Making Friends: Do Their Sexual Experiences Matter?



When it comes to making same-sex friends, we tend to like others who are similar to us. For example, we’re more likely to be friends with people who share our personalities, values, and interests. But what about sexual history? When evaluating potential friends, we could look for someone whose sexual experience matches our own values and past, or we could avoid those with lots of previous partners. And would you want your new friend hanging out with your romantic partner, or would that be a threat to your relationship? Of course, much of this may depend on whether you are man or a woman.

To investigate these possibilities, more than 750 participants read one of two paragraphs about a same-sex potential friend (“Joan” for women and “Jim” for men) where the friend was described as a 20-year-old student with either 20 lifetime sexual partners (permissive condition) or 2 past partners (non-permissive condition). Other than the number of past partners, everything else in the two descriptions were identical.1

Participants also completed a measure of their own sociosexuality (see more here), which assessed their attitudes and motivations toward sex, as an indication of their sexual permissiveness. Each participant then rated the same-sex potential friend (Joan or Jim) on a number of criteria, including overall likability, desire to interact and be friends him/her, as well as a number of different aspects of their personality. Participants also listed things they liked or didn’t like about the target and indicated if they would be willing for Jim/Joan to be friends (non-sexually) with their current romantic partner.

Overall, participants rated permissive potential friends as more immoral and disliked the target’s sexuality. Women, regardless of their own permissiveness, preferred to be friends with the non-permissive target. In other words, for women there was no matching effect for friendship; permissive women were generally disliked as a potential friend. For non-permissive men, there was a similarity effect such that they preferred other non-permissive men as friends. However, permissive men didn’t show a preference. Finally, across all types of participants (male, female, permissive, non-permissive), a “mate-guarding effect” emerged; people don’t want their boyfriends and girlfriends to be friends with the permissive targets.

Being permissive might lead to some short-term gains, but it shouldn’t be viewed as a tool for winning friends. Unless you’re particularly keen on being friends with sexually permissive men; they seem to be the only folks that like hanging out with other permissive people. In the majority of cases, participants in this study preferred non-permissive people as potential friends, and permissive individuals were perceived as threatening to their relationships. Do you really want your partner hanging out with someone who has a lot of notches on his or her bedpost?

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1Vrangalova, Z., Bukberg, R. E., & Rieger, G. (2014). Birds of a feather? Not when it comes to sexual permissiveness. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31, 93-113.

Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV

Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.

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