Ep. #72 Casual Hookups vs. Committed Relationships with Justin Lehmiller PhD
Today, I talk to Justin Lehmiller, a PhD in social psychology who has published more than 30 academic pieces in the leading journals on sex and relationships. He also maintains a blog keeping up to date with the latest from biology, psychology, and social studies and what it may mean for today's dating world. Dr. Lehmiller's own research focuses on topics including secret relationships, casual sex, sexual orientation, and friends with benefits.
Specifically, in this episode you'll learn about:
- Justin's scientific background (03:05)
- Self report surveys in social studies used to assess people's sexual interests and their reliability in affecting the quality of sex research (08:05)
- Verifying external sex related data to validate research (11:55)
- Justin's confidence in his research results and how research studies are perceived (14:05)
- Repressing aspects of your sexuality through self-control and how it affects your sexual decisions and actions in other ways related to, for example, online sexual searching, pornography, and physical intimacy (18:30)
- Sexual fantasies and how much they evolve due to repression or a certain type of lifestyle (22:45)
- What Justin has and is looking into in the area of sexual fantasies (24:27)
- Interesting findings in types of relationships (e.g. friends with benefits) (27:20)
- Secret romantic relationships: those who do it, why, the implications for the quality of the relationship, and for your own personal health and well-being (33:30)
- Things that have stood out over the course of Justin's research discoveries; regarding the use of smart phone applications for matching and hooking up (38:09)
- Indicators of commitment when getting into a relationship (45:30)
- Mate poaching research: stealing someone else's partner (48:20)
- A view on porn as a desensitizing addiction (51:03)
- Recommendations for high quality advice in the casual sex area of dating, sex, and relationships (52:45)
- Top recommendations to help men get results as fast as possible with women (53:27)
Click Here to let him know you enjoyed the show!
Items Mentioned in this Episode include:
- Sex and Psychology: Justin's website and blog.
- People in Conservative States Google The Most Online Sexual Content: Angel mentioned Justin's blog article in reference to Google search dating.
- The Science Of Mate Poaching: Angel mentioned this article from Justin's blog "Why Stealing Someone Else's Partner Probably Isn't A Good Idea".
- The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality: Justin noted the organization for its study about 'friends with benefits', to be released at its conference.
- Sex and Psychology sex study participation web page
- The Psychology of Human Sexuality: Justin's book offering a comprehensive overview of human sexual behavior from a biopsychosocial perspective.
- Dr. Roy Baumeister: Dr. Baumeister is a part of the Department of Psychology at Florida State University with research interests including self and identity, social rejection and belongingness, sexuality, self-control, defensiveness and self-deception, self-defeating behaviors, etc.
- Nancy Friday: Angel mentioned Nancy's books when discussing sexual fantasies and how they surface through repression.
- Science of Relationsips: Justin has written for this website and recommends it for advice and insight on the latest research.
Justin's recommendation for high quality advice in the area of dating, sex, and relationships
Books, Courses and Training from Justin Lehmiller
Full Text Transcript of the Interview
Angel Donovan: Hi Justin! Great to have you on the show. Thank you very much for making your time available today.
Justin Lehmiller: Sure, hey, thanks for having me.
Angel Donovan: No, it’s been a pleasure. Before we dive into the meat of the interview, I’d like to get to know you and a bit about your background.
So you’re a scientist, but what kind of scientist are you? What’s your PhD in? Because I noticed there are also different scientific areas; we’ve got a few different scientists on here. What is the perspective you’re coming from?
Justin Lehmiller: I am a social psychologist by training. I got my PhD at Purdue University and I went there to sort of study the science of romantic relationships, and somewhere along the way I got sidetracked by sex and just became much more interested in that aspect of relationships.
Angel Donovan: That’s funny [chuckling], as many of us get interested in sex. Very unusual.
So I saw in your book that you said you were working from a biopsychosocial perspective. Is that kind of where you’ve tried to group your work with other aspects? What does that mean?
Justin Lehmiller: It just means that I try and take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding sexuality and sexual behavior. I think that there are a lot of different fields that have something to say that can inform us about why we think and feel and behave the way we do when it comes to sex, and so we can’t just look at it from a psychological perspective; we also need to be putting things in the context of evolution and biology and socio-cultural influences. I just try and take a somewhat more holistic perspective in the way I approach sexuality.
