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One-night stands have a reputation – and having too many of them can give you a reputation.
But a University of Iowa study suggests that having one-off sex at the end of the night might not be a relationship killer – it’s how you handle the situation in the morning that makes the difference.
Sociologist Anthony Paik surveyed 642 adults in Chicago, and concluded that relationships that start with a spark and not much else are not necessarily doomed from the get-go – what matters is how both partners feel about a potential relationship.
While the “average relationship quality” was higher for individuals who waited until things were serious to have sex, early sex was not to blame for the disparity.
When Paik factored out people who weren’t interested in getting serious, he found no real difference in relationship quality. That is, couples who became sexually involved as friends or acquaintances and were open to a serious relationship ended up just as happy as those who dated and waited.
“We didn’t see much evidence that relationships were lower quality because they started off as hook-ups,” said Paik, an assistant professor.
“The study suggests that rewarding relationships are possible for those who delay sex. But it’s also possible for true love to emerge if things start off with a more Sex and the City approach, when people spot each other across the room, become sexually involved and then build a relationship.”
In the study, relationship quality was measured by asking about the extent to which each person loved their partner, the relationship’s future, level of satisfaction with intimacy, and how their lives would be different if the relationship ended. The survey also asked when participants became sexually involved with their partners.
So if not the context of sexual involvement, what is behind the lower quality scores for relationships initiated as hook-ups?
Paik points to selection: certain people are prone to finding relationships unrewarding, and those individuals are more likely to form hook-ups.
“The question is whether it’s the type of relationship that causes lower quality or whether it’s the people,” he said. “The finding is that it’s something about the people.”
People with higher numbers of past sexual partners were more likely to form hook-ups, and to report lower relationship quality. Through the acquisition of partners, Paik said, they began to favour short-term relationships and found the long-term ones less rewarding.
It’s also likely that people who were predisposed to short-term relationships were screened out of serious ones because they didn’t invest the time and energy to develop long-term ties, Paik said.
The research showed that plenty of people date even if they aren’t interested in a long-term relationship. It was a bit surprising, Paik said, since dating fell under the romance category, while “friends with benefits” and hook-ups did not.
“While hook-ups or friends with benefits can turn into true love, both parties typically enter the relationship for sex and the expectations are fairly low.
“In the casual dating category, some people think they’re headed for a long-term relationship, but there are also people who are only in it for sex. It basically brings ‘players’ and ‘non-players’ together.
“As a consequence, it raises the question of whether casual dating is a useful institution. This paper would suggest not really, because it doesn’t screen out the non-romantic types.”
In conducting the study, Paik controlled for several factors that influence relationship quality, such as marital status, children and social embeddedness.
Consistent with prior research, he found that unmarried couples and those with children had lower relationship quality, but couples with positive ties to each other’s relatives had higher relationship quality.
While the study found that non-romantic sexual relationships can become something special, they can also be risky.
Paik’s earlier studies indicate that people involved in hook-ups are more likely to have concurrent sexual partners, which can increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
In a study of Chicago-area adults published earlier this year, Paik reported that being involved with a friend increased the likelihood of non-monogamy by 44 percent for women and 25 percent for men.
Involvement with an acquaintance or stranger increased the odds by 30 percent for women and 43 percent for men. – Daily Mail