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In an ideal world, no one would regret informed, consensual choices in sexual behavior, but scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of California at Los Angeles say that men and women are hard wired for the emotion of regret when it comes to sex, although not in the same way.
Women, the psychological researchers say, tend to regret losing their virginity to the wrong man. Or they regret making a relationship sexual too fast. Or they regret cheating on their partners.
Men, on the other hand, tend to regret not having sex with more people, being more sexually adventurous in their youth, or being too timid to approach a particular object of conquest.
Why Men and Women Have Different Kinds of Regrets About Sex
Dr. Martie Haselton, a UCLA professor of social psychology who co-authored the study, says that the differing attitudes on sex are part of out make up that has helped the human race survive and grow. Males have an evolutionary drive to father as many babies as possible, an important factor in the maintenance of our species, Haselton says. Women, on the other hand, have an evolutionary drive to protect individual babies. Men make sure babies are conceived, women make sure babies are born.
The Reason for the Double Sexual Standard
Lead study author Dr. Andrew Galperin says that the double standard for sexual behavior in our culture, it's OK for men to play around, but women need to be virgins or at least possess a suitable reputation when they couple, is part of the reason for the differences in how men and women feel about sex. The double standard might account for the reason a woman is more likely to feel regrets about who they choose to have their "first time" with. But the University of California and University of Texas researchers believe something more primal is at work when it comes to men's and women's long-term views of sex.
- Inaction is more likely to be regretted than action. Doing the wrong thing that works out OK is easier for people to live with than doing nothing. (The social science researchers make this statement descriptively rather than prescriptively, that is, the fact that human beings tend to regret inaction more than wrong action is not a justification to go out and do something stupid.)
- High-quality sex, that is, intensely enjoyable sex, is less likely to be regretted than low-quality sex. Even if some aspects of the relationship are "wrong," good sex tends to make the relationship "right," from the perspective of how human minds work. Bad sex tends to cancel out of desirable attributes of the relationship.
- Men and women tend to have the same patterns of regrets in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, although this is difficult to explain in terms of evolutionary biology.