Angel Donovan: Great, thanks. Now that’s a bit [clear 04:25] clearer. And how old are you? Where are you right now? Where do you live?
Justin Lehmiller: I currently live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I’m teaching for Purdue University right now. For the last few years, I was living in Boston and I taught at Harvard, but relationships, circumstances pulled me away.
Angel Donovan: Oh, that’s interesting. What does that mean [chuckles]? Is it like you changed relationships, or –?
Justin Lehmiller: [Chuckles] No, I’ve actually been in the same relationship for 15 years now.
Angel Donovan: Wow!
Justin Lehmiller: We just kind of follow each other all around the country and necessitates a lot of moves – professionally and personally.
Angel Donovan: It’s great to hear you’ve got that extensive relationship experience as well. Do you kind of feed off that sometimes with respect to what you’re studying, or do find it kind of separate?
Because when I’m talking to scientists, most of their work is done in academia versus some of the other people we have, most of what they’re talking about come from life experience. Is there some way that your life experience informs science or vice versa?
Justin Lehmiller: That’s a good question, and a lot of people have asked me if the work that I do is research or me-search. For my own personal view, the work that I do is just mostly what I find to be interesting and fascinating. It’s not necessarily about me or my personal life, or me trying to understand my own sexuality or my own relationships; it’s just, this is what I find fascinating and interesting and that’s where I’ve decided to make my contributions.
I know that we can’t totally separate our personal lives from the work that we do, and I’m sure that that does, in some way, influence, for example, the types of research questions I might pursue.
Angel Donovan: Do you think that the stuff that you learn from your studies and from looking at studies in general – do you think that influences how you behave in life, in terms of improving the quality of your sex life, your relationships and so on? Do you think the work you do and the discoveries you make eventually ends up to influence your behaviors?
Justin Lehmiller: I’m sure that it probably does, that there’s some bidirectional relationship where I influence the research that I do in terms of choosing certain questions based on my own past life experiences, and then I’m also sure that the answers that I find through research come back and influence me and how I approach and think about the world and new relationships. It’s something that I think is kind of beyond my conscious perception and I don’t necessarily see that.
Angel Donovan: Right. So it sounds like it’s a subconscious rather than a conscious process. It’s interesting because a lot of the people I interview, they’ve kind of come from the other – they’ll read science or they’ll read books, or they’ll reflect on life experiences and try and consciously change behaviors. It’s a completely different perspective. I was just looking to swap notes on that and see how different people approach it; it’s interesting.
So let’s dive into the meat of the interview. What I wanted first to do is look at a bit of the state of science from your perspective in this area. This is the topic I’ve spoken with various people – Geoffrey Miller and so on – about, and I think it’s interesting to get different perspectives on it.
We’ve already spoken about the biopsychosocial – you integrating evolutionary and biology and social different perspectives to try and get at the answer, which I think is a great approach because there’s different data and it’s all kind of useful to create one context. I guess that’s what we’re aiming to do here, is we’re trying to get the best information from everything – science and everywhere – and we’re trying to integrate it into one best use model of it. I guess that’s what we’re trying to do here on the podcast.
One of the things you talk about is the self-report surveys that I used a lot in your area of science, in social, and how they’re used to assess people’s sexual interest. I understand that a lot of the research in your area uses these self-report surveys. Could you talk a bit about the reliability, the trends, the kind of things you’re thinking about in that area to affect the quality of the research?
Justin Lehmiller: We actually take great care in trying to develop the surveys that we administer to participants in our studies. There are always going to be concerns about, are people answering these questions honestly or not, and that has always been a problem in sex research. But it’s not a problem that’s unique to sex research; it happens in any field of study where you’re administering surveys.
There are always going to be some people who aren’t answering honestly for a variety of reasons. Maybe they just don’t want to admit something about themselves because they’re ashamed, or maybe they want to say what they think the experiments or the researcher wants to hear.
