The research on the attraction-reduction effect supports the theory that men have another psychological adaptation designed to promote the success of a straightforward sexual strategy, which motivates either a hasty postcopulatory departure to minimize investment in any woman or a roving eye within the context of existing long-term mateship.


The traits that modern men and women want in a mate vary depending on the mating context. Overall, this pattern reflects a general "relaxation" of the rules in the short-term mating context compared to the long-term context.

For example, the desire for physical attraction in a potential mate appears to be maintained and even reinforced in the short-term mating context compared with the long-term mating context. Understanding why standards are lower in some cases but not others requires an appreciation of our ancestors' challenges in pursuing two types of mating—this and how these challenges differ between the sexes.

Updated on: 12-Apr-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started