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A number of recent studies have examined gender differences in the desired frequency of casual sex (i.e., sex outside the context of a committed relationship) by asking college students to report how many sex partners they would "ideally desire" over various time periods (e.g., Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Pedersen, Miller, Putcha-Bhagavatula, & Yang, 2002). Although that research produced controversial findings--gender differences in the mean, but not the median number of desired partners (addressed below)--the present research is primarily concerned with a more basic issue: What is the meaning of "ideal desires"? That question, as asked in the previous research, may have been ambiguous: Ideal could refer to a desire involving a thoughtful consideration of the dangers and limitations associated with contemporary sexuality (identified here as a pragmatic ideal), or it could refer to the desire one would have if there were no need to worry about the health or social concerns surrounding present-day sex (identified as a hedonic ideal). (1) That is, the previous research used a question that did not explicitly identify either the presence or the absence of sexual risks or constraints, and participants may have engaged in different interpretations of the same question. As a result, the meaning of the earlier findings remains unclear. One goal of the present research is to address this ambiguity by clearly identifying, and eliciting responses to, three different types of ideals regarding the desired number of sexual partners: a pragmatic ideal that took sexual risks and opportunities into consideration; a hedonic ideal that involved the hypothetical removal of risks and restraints; and a nonspecific ideal that made no mention of sexual risks or limitations. The present research is also interested in addressing a recent controversy regarding the fundamental nature of male and female sexuality. Buss and Schmitt (1993) found that undergraduate men expressed a desire for a significantly greater mean number of sex partners than did undergraduate women, over time periods ranging from 6 months to a lifetime; for example, over a 1-year period, women, on average, were interested in a single sex partner, whereas the average man expressed a desire for about six partners. Although Pedersen et al. (2002; Study 1), using a very similar sample and procedure, replicated Buss and Schmitt's mean findings, they argued that because the sampling distributions in both sets of studies were highly skewed--that is, some men reported an extremely large number of desired sexual partners--these findings were misleading. By using what they regarded as a more representative median measure of central tendency, and a more appropriate median comparison (e.g., Wilcox & Charlin, 1986), Pedersen et al. found that for most time periods, there were no significant median gender differences: Both men and women consistently reported a median preference for a single sex partner. On the basis of these median data, it was concluded that sex with a variety of partners is not what college students, either female or male, generally seek. (2)

February 1
Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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