Skip to main content

Sex regret. It’s the nauseating feeling that comes after a sexual encounter when a person wishes things were different. Perhaps it was a hastily made decision, or it failed to meet expectations; or perhaps it became apparent that the fleeting sex just wasn’t worth the risk. 

There’s a lot of research coming out lately on the topic of sex regret, and the results are fascinating. Often, the topic begs a question: Is the source of post-coital remorse something a person innately feels, or is it brought on by the doctrines they’ve been raised with? 

Plenty of ink has been spilled by individuals who credit shedding their religious beliefs for their sexual self-discovery, cementing the idea that sex regret stems from a Puritanical culture. But the latest research coming out of a joint study between America and Norway suggests otherwise.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), in collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin, interviewed 853 Norwegians and 466 Americans. Among the largest differences between the cultures is their professed religiosity; Americans surveyed admitted to greater adherence to religious doctrine, while the Norwegians expressed more sexually liberal views. And yet, when the two groups were surveyed on their feelings of regret after casual sex, lead researcher Mons Bendixen of NTNU found that, "There is a difference between religious and non-religious individuals, but this difference is quite small." 

The larger factor in predicting sex regret was not cultural beliefs or customs but rather whether or not they were male or female. Women were more likely to regret partaking in a sexual encounter, whereas men were more likely to regret passing up a sexual encounter. "The fact that we find this gender difference in both Norway and the United States suggests there is more to the gender difference in sexual behavior than cultural norms and gender roles," says study co-author Joy Wyckoff, of the University of Texas at Austin.

A collaborator on this latest research is psychology professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair of NTNU, who earlier this year authored a study on sex regret as well, after surveying 263 Norwegians. “We’re not saying that there aren’t men who regret casual sex," Kennair told the Telegraph at that time. "But it is far more common for women to regret saying 'yes.' They are also less unequivocally happy about the experience." Kennair and his fellow researchers list possible explanations for this, such as the evolutionary notion that women fear consequences such as pregnancy.

I'll say. We already know that women face more risks by partaking in premarital sex than men, whether pregnancy or STDs. We also know that in 2014 researchers from the University of Denver found a correlation between the number of sex partners a woman has had and their future marital satisfaction: "The more sexual partners a woman had had before marriage, the less happy she reported her marriage to be.” 

In light of all this research, traditional views on sex—whether to take it slow, or wait for marriage altogether—sound a lot less outdated than previously assumed.

Photo Credit: Tina Sosna