In one of the most well-known psychology studies of all time, a group of attractive research assistants were instructed to wander around a college campus and proposition students of the other sex . Specifically, the assistant would say “I have been noticing you around campus. I find you to be very attractive,” which was followed by one of three questions: “Will you go on a date with me tonight?” “Will you go back to my apartment with me tonight?” or “Will you go to bed with me tonight?” The results indicated that male and female students responded very differently to these questions.
Among male students, as the prospect of sex increased, so did their likelihood of saying yes. Specifically, just over half (56%) agreed to the date, 69% agreed to go back to the woman’s apartment, and 75% agreed to her request for sex! Female students showed the opposite pattern—as the prospect of sex increased, their likelihood of saying yes decreased. Specifically, 50% agreed to the date, 6% agreed to go back to the man’s apartment, and not a single one agreed to the request for sex.
For years, scientists have looked at these results as evidence that women just aren’t that interested in casual sex and that they have more of a long-term mating strategy. But is that what’s really going on here? Not necessarily. Perhaps women are interested in casual sex, but this research methodology just doesn’t really capture that. For one thing, most requests for sex don’t happen in broad daylight while you’re walking down the street. Also, when a totally random guy asks for sex in this way, it might set off some major warning flags, and some women probably wouldn’t even take it seriously. As some evidence of this, check out this YouTube video in which a guy asks 100 female strangers for sex.
If you watch the video above, you'll see that not one woman says yes, just like in the study of college students. Instead, this guy gets a drink thrown in his face and encounters lots of nervous laughter (and some genuine laughter too). There is also one woman in there whose response was: “What the hell? Now I’m really creeped out.” Several of the women also try to get away from him as quickly as possible. In short, it seemed like many of the women here were caught off guard because this isn’t something they commonly encounter and a number of them appeared to think that this guy was downright strange and possibly dangerous. Consistent with this "social experiment," in a study in which women were asked to rate how they would perceive an attractive male stranger asking for sex, women (on average) rated this guy as someone with low sexual capabilities (i.e., he probably wouldn’t be able to give a woman much pleasure), low social status, and a high likelihood of having an STD . He also wasn’t seen as a particularly kind and understanding person. In other words, the fact that women typically say no to these requests for sex doesn’t tell us that women aren’t into casual sex at all—it simply tells us that women aren’t into casual sex with creepy strangers who proposition them on the street.
So when are women into casual sex? Women appear to take into account the anticipated pleasure they would derive from a casual encounter . What this means is that women are more likely to agree to a request for casual sex when they believe that their partner is sexually skilled and/or can bring them pleasure. In addition, women pay more attention to personal safety and potential danger (e.g., sexual victimization) when it comes to casual sex and are more likely to have casual sex in cases where they feel that their partner is “safe” .
In short, we can’t say much about women’s interest in casual sex simply by looking at their responses to an unusual scenario. The reality is that women are more interested in casual sex than we’ve been led to believe. They're not necessarily as interested as men, but they're more interested than many studies have suggested.
 Clark, R.D., & Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 2, 39-55.
 Conley, T.D. (2011). Perceived proposer personality characteristics and gender differences in acceptance of casual sex offers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 309-329.
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