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Experimental Evidence for Sex Differences in Sexual Variety Preferences: Support for the Coolidge Effect in Humans

Abstract

We examined sex differences in preferences for sexual variety and novelty to determine whether the Coolidge effect plays a role in human sexuality. In two experimental studies that employed different manipulations, we found converging evidence that men showed a greater preference for variety in potential short-term mates than did women. In the first study, men (n = 281) were more likely than women (n = 353) to select a variety of mates when given the opportunity to distribute chances to have sex with different individuals in hypothetical situations. This sex difference was evident regardless of the targets’ attractiveness and age. Further, men found it more appealing if their committed romantic/sexual partners frequently changed their physical appearance, while women reported that they modified their physical appearance more frequently than did men, potentially appealing to male desires for novelty. In the second study, when participants were given a hypothetical dating task using photographs of potential short-term mates, men (n = 40) were more likely than women (n = 56) to select a novel person to date. Collectively, these findings lend support to the idea that sex differences in preferences for sexual variety and novelty are a salient sex-specific evolved component of the repertoire of human mating strategies.

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Acknowledgements

We wish to acknowledge the Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE) program for its support of this project.

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Correspondence to Susan M. Hughes.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Appendix

Appendix

A schematic representation of the picture stimuli shown in Study 2. Participants viewed three different blocks, beginning with two paired pictures, A and B, in Block 1. As an example, if stimulus “A” was chosen as a preferred short-term dating partner, stimulus “A” would repeat and would be paired with a novel stimulus “C.” If “C” was chosen, “C” would repeat and be paired with a novel stimulus “D.” If “C” was chosen again, “C” would be paired with a novel stimulus “X.” After participants chose either “C” or “X,” Block 2 would begin, presenting pictures “E” and “F.” Note. A, B, C, E, F, G, I, J, K = facial images that could be repeated, dependent on participant’s input (gray); D, H, L, X, Y, Z = facial images were only presented once (white); End = end of the stimulus presentation.

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Hughes, S.M., Aung, T., Harrison, M.A. et al. Experimental Evidence for Sex Differences in Sexual Variety Preferences: Support for the Coolidge Effect in Humans. Arch Sex Behav 50, 495–509 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01730-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01730-x

Keywords

  • Sexual variety
  • Coolidge effect
  • Sexual novelty
  • Short-term mating
  • Mate selection
  • Appearance change