We May Regret Casual Sex Sometimes But Want It Anyway, Says Study
They say regret is the most favourable negative emotion of all because it helps in changing your behaviour. It is believed that people learn from their mistakes, and the deeper the regret the lesser are the chances of them doing it again. For example, if you regret saying no to a job in a startup which boomed remarkably later on, you will dive right in if you get that chance again. If you broke your arm on a drunken night and you regret it, you will probably learn what your drinking capacity is. Regret from casual sex though, might not be quite as change-inducing!
A recent study explored how men and women experience casual sex and if they have any regrets post that. They also examined if the regret led to any changes that would lead them to the desired outcome. “Men more than women report regret passing up short-term sexual opportunities (inaction regret), while women regret having had sexual encounters (action regret). However, the adaptive function of regret, to improve future behavioral choices, has not been tested,” wrote study author Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair.
The study aimed to find out: “In this first longitudinal test of behavioral change following regret, we consider whether regret actually results in adaptive shifts of behavior: will men who regret passing up sex engage in more short-term sex following regret? Will women who regret short-term encounters either choose better quality partners, reduce number of one-night stands or shift their strategy to long-term relationships?”
Participants were asked questions about casual sex regret (action and inaction), possible outcomes, intrapersonal traits and contextual predictors. However, no significant change in sexual behaviour was noticed even after experiencing regret.
“An important aspect of a functional emotion is that it should produce change in behavior, and thus reduce the necessity of experiencing the emotion . . . It was therefore surprising, from a functional perspective, that regret as counterfactual cognitive-emotional process was both continuous and relatively stable across different one-night stands for the same participants,” the researchers wrote in their study.
The study observed that casual sex regret came from individual or contextual factors. However, sexual disgust was the most common one and more experienced by women. Participants’ attitude towards casual sex was also linked to regret. The sexual disgust, though, was largely dependent on the person you slept with. Women didn’t feel casual sex regret with a mate who was of quality and if they had initiated the sexual encounter.
The researchers found that women tend to be choosier when it comes to sex because they have to bear the brunt in case a pregnancy occurs. “The sexes are predicted to show behavioral differences especially in the sexual domain due to asymmetric minimal investment in offspring. For instance, the most investing sex is predicted to be choosier in specific preferences, such as partner’s willingness to invest in relationship, in partner acquisitions as the costs related to producing offspring is higher. In humans, women are the more investing sex in producing offspring with larger gametes, gestation, childbirth, and lactation,” the study reads.
The study also found that regretting casual sex reduces the likelihood of entering a long-term relationship. You know they say no sex is better than bad sex. Maybe you are just put off by the substandard quality of the dating pool. “One of the most surprising findings is that action regret reduces the likelihood of entering a long-term relationship. This was in the opposite direction of our functional prediction. It is possible that some of the more successful one-night-stands resulted in long-term relationships over time, or that regret was increased when one at some level desired a long-term relationship from the short-term encounter, but this did not happen,” the study explains.
“I believe Edith Piaff sang the best summary: She regrets nothing,” Kennair told PsyPost. “Most people regret a legion of different choices. Maybe we actually regret bad choices we repeat, such as bad lifestyle and health behavior choices. And we keep making those bad choices. Regretting these might not change our behavior. Maybe instead of reducing our mood, in an indirect attempt at motivating future behavioral change, we should focus on changing behavior directly, here and now.”
The study, “The Function of Casual Sex Action and Inaction Regret: A Longitudinal Investigation”, was authored by Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, and Mons Bendixen.