Say what? This headline likely caught your attention because it challenges our predominant stereotypes about gender and heterosexual relationships.
The media would have us believe that men look for unemotional, no-strings-attached sex whereas women have sex primarily for the cuddling afterwards. Sex and the City featured an episode about ‘having sex like a man,’ a term that referred to having sex without emotions. A previous SofR article discussed how gender stereotypes like these and the tendency for the media to focus on gender differences limits our understanding of relationships.
In fact, researchers often find that gender differences are small,1 and that many gendered assumptions do not hold up to the test of science. Well, here’s one more to add to the list. A recent study, one that has garnered attention for presenting information that contradicts gender stereotypes, found that physical affection (a.k.a. cuddling) was more important for men’s happiness in long-term relationships than it was for women’s happiness. The researchers surveyed over 1000 couples with an average age over 50 and average relationship length of 25 years. In this study, contrary to what the researchers expected, women were more sexually satisfied than men and men were happier in their relationships than were women.2 Although cuddling was only predictive of men’s relationship happiness, it was important for both men and women’s sexual satisfaction. Higher levels of sexual desire and arousal were also associated with greater relationship and sexual satisfaction for men and women.
Other researchers have challenged the idea that women only want sex for the cuddling, and focused on identifying the characteristics of highly sexual women. Women characterized as highly sexual (they weren’t hard to find) held more favorable attitudes toward casual sex, fantasized about sex often and enjoyed sex outside of a committed relationship.3 Taken together, these findings tell us that the importance of sex or cuddling is not solely based on gender.
|Science of Relationship