Men (but not women) tend to be more opposed to same-sex marriage after being led to believe that weddings are cheap, according to new research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Surprisingly, this effect remained even after controlling for the men’s sexual orientation. The findings provide further support to the notion that one’s perceptions of the local mating market can influence sociopolitical attitudes.
The new study also explored whether widespread promiscuity cheapened the “value” of sexual relationships. In particular, the study’s authors examined how perceptions of promiscuity were related to sexually conservative norms and attitudes towards same-sex marriage.
“I wanted to better understand how one’s attitudes toward casual sex are related to their broader social attitudes, and whether the types of sexual and romantic relationships others have can affect one’s social attitudes as well,” explained study author Francesca R. Luberti, a postdoctoral research fellow at Nipissing University in North Bay. “I find it fascinating that how one feels about casual sex is related to many other social attitudes, and that cues about others’ sexual lives can influence and shift attitudes, suggesting that sex and romance have profound societal impacts.”
Luberti and her colleagues conducted two experiments with 1,298 American and Australian participants, which included measures of demographic variables, attitudes towards same-sex marriage, and attitudes towards dating/spending within romantic relationships. The participants also completed an assessment of sociosexuality, or one’s preference for sexual activity outside of a committed relationship. Those with an unrestricted sociosexuality agree with statements such as “Sex without love is okay.”
“Across the two experiments, we consistently found that men and those who are sexually conservative (i.e., those who oppose casual sex) favor social norms that make sexual relationships appear traditional, rare, and precious,” Luberti told PsyPost.
In both experiments, the participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions.
In the first experiment, the participants were exposed to reading materials that explained that either heterosexual or homosexual individuals were promiscuous or that either heterosexual or homosexual individuals were not promiscuous. The materials included a newspaper article, dating profiles, a poster, a quiz, and a bibliography. For example, in the high heterosexual promiscuity condition, some participants read a newspaper article titled: “True love is dead in the heterosexual community: Straight people do not want to be in committed relationships.”
In the second experiment, the participants were exposed to reading materials that explained that either heterosexual or homosexual individuals only desired modest weddings or that either heterosexual or homosexual individuals desired very expensive weddings. For example, the cheap homosexual weddings condition included a newspaper article titled: “Do homosexual couples want to have big fairy-tale weddings? Evidence shows the answer is no.
Interestingly, the researchers found that the experimental conditions affected the same-sex marriage attitudes of men. But this was not the case among women.
“We also found some evidence that priming participants with information about the types of relationships others choose to have can affect some of the attitudes participants hold,” Luberti explained. “Men, for example, reported more opposition to same-sex marriage if led to believe others (heterosexuals or homosexuals) were having cheap weddings than if led to believe others (heterosexuals or homosexuals) were having expensive weddings.”
“Overall, results showed that men and sexually conservative individuals reported more conservative attitudes toward sexual relationships if they were led to believe that traditional monogamous relationships were threatened.”
In previous research, Luberti found evidence that men tend to become more sexually conservative after being repeatedly rejected during a dating scenario. Her new study provides additional support that social attitudes are tied to mating market cues.
The new study also uncovered some unexpected results. For instance, the researchers found that men were more likely than women to agree with statements such as “Engagement rings should be expensive to reflect the power of love and commitment,” “Weddings should be big and expensive to celebrate a couple’s love for each other,” and “Couples should always exchange anniversary gifts as a sign of their love for each other.”
“I was surprised to find that across the two experiments, men reported more support for notions such as that weddings and engagement rings should be expensive, and couples should often exchange gifts, than women did,” Luberti said. “While many assume that expensive romantic rituals are desired by women and advance women’s interests, the results from these experiments suggest that men are more invested in making relationships appear ‘valuable’ than women are.”
The researchers also found that, in general, more sexually restricted individuals were more likely to agree with statements such as “Marriage is between a man and a woman” and “Same-sex civil unions undermine the meaning of the traditional family.”
“I was surprised by the fact that attitudes toward casual sex significantly correlated with opposition to same-sex marriage even when controlling for participant sexual orientation, suggesting that being sexually conservative is related to more opposition to same-sex rights above and beyond one’s own sexual orientation,” Luberti told PsyPost.
As with any study, however, the new findings include some caveats.
“Although we used experimental primes to manipulate degrees of societal promiscuity and wedding spending to directly test whether these cues would cause changes in social attitudes, we did not measure whether the experimental primes shifted participants’ perceptions of others’ relationships,” Luberti explained. “We assumed, for example, that priming participants with the notion that others were having expensive weddings would make participants perceive that others were invested in their committed relationships, but the data from these experiments cannot prove that this was the case.”
“Future research should explicitly test whether these experimental primes shift how participants perceive others’ relationships and whether that in turn results in shifts in participants’ social attitudes,” Luberti added. “We also found complex higher order interactions of the experimental primes with participant sex, sociosexuality, nationality, or sexual orientation that we did not predict a priori, so future research should replicate these findings in other samples to prove their reliability.”
The study, “Widespread Promiscuity and Cheap Weddings: Can ‘Low-Value’ Sexual Relationships Make Certain Individuals More Sexually Conservative?” was authored by Francesca R. Luberti, Khandis R. Blake, and Robert C. Brooks.