Emotional Reactions

From Townsend, Wasserman, and Rosenthal, 2015, PID

Human females evolved emotional–perceptual mechanisms that cause them to be attracted by partners’ ability and willingness to invest (time, affection, resources) (Buss, 1989a; Symons, 1979). Human male mechanisms include the capacity to dissociate sexual pleasure from investment and a desire for a variety of sex partners who exhibit signs of fertility (Bailey, Gaulin, Agyei, & Gladue, 1994).

Maybe these mechanisms aren’t as different as we think? So to me, the scripts are reinforcing that for women, pleasure is transactional or symbolic in ways that are not true for men- female pleasure may be understood as the result of demonstrated investment while male pleasure may be understood as removed from investment, stand-alone. 

Male and female strategies often conflict and interfere with each other; these conflicts represent strategic interference. Men’s and women’s emotional–motivational mechanisms alert them to strategic interference and motivate them to alter their own behavior and influence the behavior of the opposite sex to eliminate or reduce the interference (Buss, 1989b, 1994, 1995; Haselton, Buss, Oubaid, & Angleitner, 2005).

So I think they’re arguing that women’s less positive emotional reactions are alerting them to the fact that their strategy of looking for investment is conflicting with their partner’s strategy of sowing his seed? 

Sexual strategies theory posits that the fundamental desires that motivate sexual action and the emotional reactions that evaluate these actions differ in men and women (Buss, 1994; Symons, 1979)…their emotional reactions to the same activities (e.g., casual sexual relations) differ significantly….Reacting to low-investment copulation, women’s emotions should alert them to strategic interference and guide them toward relationships that offer higher levels of investment (Townsend, 1987, 1995, 1998).

So our study says that women and men are not emotionally reacting to the same activity of casual sex– they’re reacting to quite different casual sex experiences, even if they were partners. 

Because of the differential feedback men and women receive, these gender differences should increase rather than decrease with increasing experience with casual sex (Townsend & Wasserman, 2011).

Maybe we could test with the data whether people who had longer sexual involvement with their partners have closer or further emotional reactions. 

Both qualitative and quantitative studies indicate that women’s sexual regrets are strongly linked to uncommitted (i.e., low-investment) sex: number of one-time sexual encounters, having sex with strangers, quantity of sex partners, and having sex with someone who falsely promised commitment. In contrast, men’s sexual regrets focus on missed opportunities to have sex (Eshbaugh & Gute, 2008; Galperin et al., 2013; Paul & Hayes, 2002).

Has anyone looked into whether women are regretting wasting their time on an unpleasurable experience? Can someone look into these three studies? 

Townsend used in-depth oral interviews and survey questions derived from those interviews to investigate associations between casual sexual relations and emotional reactions. Findings were consistent across diverse samples and methods. Men’s reported worry, feelings of vulnerability, and concern regarding partners’ intentions tended to decline with greater numbers of partners; women’s vulnerability and concern were significantly greater than men’s and either increased or remained high and constant (Townsend, 1987, 1995, 1998, 2005; Townsend, Kline, & Wasserman, 1995; Townsend & Wasserman, 2011).

Wouldn’t women’s anticipated or experienced stigma increase with their partner number? Doesn’t it also make sense that their concern “about partner intention” should rise with increase number of partners because each partner is another potential assailant? 

Several lines of evidence suggest that women are more likely than men to form attachment bonds in casual sexual relations (de Graaf & Sandfort, 2004; Townsend & Wasserman, 2011; Young & Wang, 2004). Such bonds are more likely to form in repeated relations with the same partner compared to infrequent relations, or single encounters with different partners (Townsend, 1987, 1995, 1998). Studies that combine these types of encounters may adumbrate important distinctions—including gender differences (Vrangalova, 2014). A second goal of the current research was to distinguish between types of encounters and determine whether participants’ emotional reactions differed.

Okay so did emotional reactions differ between first time, yes or no? What about between the genders?

A fourth reason for the dearth of negative reactions in some reports is that women engage in denial: they tend to idealize hook-ups and ignore their negative aspects—including sexual coercion

We tried to avoid this by asking about consensual experiences

There is a different argument about are women damaged from engaging in casual sex once, or are they damaged from engaging in it over and over…

Viewed in light of these factors, our findings support the view that the current hookup subculture on college campuses represents a phase rather than a permanent lifestyle. Sexual strategies theory would predict that most of these women will alter their partner-selection criteria and sexual behavior when their goal evolves from short-term to long-term relationships (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). For most college women this will happen when their career tracks are established, they feel their biological clocks ticking, and their female peers begin to marry (Armstrong & Hamilton, 2009; Townsend, 1987, 1998; Townsend & Roberts, 1993).


Women’s emotions evaluate the quality and reliability of male investment. These emotions act as an alarm system that urges women to test and evaluate investment and remedy deficiencies even when their permissive attitudes reflect indifference to investment.

I’m bothered by male investment being used in place of female orgasm. Female orgasm/pleasure shouldn’t be a signifier of male investment in the relationship. It should signify male sexual capabilities and his respect for his partner. 

Our findings suggest that unrestricted women (i.e., women with high SOI scores) may experience as much Worry–Vulnerability and concern regarding partners’ intentions, and have the same difficulty in avoiding emotional involvement with regular partners as more restricted women. More importantly, women with higher SOI scores were significantly more likely to experience sexual coercion, including its most severe forms. Thus, the personality traits that underlie SOI scores (Gangestad & Simpson, 1990) may have been adaptive for women in ancestral environments but could be maladaptive in today’s hook up subculture.

I love how they warn women in their conclusion when certain men (non SOI) are the ones most at risk for feeling worry-vulnerability and not being able to resist emotional involvement! That also suggests to me that perhaps the cultivating we do of men to be super promiscuous goes against their nature or perhaps what is best for them mentally, psychologically, emotionally… they’re the ones who get changed and shaped by the increasing number of partners, not women. That chewing gum metaphor is stupid.



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