Status Influences Interest in the Opposite Sex (Kim, Ji Weon {Clemens})

25 Oct

Interest in the opposite sex depends on both internal and external contextual factors. Hormonal state, relationship goals, and social situation are important factors in how men and women respond to the opposite sex. These contextual factors may influence men and women differently, however, owing to differences between the sexes in reproductive pressures and strategies. One possible contextual element influencing interest in the opposite sex is whether or not the men and women already have a sexual partner. In their evaluations of men, women must balance the trade-offs of fertilization, relationship establishment, and investment in current offspring, which may serve to confine sexual interest to a current partner. Men, on the other hand, are able to fertilize multiple females, and an interest in extra-pair females may enhance male reproductive success.

Subjective reports of attraction vary with an individual’s recent sexual activity; men and women who reported no recent sexual activity found sexually explicit stimuli depicting heterosexual intercourse more sexually attractive than participants reporting sexual activity within the preceding month. Women found men who were in relationships less attractive then single men, although male participants found single and married women equally attractive. The specific influence of sexual partner status on interest in the opposite sex has not been as extensively examined, however. Most influences of partner status have looked for differences in preferences for certain characteristics, such as dominance or masculinity, rather than overall levels of interest. Additionally, research demonstrating an effect of sexual partner status on interest in sexual stimuli has been based on responses to explicit images of sexual activity, rather than more ecologically valid stimuli such as faces. Finally, previous literature has focused primarily on committed sexual romantic relationships that have significant social and psychological consequences distinct from the expected effects of simply having a sexual partner. Hence it is not clear how having a sexual partner influences interest in members of the opposite sex and whether any potential difference is consistent with presumed sex differences in evolutionary reproductive history.

Sexual partner status may influence interest in the opposite sex subtly and may not even be a conscious aspect of sexual and social decision making. Implicit motives may alter partner preferences, affiliative behavior, and sexual strategies and act subconsciously to bias interest in the opposite sex. Therefore, interest in sexually relevant stimuli measured through subjective reports may fail to capture subconscious effects of partner status. A developing literature suggests that viewing time is an accurate measure of implicit motivation, including sexual interest. Generally, subjects look at images they find more attractive for longer times, and in males this measure of attractiveness has been validated by both subjective reports and penile tumescence. Male and female subjects have also been shown to look longer at pornographic slides that they rate more highly arousing. Additionally, longer viewing times in men are correlated with higher testosterone, suggesting that viewing time may be a reliable indicator of sexual motivation. Another measure of participants’ motivation is response time to a stimulus as measured by the time they take to evaluate a stimulus subjectively or perform a cognitive task.Image

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