There are different pressures on people when they’re completing studies that might push their responses one way or another, and that might affect the quality of at least some of the data that we get. But overall, if you look at the general trends in the research, you see that surveys are actually pretty good predictors of human behavior. They don’t work 100% of the time across every individual case, but the overall trend is there and they certainly are telling us something meaningful; it’s just that we have to take as much care and effort as we can to try and encourage honesty in responding.
One of the ways that we do that is by guaranteeing people anonymity, for example, when they’re completing sex surveys, because we know that when people are told that their responses are anonymous, their answers are different than when they think someone else is going to find out.
Angel Donovan: Yeah. One aspect of that I find interesting – I’m wondering if you’ve seen this in the data – is that some people are very open-minded today, kind of very free. When I’m on dates or when I’m talking with women and someone in my life, some are very open and they’re willing to tell me how many partners they’ve slept with or these kinds of things that most girls will refuse to give me a number, or the number they give me is completely fictitious – a number that’s really played down.
I understand why the shame aspect, but I was wondering if you could interest me [clear 10:32] in your studies, if you’d see this kind of strange U-curve or something, because some people are open and happy to just tell it like it is and they tend to be the more sexually-active ones.
Does it give you more emphasis on, “Oh, there’s a bunch of people that’s like there an empty space in the middle of the survey.” Say, just a very simple metric like how many partners have you slept with for the last 20 years. There’s a whole bunch that say less than five, and then there’s a whole bunch that say over 40, because you’ve got the ones that are being completely true and they’re very sexually-active at the same time, whereas the other ones are downplaying the number, which is 10 or 20, because they feel ashamed about it.
Have you ever seen any kind of play like that in the data?
Justin Lehmiller: I don’t know if I would call it sort of this inverted U-shaped distribution where you’ve got a lot of responses at the extremes and not much in the middle. Instead, what I see in most of my research is a very skewed distribution where most of the people are saying very few partners, and then that number just keeps tapering off as it gets down toward the higher numbers of partners.
Certainly, you still have people who are admitting to large numbers of sexual partners, but it’s very few relative to the people who are saying, “I’ve only had one or two partners in my life.”
Angel Donovan: Oh, interesting. Another aspect of this, I saw that you were looking up – you were talking about ways you can check the data. I guess, [unclear 11:55] some ways are like external data, and I saw you write about some study done on Google search data recently – that’s an external source of pretty reliable data. Most people think that no one’s watching them when they’re Googling. I certainly don’t worry about it.
Justin Lehmiller: Little do they know.
Angel Donovan: [Chuckles] Yeah. Maybe I should worry about it. What you found in one of those studies was that people were Googling more for sex in conservative states.
Justin Lehmiller: Right, and that’s not a study that I personally conducted; it’s just one that I wrote about for my blog. Essentially, what they did find in that study was that the more politically conservative the state is or the more religious the state is, the more searches people are making for sexual content online.
We don’t know exactly why that is; some of the researchers who conducted that study think that it’s because conservative people are actually very preoccupied with sex and that by repressing their sexual urges constantly in public, it leads them to try and find these private ways of acting them out and searching for a lot of sex online might be one of those private ways. That’s sort of the gist of what they did in that study.
Angel Donovan: Yeah. I found that particularly interesting because, first of all, it’s like this external piece of data you can use to validate your research. There may be other – I don’t know. Are there other types of data you use which can help cross-check your own research? Are there other ways that you’ve done that in the past?
Justin Lehmiller: Right, I think that’s the way the best sex research is done; it’s where we’re trying to look at the same research question from multiple perspectives and using multiple, different research methods. We don’t just want to do a single – what we would call a cross-sectional survey, where we just do a survey at one point in time with a cross section of the population; we want to do more than that.
If possible, try and do longitudinal studies or experimental studies, or take the research that we do on college students and then maybe look at a broader sample and look at, for example, Google search trends or things like that. It’s trying to come at it from multiple perspectives and angles to try and get the most informed answer that we possibly can.
Angel Donovan: Yeah. So how comfortable do you feel with the state of the answers you have at this state? Are you 80% comfortable? And this is a fictitious number, but it’s just like how much further do you think you have to go until you feel really comfortable, like “Yeah I’m really confident – 99% confident. These are solid answers that reflect reality.”?
