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How College Students Respond to Being Propositioned for Sex

Men and women react very differently to offers of sex.


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Imagine this scenario: It's 1982. You're a student at Florida State University. You're good looking. And you're male.

An average-looking female student approaches you on campus and says, "I've been noticing you around campus lately and find you very attractive. Would you like to go to bed with me tonight?"

You respond in which of the following ways?

(a) "I'm flattered, but no thanks."

(b) "Your question offends my moral sensibilities. Absolutely not!"

(c) "Yes, please...Why wait till tonight?"

This was precisely the scenario that Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield set up in their now-famous study [1]. It turns out that 75% of those male students who were propositioned said "yes".

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These researchers set up the same scenario again, except this time the students who were approached were female, and the students doing the propositioning were male. How many women do you think said yes? (Keep in mind that this involved average-looking male students approaching good-looking female students.)

None of them did.

Another study asked college men and women how many lifetime sexual partners they would ideally like to have [2]. The average of the men's responses was more than 60, and the average of the women's responses was 2.7.

Whenever I tell the undergraduates in my personality course about these findings, the female students invariably say, "This is depressing." (The male students usually stay quiet, having just been "outed".)

I then say to them, "Well, at least now you know that when a guy wants to have sex with you, it doesn't necessarily mean he likes you. He might like you; it's just that his wanting sex doesn't tell you anything about his commitment to you." Of course, that doesn't cheer them up at all.

But then I say something like, "I should mention that those same studies asking men and women about their ideal number of lifetime sexual partners have shown that the most common answer for both sexes is the same: it's one."

So, if you happen to be a woman who is in love with a man who wants you to have sex with him, why not just ask him what his intentions are? He might actually tell you that he wants to sleep with you with no strings attached. (This surprising honestly results from his thinking that you are more similar to him than you actually are, and that you might enjoy completely casual sex too.) His response could be the cold water in your face that you might need.

His more likely response is that he doesn't know. He might even say that he has very strong feelings for you (while shrugging his shoulders). If that's the case you could say, "If I agree to become sexually involved with you, will you agree to be monogamous with me?" Yes, it is still possible for him to lie to get sex from you. But at least afterwards if you discover that he is seeing other people, he won't be able to say, "Who said anything about monogamy?"

And there is always that wonderful possibility that he could truthfully tell you that he's madly in love with you and wants to be your boyfriend. (He could even be one of those men whose ideal is one sexual partner for life.)

Regardless of what response you get to your straightforward questions, it's good to know his intentions in advance of sex, don't you agree?

References

1. Clark, Russell D., Hatfield, Elaine (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 2, 39-55.

2. Miller, L. C., & Fishkin, S. A. (1997). On the dynamics of human bonding and reproductive success: Seeking windows on the adapted-for human-environmental interface. In Simpson, Jeffry A., & Kenrick, Douglas T. (Eds.), Evolutionary social psychology. (pp. 197-236). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

My 2010 Book, The Clever Student

If you are interested in my 2010 book, The Clever Student: A Guide to Getting the Most from Your Professors, you can order it through Corby Books at
http://www.corbypublishing.com/product_info.php?products_id=109

Anita E. Kelly, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. She is author of The Clever Student and The Psychology of Secrets.

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