Sexual activities not based in committed relationships are becoming more common among young single adults. Interest has consequently arisen in exploring the factors that have led to this move away from traditional dating scenarios.
Researchers Jacqueline Woerner and Antonia Abbey of Wayne State University examined the role of positive and negative emotional responses in the casual sexual experiences of young adults in the United States. The study is available in a 2016 publication of The Journal of Sex Research.
More than 500 participants were recruited from university psychology courses and Mechanical Turk under the conditions that they were American, between the ages of 18-35 and had engaged in casual sex within the previous three months. Each subject completed a survey designed to record demographic variables (age, gender, etc.) as well as measurements of gender-role beliefs, perceived peer approval of casual sex, own perceptions of others who engage in casual sex and personal sexual assertiveness. The surveys also contained questions related to their most recent experiences involving casual sex, including ratings of pleasure, as well as positive affect and negative affect following the encounter.
Correlational analysis revealed many significant relationships between the included variables. Participants of both sexes who identified more with traditional gender roles reported less sexual assertiveness, more negative affect, less pleasure and had more negative views of others who have casual sex.
“Although traditional gender-role beliefs appear to support men’s sexual assertiveness, for many men the power imbalance associated with traditional gender-role beliefs may result in less open discussion with their partners about their sexual desires, thus leading to less sexual enjoyment.” the researchers said.
Other noteworthy findings were gender-specific. Most notably, female sexual pleasure was lower in subjects with high gender role belief ratings. Regarding the primary factor of interest, feelings experienced after casual sex, positive affect was found to be significantly related to traditional gender role beliefs for female participants alone. Specifically, women with strong beliefs in traditional gender roles reported experiencing less positive emotions after casual sex, in comparison to those who rated lower in traditional beliefs.
Casual sexual encounters are becoming normative in modern society, but remain subject to the influence of traditional gender role beliefs. People who hold strongly to such principles tend to rate casual sex as being less pleasurable and acceptable. However, post-sex positive affect was found to be less likely for traditional-belief women but not men. This gender bias could be a result of stigma regarding sexually active females in traditionally-minded social circles, as the same stigma does not exist for males (who are instead often cheered for the same actions).
“Developing a comprehensive understanding of the interrelationships between belief in traditional gender roles, peer norms, sexual assertiveness, sexual pleasure, and affective experiences is an important step in decreasing gender discrepancies in sexual pleasure and positive affect after casual sex,” the researchers said.
Future research will help to better clarify the impact of old gender biases on people of both genders who engage in patterns of sexual activity that have only begun to reach a basic level of general acceptance.