Justin Lehmiller: I’ve never thought about it in those terms, like what is the percent confident I am [chuckling] in my results, and so I don’t think that I could commit to a number. What we try to do in our research is just try and contextualize our findings as much as possible and say, “This is what we found and these are the characteristics of the sample.” Our results can only speak to people who might be similar to this group of people that we studied here, and oftentimes that’s college students at one university, in one part of the United States.
We just try and take the findings with a grain of salt and then we try and extend it out from there and look at broader samples and populations to see if the same findings are replicating or not. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but what we try and do is just try and be very careful in who we say findings apply to.
This is where popular media reports about sex research get very misleading, is because the headlines will say “Men are like this, Women are like this, Gays are like this, Heterosexuals are like this.” And that’s where we start to run into a lot of trouble is that people want to generalize one research study to the entire world, and that’s problematic.
Angel Donovan: Right. We have to really be aware of the media, I think. I don’t read anything in the media these days. If you want to get information, go to the source, because anything after that tends to be misinterpreted or added into and so on.
Justin Lehmiller: But unfortunately, that requires effort, and people don’t always want to go with the extra step. This is where we also run into a problem with scientific research is that it’s oftentimes locked behind these pay walls. People can’t access it unless they want to pay $40 to read this scientific article.
This is where, I think, we fundamentally need to change how scientific research is published and distributed, so that it’s freely available to anyone who wants to read it and access it.
Angel Donovan: Yeah, that’s a great point. I haven’t thought about that, but that does annoy me when I want to get a study and they want to charge me. Just out of interest, why are they charging it? Is it because of all of these are for-profit, or they just need money to kind of cover their expenses? It’s quite a bit of money.
Justin Lehmiller: It is, and personally, it’s a pretty stupid system. The way it works is that we, the scientists, conduct a research and we are paid by the taxpayers in one way or another to do this research because most of us are at universities where there are big government subsidies, and students are using the government grants and loans to attend the institutions, or the faculty members have grants from the federal government to pay specifically for a research project that they’re doing.
What happens is that we conduct the research, and then we sign the copyright over, give it away to a big publishing house. They publish the article, and then in turn, sell it back to the universities and the rest of the world. We, as scientists, don’t make any money off of that; we give the copyright away for free, and then it’s the publishers who are making all of this money.
That’s kind of what needs to change – we need to stop giving away the rights to our work and letting someone else charge obscene amounts of money off of what should be a public good.
Angel Donovan: It sounds like a very bizarre system indeed.
Justin Lehmiller: [Chuckles] It is.
Angel Donovan: It’s not capitalist – I don’t know. It’s just very strange. I didn’t know it was set up that way. Well I hope there’s some way that that’s starting to change; there are more open ways of publishing or something that’s going on to help you.
Justin Lehmiller: It is, and I’ve tried publishing most of my recent research in what are called open access journals where it’s freely available to anyone with an Internet connection. They can just get on and read the article in full and evaluate it for themselves.
Angel Donovan: That’s great. That’s also the reason we got you on here, because we’re talking directly with some of the guys right in the study, and this is obviously for the public. That’s another great way to get the information out as well, so thank you for coming out again.
Justin Lehmiller: [Chuckles]
Angel Donovan: I wanted to go back to the Google searching, what came out of that, because I’ve had a bit of experiences. I’ve traveled extensively over the world and seen different things and different cultures, and culturally, China and Japan are more conservative societies. In particular, my relationships with women there, they’ve been more conservative in the public to the point where you’re not allowed to hold hands in public.
When I first got to China, it was really looked down upon – anything like that – so it was a lot repressed. In the way the girls communicated, they weren’t allowed to talk about sex or anything, obviously, and didn’t feel comfortable. But I did find that I felt that that was repressed in the same way that that report said that the more you’re repressed, the more it comes out.
I found that it came out in stronger sexual urges and just more fantasies. It was a heightened sexuality to some of these women I came across. I just wanted to point out that I feel that that’s true – the more you repress something, the more it comes out.
