A recent study has shed light on the factors that influence involuntary singlehood in contemporary societies. The research explored the impact of sexual functioning, body weight, and having children from previous relationships on an individual’s relationship status. Surprisingly, while sexual functioning played a crucial role, body weight and having children did not have the expected effects. The findings appear in Evolutionary Psychological Science.
Being single in today’s world is a common state, and many individuals find themselves yearning for a romantic partner. Previous research has attempted to uncover the reasons behind involuntary singlehood, where people want to be in a relationship but face difficulties in attracting a partner. Evolutionary theories suggest that our modern dating landscape is vastly different from the mating practices of our ancestors, which may contribute to the challenges many people face in finding a partner.
“I am an evolutionary psychologist, and in the evolutionary perspective, securing an intimate partner is of the utmost significance. Accordingly, the high prevalence of singlehood with many people facing difficulties in attracting an intimate partner is puzzling for me, so I aimed to identify its causes,” said study author Menelaos Apostolou, a professor at the University of Nicosia.
The study, conducted in Cyprus, involved 1,188 participants, comprising 646 women and 542 men. Participants were recruited through social media and word of mouth, with no monetary incentives provided. To collect data, researchers used a questionnaire written in Greek, administered through Google Forms.
To measure sexual functioning, the researchers used the Changes in Sexual Functioning Questionnaire (CSFQ). This questionnaire provided a total score for general sexual functioning and included several subscales that assessed various aspects of sexual functioning, such as desire, arousal, orgasm, and pleasure. There were separate versions of the CSFQ for men and women, each consisting of 14 questions.
Participants were asked about their demographic information, including age, sex, whether they had children from previous relationships, years in their current relationship, years spent single, body weight, and height. Relationship status was measured using a previously established instrument, which categorized participants as “In a relationship,” “Married,” “Involuntarily single,” “Single between-relationships,” “Prefer to be single,” or “Other.”
The researchers found that, for both men and women, better sexual functioning increased the likelihood of being in a relationship rather than involuntarily single. Men who experienced a one-unit increase in sexual functioning were 9% more likely to be in a relationship than involuntarily single.
Among women, factors like higher scores in the “Pleasure,” “Desire/Frequency,” and “Desire/Interest” dimensions of sexual functioning were associated with a higher likelihood of being in an intimate relationship. However, women who scored higher in “Desire/Interest” were less likely to be in a relationship, possibly because it suggested a more promiscuous disposition.
The researchers noted that while poor sexual functioning was associated with an increased probability of being involuntarily single, the exact causal relationship needs further investigation. It could be that poor sexual functioning leads to unsatisfied partners, contributing to involuntary singlehood, or it could indirectly affect singlehood through its impact on self-esteem and mating effort.
Contrary to expectations, the study did not find a significant relationship between BMI and relationship status for either men or women. However, a higher BMI was linked to spending more years being single for women. This suggests that women with higher BMI might take longer to find a partner, although it did not directly influence their relationship status.
“Many people blame their looks in general and their excessive body weight in particular, for not being able to attract an intimate partner; thus, I was surprised to find that the BMI did not predict singlehood status,” Apostolou told PsyPost.
Having children from previous relationships played a significant role in relationship status, but this effect was gender-specific. For men, having children from previous relationships increased the likelihood of being in an intimate relationship compared to involuntarily single. This could be because single fathers may face difficulties raising their children on their own, motivating them to increase their efforts in finding partners to assist them. However, having children from previous relationships did not predict the number of years spent being single for men.
On the other hand, for women, having children from previous relationships reduced the number of years spent being single, indicating that women with children from previous relationships found partners more quickly.
“Sexual difficulties impair some people’s capacity to attract or retain intimate partners, increasing in effect their chances to be single,” Apostolou explained. “On the other hand, having excess body weight or having children from previous relationships do not seem to be impediments in attracting an intimate partner.”
Despite its valuable insights, the study has some limitations. It relied on self-reported data, which may introduce biases, and the sample was not drawn from a random population, potentially limiting the generalizability of the findings. Future research should aim to replicate these findings in diverse cultural contexts and with larger, more representative samples.
“As there is no much research in the area more replication studies are needed to establish the connection of sexual functioning, BMI, and children of previous relationships to singlehood status,” Apostolou told PsyPost. “In addition, variables such as BMI may have an indirect effect on singlehood status- for instance, higher BMI may impair self-esteem, and lower self-esteem may impair one’s chances to attract a mate. My study did not examine these possibilities.”
“Singlehood is a complex phenomenon with many factors at play. I believe that in the years to come, research would be able to identify most factors which have a direct or indirect effect in predicting singlehood status.”
The study, “Involuntary Singlehood: Investigating the Effects of Sexual Functioning, BMI, and Having Children from Previous Relationships“, was authored by Menelaos Apostolou and Andrea Hadjikyriacou.