While sociologist Anthony Paik found relationship quality was higher for people who waited for their relationships to turn serious and then had sex, those who became sexually involved as friends or acquaintances and were open to serious relationships were just as happy as those who waited.
"The study suggests that rewarding relationships are possible for those who delay sex. But it's also possible for true love to emerge if things start off with a more 'Sex and the City' approach, when people spot each other across the room, become sexually involved and then build a relationship," says Paik, who teaches at the University of Iowa.
His study analyzed surveys of 642 heterosexual adults in the Chicago area, asking each person how much he loved his partner, how satisfied he was with the level of intimacy in the relationship, where the relationship was heading and how a breakup would affect his lives.
What Paik found is that it's not the type of relationship that mattered, but the people involved.
After Paik factored out people who weren't interested in getting serious, he found no real difference in relationship quality.
Those who had lots of past sexual partners were more likely to form hookups, and to report lower relationship quality. They tended to favor short-term relationships and find the long-term ones less rewarding, Paik says.
"While hookups or friends with benefits can turn into true love, both parties typically enter the relationship for sex and the expectations are fairly low," Paik said.
"In the casual dating category, some people think they're headed for a long-term relationship, but there are also people who are only in it for sex. It basically brings 'players' and 'non-players' together. As a consequence, it raises the question of whether casual dating is a useful institution. This paper would suggest not really, because it doesn't screen out the non-romantic types."
The research is published in the journal "Social Science Research."
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