When it comes to human reproduction, what happens immediately after mating is just as important as what leads up to it. A new survey of the behaviors of men and women after mating underscores the seemingly contradictory strategies employed by both sexes which nonetheless manage to keep the species going.
"Regardless of whether it was a long-term or short-term relationship, our study showed that females were more likely to want to engage in intimate, bonding behaviors" following the act of mating than were males," said psychologist Susan Hughes of Albright College in Pennsylvania. Her study is being published in The Journal of Sex Research.
In the study 170 people answered an online questionnaire about their "post coital" behaviors. Of the mostly young adult participants, the researchers found that women were more likely than men to initiate and value intimacy and bonding behaviors after sex, regardless of whether it is with a long or short-term partner. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to engage in behaviors increased the likelihood of repeating the encounter.
"Females placed an overall great importance than did males on all five items measured: intimate talking, kissing, cuddling and caressing, professing their love for their partner and talking about the relationship after sex," says Hughes. "In contrast, men placed more importance on gaining extrinsic rewards after sex." This included drinking, smoking, eating or asking for favors.
Among the other differences were that men were more likely to initiate kissing before sex and women after, showering and other sanitary practices were more likely after short-term partners than long-term partners, and women put more stock in talking about the relationship before sex than after (while men showed no preference).
The one thing men and women felt was equally important was saying "I love you" to a long-term partner after sex.
"Males' and females' mating strategies can be at odds, such that males' reproductive potential is far greater than females and he can maximize getting his genes into the next generation by having many female sexual partners," said Hughes. "So... males may be more likely to pursue short-term mating than are females."
It's all part of our evolutionary legacy, Hughes explained.
"Females will often want to create a pair bond with a mate to ensure commitment and provisioning necessary for (dual) parental care," Hughes said. "Since females have lower reproductive potential in terms of the possible number of offspring they can have, they place importance in caring and investing in the few offspring they have."
But there is plenty of incentive for men and women bond and stay together, said Hughes.
"In our ancestral past, having both parents available for provisioning would have been especially important in helping to ensure offspring survival," she said. So that interval after mating may be when women can secure that bond from their partner.
There is also a perfectly modern side to spending some time cuddling after sex, said psychologist David Roof of Minot State University in North Dakota.
"I look at the significance of the 'post-coital-cuddle' from a pragmatic standpoint," said Roof. "Regardless of biology or socialization, it's essential for the reassurance and bond couples need to increase trust, foster adventurousness, and maintain lasting intimacy."