I was wondering also if you got a take on that with respect to porn. There’s a huge use of porn, and we’ve spoken about it many times on here, and I’m wondering if mostly it tends to be guys or women for that matter who are repressing more, they’re using more of the porn. And then in a similar way, do they Google it, Google searching [clear 19:44] – if in their life they’re working around and kind of downplaying their sexuality, or not communicating it, or not expressing it, or kind of not getting involved in having sexual experiences, then it tends to get pushed into Google searches and porn and other areas. Do you have a perspective on that?
Justin Lehmiller: I think that there probably is something to that. I’m not thinking of any specific research studies off the top of my head that would necessarily speak to that point, but theoretically, it seems like there should be something to that. I think part of what the mechanism is here and part of what explains that is that there’s a lot of psychological research showing that the more you try and engage in self-control, the more you try and restrain certain urges and impulses, the weaker your self-control abilities become in the future.
You have a limited capacity for self-control. The more you’re exercising it by wanting to, say, repress sexual urges in public, the more that’s going to lead you to try and act out on it in other sorts of ways.
Actually, there is one study now that’s coming to mind that speaks to this point that I think is really fascinating. They took college students who were in relationships – these were heterosexual, male-female pairs – and they brought them into the lab, and they either depleted their self-control abilities or not. They had them engage in an activity that would make them practice their self-control a lot in a short period of time, or they didn’t have their self-control abilities depleted.
And then after that, they took these couples and put them in their own, private room and asked them to engage in physical intimacy with one another. Afterwards, they looked at what participants said they did with their partner in this private room. What they found was that for the participants who had engaged in a lot of self-control and their ability to do that was depleted, they went further sexually with their partner in this private room than participants who did not have their self-control abilities depleted.
People who practice a lot of self-control were more likely to engage in heavy making out and remove articles of clothing and grope one another compared to the people who didn’t have their self-control taxed.
Angel Donovan: Yeah, that is very interesting. I know, I’ve seen the Willpower Reservation [clear 22:08] Research that all fits in with – that’s quite well-established in other areas, but this is a specific sexual study which I’ve never heard of. That’s very interesting.
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah, it’s conducted by the same group of researchers who have done some of that other self-control research on you deplete people’s self-control and then you give them a plate of cookies or a plate of radishes or something like that, and you see what food choices they make. Sex, apparently, isn’t any different than that in terms of how your self-control abilities play out.
Angel Donovan: Right. Is it Roy Baumeister’s work? Or is this one –?
Justin Lehmiller: Correct.
Angel Donovan: Okay, great. Very well-known. Okay, great. So I’ve known you’ve worked a lot on sexual fantasies, and this plays into this a bit because what we’re talking about is kind of repressed, and I guess sexual fantasies are a form of thoughts which may result from repression or heightened –.
In connection with this, do you think –? We just spoke briefly about Nancy Friday, because Nancy Friday wrote these books about – she interviewed lots of women and their sexual fantasies. It seemed in those books that the more repressed the woman’s sexual life – if you’re in a marriage where you had 20 years of no sex, or just sex which was within a male-dominated, on his terms and not on her terms – they would have crazier fantasies. They would have a lot more – I don’t know – visual and so on.
What has been your experience in the area of sexual fantasies? Are people having more sexual fantasies when they have a certain type of lifestyle? What have you seen in the research on that?
Justin Lehmiller: That’s a really good question, and that’s something that I’m looking at right now in a study that I’m conducting. I’m throwing a survey right now that is designed to be the largest and most comprehensive survey of sexual fantasies ever. In fact, people who are listening to this can actually participate in the study if they wanted to just by going to my website – it’s sexandpsychology.com. There’s a link for it on the side bar if you want to participate in the study.
I ask people about a wide range of personal characteristics, their sexual history, their personality, and then I’m going to look at how all of those variables relate to the kinds of sexual fantasies that they’re having and how often they have fantasies and when and where and so forth. I will have data that can speak to that question soon, but I don’t have it right now.
Angel Donovan: Oh okay, great. What have you looked into so far in the area of sexual fantasies, that kind of research? Or is this just something that you started to work on?
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah, this is something I’m working on right now and what I really understand is – and it’s funny, I guess I should say this kind of all started through me teaching human sexuality courses in colleges.
