New research suggests that religious U.S. adults regret casual sex only slightly more than their Norwegian, more liberal counterparts.
Now, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, in collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin, set out to examine the psychological differences between liberal Norwegians and religious Americans when it comes to casual sex.
Specifically, the team looked at cultural differences between Norwegians and Americans, sex differences between men and women, and individual differences regarding mating strategies, as well as how these factors influence sexual regret.
The first author of the study, which is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, is Mons Bendixen, associate professor at NTNU's Department of Psychology.
Bendixen previously collaborated with Prof. Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair of NTNU, who is also an author on the new study, to analyze sexual regret. In fact, the new research confirms their previous findings.
Religious Americans do not regret casual sex that much more
The researchers started out from the premise that Norwegians, being more liberal, would regret having casual sex a lot less compared with Americans, who are part of what is considered to be a more sexually conservative, religious society.
Bendixen and colleagues interviewed 853 Norwegians and 466 Americans. The participants were asked if they thought themselves to be religious and how important it was to follow religious doctrines.
The study confirmed that Norwegians are more sexually liberated, as they tend to have "moderately more" one-night stands than Americans do.
It also confirmed that Americans tend to put religious faith at the top of their value system; a lot more Americans said that it was important to live in accordance with one's religious beliefs.
Surprisingly, however, the study revealed that religious Americans and liberal Norwegians tended to regret one-night stands to about the same extent.
"We find only small differences between the two nations when it comes to sexual regret," Kennair says. Bendixen adds that although "there is a difference between religious and non-religious individuals, [it] is quite small."
Interestingly, there is one aspect in which Americans tended to differ from Norwegians: fantasizing about sex. Despite the fact that "Americans have less casual sex, they fantasize more than Norwegians do about having sex with people they meet," Bendixen says.
Gender influences sexual regret
What turned out to matter the most was the gender of the participants. The cultural differences revealed by the study were significantly smaller than the gender-based ones. Men and women seemed to perceive casual sex differently regardless of their culture or nationality.
Overall, women were far more likely to regret their most recent instance of casual sex than men were. By contrast, men were far more likely to regret a missed opportunity for casual sex than women; almost no women expressed regret at saying no to a one-night stand, and these differences were the same regardless of religious beliefs, culture, or attitude to sex.
"The fact that we find this gender difference in both Norway and the United States suggest there is more to the gender difference in sexual behavior than cultural norms and gender roles," says study co-author Joy Wyckoff, of the University of Texas at Austin.
The study did not analyze the causes for these psychological attitudes, but using evolutionary sexual psychology, the researchers ventured some speculations. One of the potential explanations involves the high evolutionary cost of casual sex for women - namely, the possibility of pregnancy, resulting in birth and breastfeeding.