It is clear that people exercise different amounts of discretion when deciding how many sexual partners to become involved with across their lives. Some ‘‘save themselves’’ for marriage while others live their life like a character on the Jersey Shore. What accounts for different people’s willingness (or lack thereof) to engage in sexual relations with multiple partners? Although this is a complex question – one clear predictor of sexual promiscuity is personality. Research conducted in our labs1 indicates that men and women who are interpersonally dominant (e.g., assertive, controlling, etc.) tend to have more sexual partners across a variety of different sexual behaviors than submissive individuals. Additionally, men and women who are either extremely interpersonally warm (e.g., compassionate, sympathetic, etc.) or extremely interpersonally cold (e.g., harsh, uncaring, etc.) tend to be promiscuous (see figure below).
Although the data are pretty clear as to what a promiscuous personality “looks” like, the reasons for the link between these personality traits and promiscuity is less obvious. It might be that interpersonally cold individuals have multiple sex partners in order to avoid long lasting-romantic relationships out of fear of rejection.2,3 In contrast, warm individuals may view sex as a generous act that provides an opportunity to exchange love, intimacy, or friendship with as many people as possible. Assertive individuals may not have a problem pursuing sexual partners or may be more likely to put themselves in social situations that allow themselves to be pursued by others. Which leads to a final thought; personality is not the only determinant of sexual behavior. Who knows how any of us would behave if we were down at the Jersey Shore?
1Markey, P. M., & Markey, C. N. (2007). The interpersonal meaning of sexual promiscuity. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 1199-1212.
2Gallo, L. C., Smith, T. W., & Ruiz, J. M. (2003). Attachment style: Circumplex descriptions, recalled developmental experiences, self-representations, and interpersonal functioning in adulthood. Journal of Personality, 71, 141-181.
3Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-241.
Dr. Charlotte Markey – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Markey’s research addresses issues central to both developmental and health psychology. A primary focus of her research is social influences on eating-related behaviors (i.e., eating, dieting, body image) in both parent-child and romantic relationships.
Dr. Patrick Markey – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Markey’s research focuses on how behavioral tendencies develop and are expressed within social relationships, including unhealthy dieting, civic behavior, personality judgment, and interpersonal aggression after playing violent video games.