Every semester, I have always asked my students to anonymously submit their biggest sexual fantasy of all time, which we would then read in class, and then I would have students kind of look through themes in the fantasies that would come up, and also try and guess whether fantasies were written by men or women and what their sexual orientation was.
The results of that, semester after semester, have always fascinated me and I’ve just kind of always wanted to know more about where do these fantasies come from, who has them and how common are they.
Angel Donovan: What kind of ideas – I know you haven’t done any research yet, but what kind of assumptions are you making going into this research that have kind of been taken from your classes and that experience that you’re kind of testing for the hypothesis you’re looking to test?
Justin Lehmiller: One is that I think deviant sexual fantasies are much more common than anybody is sort of willing to admit. People don’t just have one thing that they fantasize about; there’s a wide range of fantasies that people may go back and forth between at different points in their lives.
Those are just a couple of the many things that I want to look at, but I also want to look at this question of how are people represented in their own sexual fantasies? Do people’s fantasies include themselves? If so, how are you different in your fantasy than you are in reality – both physically and psychologically?
Also, what do the typical partners in our sexual fantasies look like and how does that differ for men and women and people of different sexual orientations? So I really want to get a good picture of what it is that people are fantasizing about beyond just a specific sexual act.
Angel Donovan: Yeah. I guess the key question is, does their sexual fantasy represent something that we need and is missing?
Justin Lehmiller: Exactly.
Angel Donovan: Or that we want? Or is it, I don’t know, some kind of balance. It’s not necessarily something that we want, but we want to kind of have those feelings [unclear 26:47] not actually want or need it in our lives.
Justin Lehmiller: Right, and I really want to look at this sort of connection between fantasy and reality, and how much of our fantasy is a reflection of our past sexual experiences and how much of it is sort of a plan for what we want to do in the future. And I think for everybody, there’s a little mix of both of that, but it’s an interesting question that probably hasn’t been fully explored yet.
Angel Donovan: That’s great, yeah. Well, so I know the other area of your research has been different types of relationships – mostly hookups, casual and secret affairs. What are the biggest takeaways you’ve taken over time? Because I know you’ve got 30+ studies out there in the research journals. What kind of things have you discovered over time that you thought were interesting or potentially like, “Ah, I didn’t think that would be the case”?
Justin Lehmiller: Lately, a lot of the work that I’ve published has been on friends with benefits. Our first paper on this was sort of looking at how do men and women differ and why do they get into friends with benefits relationships in the first place, and what do they hope to get out of it in the future.
I think the findings of that for our study weren't particularly surprising, but I still think they’re interesting in the sense that they show men were significantly more likely than women to say, “Hey, I’m starting this relationship just because I want some sex,” whereas women were more likely than men to say, “I’m starting this relationship because I want to emotionally connect with another person.”
And then we also found a difference in sort of what people hoped would happen to the relationship in the future. Men, by and large, want their friends and benefits relationship to stay the same in the future for as long as possible – just keep this open-ended opportunity for sex available – whereas women mostly wanted the relationship to change form, either going back to being just friends or to become a romantic relationship. Or to have no relationship at all, which I think is really interesting that some people say, “Hey, I have this friends with benefits, but I don’t want anything from them in the future.”
We actually just finished a longitudinal study of friends with benefits to kind of look at what ultimately happens and how successful are people in getting what they want out of their friends with benefits relationship, and we’re going to present the results from the study next month at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality Conference.
Basically what we found was that people who want their friends with benefits to turn into a romantic partner, are not very successful. It was only about a 16% likelihood that if you said you wanted to be friends with – if you wanted to be romantic partners that time, one day you actually became romantically involved one year later.
Angel Donovan: And the other question I think would layer on that is in those situations, how long did the relationship last? Or if you got married, did you get divorced pretty soon? Because it seems like a bad start if one person’s considering friends with benefits, and in this case, you’re saying it’s mostly women. But I guess there were some men that sometimes are looking for an emotional connection – or was it?
Justin Lehmiller: Absolutely. There’s nothing that’s ever 100% of the time “men are like this, women are like this.” Just relatively speaking, women are more likely to say this and men are more likely to say that.
