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How men and women react to the ‘hook-up’ culture

It is increasingly forbidden to suggest that there are real differences between men and women and that these differences are not merely the result of our upbringing and society’s expectations. But suppose there are real differences, and suppose denying them has real effects, harmful effects, in the real world? Suppose one of those differences is in the arena of sexual relations?

There is a stereotype that men find it easier to detach sex from their emotions and women find it harder to do so. If this stereotype is true, then men are better suited than women (insofar as anyone can be suited) to the so-called ‘hook-up’ culture, whereby two people who barely know each other, if they know each other at all, ‘hook-up’ for the night.

Professor Patricia Casey (a psychiatrist and a patron of The Iona Institute), had a very interesting article about this subject in her column in the Health Section of Monday’s Irish Independent.

Professor Casey looks at a (smallish) study which asked respondents about levels of regret following a one-night stand. The study [1] appeared in the October-December issue of Evolutionary Psychology and, in keeping with the stereotype, it found that women are considerably more likely to regret a one-night stand than men (34.2pc vs 20.4pc).

It also found that more men than women were more likely to regret passing up casual sex (28.9pc vs 3.6pc).

The interesting thing is that the study was conducted in egalitarian Norway, which has gone further than practically any society in history (bar Sweden, perhaps), in seeking to erase the differences between the sexes and yet it still found different levels of regret between the sexes.

Another, bigger study [2], by evolutionary psychologist Anne Campbell from 2008 also found differences in levels of regret.

For example, it found that women were much more likely than men to feel ‘used’, and much more likely to feel they had ‘let themselves down’.

Perhaps we can put these differences down to different social expectations, but again, countries like Norway have done their level best to erase these different expectations and still certain differences remain.

So, if the ‘hook-up’ culture ill-serves women even more than it ill-serves men, why won’t we say this, and aren’t we failing women if we won’t allow an honest discussion of the differences?

However, let’s suppose for the sake of the argument that the above differences are purely the result of different social expectations and that one day in the future, women will be no more likely than men to express regret after a one-night-stand, why would we want this? Why would we want women to be as likely as men to have a purely transactional approach to sex, to as successfully separate sex from anything more than a momentary emotion? Isn’t this something no-one, male or female, should really want?