Chapter 10 Summary

  1. People enter into sexual relationships for a variety of reasons: sexual attraction and love; the desire for status, security, or profit; the desire to conform or to rebel; and the desire to have children.
  2. People tend to judge the morality of sexual behavior by its context, being more approving of sex in committed relationships than of casual or extramarital sex. Beliefs about the morality of sex are tied to beliefs about its purpose. Americans can be grouped into several clusters with characteristic attitudes on sexual matters; to a considerable degree, a particular person’s beliefs can be predicted by demographic characteristics such as age, sex, religion, and educational level. Americans have become far more accepting of sex between unmarried individuals and homosexual sex over the past several decades, but disapproval of extramarital and teen sex remains high.
  3. Casual sex is more appealing to men than to women. In the college environment, “hooking up” (uncommitted sex between acquaintances) is an increasingly common practice. But the prevalence of casual sex in the college environment is lower than most students believe. Casual sex is more accepted and more prevalent in the gay male community than among heterosexuals or lesbians.
  4. Flirting behaviors by both sexes are quite stereotyped across cultures. Largely unconscious signals, such as prolonged eye contact, communicate a person’s desire to escalate an encounter or, conversely, to terminate it.
  5. Committed but noncohabitational relationships (“dating”) tend to be fluid and short-lived, leading either to a live-in relationship or to separation. First dates in the college environment follow gendered scripts. On these dates, men tend to focus on the prospects for sexual contact more than women do. Among older singles, both men and women focus more on seeking a life-long partner.
  6. Romantic love exists in most or all cultures. Certain hormones and neurotransmitters and particular regions of the brain may play a specific role in romantic love.
  7. Sternberg’s theory of love proposes that it consists of three elements—passion, intimacy, and commitment—whose relative contributions may be represented by a triangle. The shape of a person’s “love triangle” changes over the course of a relationship. A couple is most likely to be satisfied with their relationship when their triangles match.
  8. Unrequited love is painful to both suitors and rejectors: to suitors because it denies them their love object and diminishes their self-esteem, and to rejectors because it causes them guilt.
  9. According to attachment theory, young children’s relationships with their parents establish patterns that are echoed in romantic relationships during adulthood.
  10. Partners in relationships tend to resemble each other in a variety of respects. Homogamy contributes to satisfaction in relationships.
  11. Couples’ communication styles predict their satisfaction with and the durability of their relationship. Couples may have difficulty communicating about sexual matters for a variety of reasons, such as a culture of sexual shame. Some premarital counseling programs teach communication skills.
  12. The way couples deal with conflict is strongly predictive of how long the relationship will last. Optimal strategies involve not the avoidance of anger but a balancing of angry interactions with numerous positive interactions, and the follow-up of hostile interactions with positive “repair” conversations. Couples therapy may focus on altering behavior or on unearthing hidden emotional problems.
  13. Jealousy, though a painful experience, has a positive function in protecting relationships against infidelity and in testing the strength of love bonds. Sex differences in jealousy—sexual jealousy in men and emotional jealousy in women—may reflect the different reproductive interests that men and women have had over the course of human evolution. Some forms of jealousy are damaging and merit treatment, but well-grounded jealousy can spur constructive efforts to improve the relationship, if those involved have learned to respond effectively to problematic situations.
  14. Many circumstantial factors influence whether people in long-term partnerships engage in sexual relationships outside those partnerships. National surveys suggest that most married Americans are in fact monogamous for most or the entirety of their marriage.
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