One of the things that we also found that I think is we sort of looked at people who are able to maintain some type of friendship with their friends with benefits over that one year period, or transition into a romantic relationship, or go back to being just friends. Those people who are able to maintain some kind of relationship are the people who communicated more about their relationship that time and their expectations. Communication really does seem to be the key for having a happier outcome in these kinds of relationships.
Angel Donovan: Right. And you would say that wanting no relationship would be a signal that you’re unsatisfied – is that the assumption there?
Justin Lehmiller: It could be. It could also be that you’re just seeing this as a temporary thing, and this person is really, to you mostly, just an opportunity for sex. I’m not going to overlay a value judgment on that, but there are some people who might look at their relationship that way.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re dissatisfied with this person; it’s just that they have other plans for themselves or for their future relationships. Some people might be viewing it kind of as a placeholder while they’re sort of playing the field, essentially.
Angel Donovan: Yeah. Well it certainly fits the stereotypes, right? That the women want something more emotional.
One of my buddies was just talking about this; he’s got a friend with benefits at the moment, and she obviously wants something a bit more emotional and he just wants to get laid. So it really does fit the stereotype, it seems, that that kind of is what’s going on all the time.
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah, there definitely is some hint of truth to the stereotypes there about casual sex.
Angel Donovan: My own experience is, often what happens is – I like the point that you were talking about communication being important to stay in touch. Over time, as I have gotten better at this and more mature, I’ve been a lot more open in my communication and I tend to stay in touch with everyone now that I’ve been with and I’ve had relationships with [unclear 32:13]. But at the start, it certainly wasn’t like that. There were some relationships that were permanently dramatized; it wasn’t really a good idea to stay in touch.
I think that the part about communicating expectations is important. What I recognized from my earlier years was that women would get extremely frustrated, and I felt like I’d been pretty clear, but obviously that wasn’t the case. I felt like it was a very traumatizing experience with some of those women, although for me it was a very casual – it was like a nice thing because we got together and we’d had fun and everything. It seemed like some of them felt like it was this tortured process where they were trying to get something, but never getting it.
I don’t know to what degree you’ve looked into how unsatisfied people get with that – how negative it can be versus positive.
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah, I don’t really have any research looking specifically at that; I’m afraid I don’t have anything that can speak to that question.
Angel Donovan: That’s cool. That’s exactly the best answer I’d expect from a scientist. No BS here, no making up stuff. Like, “No, there is no answer to that. Great. That’s what I want to hear.” Okay.
In terms of other aspects we haven’t already spoken about, are there areas that you’ve found were pretty interesting, or just like they completely say, “Yup, the stereotype is true”?
Justin Lehmiller: In some of my other research, I was looking at this idea of secret romantic relationships, the relationships we tend to hide from other people in our lives. What I wanted to look at was who does this and why and what are the implications of this for the quality of the relationship, and also for your own personal health and well-being.
What I found in that research was that it’s a wide range of people who hide their relationships. It’s people who are in gay relationships, interracial relationships, relationships where they’re much older or much younger than their partner. Sometimes it’s people having affairs, people of different religious backgrounds – I mean, there’s a whole host of people who are doing this, but by and large, it’s the same motivator for most of them. It’s “I’m doing this because I’m afraid of what my family and friends will say if they find out.”
Angel Donovan: Right. It seems like you just brought up too there actually, most of what you said – religion, ethnicity, sexuality – these are things you might want to hide because of your social reputation within certain communities. And then there’s the affair, which is another motivation. That’s like, “I’m supposed to be with this person,” and it’ll be a breach of trust or communication or whatever and it would wreck that relationship. So it’s on a one-on-one versus a kind of more social community basis. Would you look at it that way?
Justin Lehmiller: Sure, yeah. I think that makes sense. Basically what we found was that regardless of the reason why people are hiding their relationship, the effects of it seem to be pretty bad. The more secretive people are keeping their relationship, the less committed they tend to be, the less satisfied they were and the more likely they were to break up over time.
Angel Donovan: That’s good information for people who may be on the opposite end of that.
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah. We also found that it’s not just secrecy that is related to the quality of your relationship, but it’s also related to your personal health. The more that people are keeping their relationship secret, the lower their self-esteem was and the more symptoms of poor physical health they reported experiencing.
What I think is kind of going on there and what the data seemed to suggest is that keeping relationships secret is stressful, and all of that stress can put wear and tear on your physical and psychological health.
Angel Donovan: Right. So it seems it’s like if we we’re talking to the person keeping the relationship secret versus the other one, it seems it’s stressful and it’s negative for self-esteem and aspects like this by having to do that. But for the other person, you come to [clear 35:57] – I’m kind of trying to talk about personal takeaways and practical takeaways potentially for the audience here – for the other guys, it’s kind of like a signal that that person isn’t as serious, or that it’s not –. Although they might think they’re serious, eventually it’s not going to lead to anything.
Justin Lehmiller: It could be. I mean, that gets into the question of, is secrecy ever a good thing, or is it always a bad thing? I don’t think that there’s always a one-size-fits-all answer there because for some people, being in a secret relationship might be better than being in no relationship at all. Because at least you can have your sexual needs fulfilled and maybe have some emotional intimacy and connection.
Although yes, it may be very stressful and that undermines your health to some extent, maybe that’s better than being alone and being totally isolated, because we know that that can be bad for your health as well. It’s one of those situations where it’s kind of hard to say if secrecy is universally good or bad, because it kind of depends on the individual circumstances to some degree.
But certainly, I think one takeaway from this is that if you don’t have to be in a secret relationship, then don’t [chuckles] go out of your way to be in one.
Angel Donovan: Right. I was just thinking as you were talking there, another – if you feel that you have to be in a secret relationship and it’s a situation where, yes, it’s better than having no relationship, the other idea is maybe you should just change your environment, your community, and then show it to one where it doesn’t have to be a secret, and then you get the best of both worlds.
Yes, you have to change your life a bit and maybe change some things up, but maybe that’s really the best choice, and people aren’t thinking about that. They don’t think they can, but in reality, we can nearly always make that change; it’s just a question of the will to do it.
Justin Lehmiller: Right. And I think for some people, that’s easier said than done; it depends on what your environment is, and if it’s your family, your parents, your siblings, that’s something that you’re kind of born into – you can’t change that.
I know that some people say you get to choose your family – that’s something that people in the gay and lesbian community often say, but there’s still this desire oftentimes by people to want to get approval from mom and dad and from the rest of their family, and so you can’t always change some of the circumstances.
Angel Donovan: Yup, sure. That’s a good point. Is there anything else that particularly stood out in the things that you discovered over time?
Justin Lehmiller: One other interesting study I did recently looked at people who use smartphone applications to hook up. I was specifically looking at men who have sex with men who hook up via Grindr, which is probably the most well-known smartphone hookup app that’s out there today.
The question I wanted to look at was sort of, do these technologies promote greater sexual risk taking, or do they just attract people who tend to take greater sexual risks to begin with? Essentially what we found was that it did not seem to be the case that the technologies themselves necessarily promote riskier behavior; it just seemed to be that people who are more sexually active in general tend to gravitate toward the apps.
I know that that research was specific to men who have sex with men, but I would suspect that you would find the same thing with heterosexuals, whereby the people who are more sexually active are the ones who are going to use the apps. There is necessarily some heightened degree of risk there not because the apps promote greater risk, but because there’s a selection effect for [clear 39:16] who is using those applications.
Angel Donovan: Yeah, exactly. So obviously the heterosexual version there is Tinder.
Justin Lehmiller: Exactly.
Angel Donovan: I have to say what I’ve seen – I’d say that’s pretty much true. A lot of people seem very open on it.
Another interesting thing is that I think it just got more mainstream, that as it’s got lots of publicity, you seem to get a lot people on there who don’t know what it is [chuckling]. Some of them are like, in their profiles, “I’m looking for a long-term relationship” and it’s like, I think there are people that are genuinely doing that, but they’re in the minority and it’s because they don’t know where it came from and how a lot of the other people are using it. They’re just kind of testing it out.
I’m pretty sure that those people are going to disappear a lot of the time, because they’re getting a lot more straightforward proposals from the other sex when they match up.
Justin Lehmiller: Right. One thing that’s interesting that I found just sort of in my personal experience is talking to women and men about using these different apps, and Tinder in particular, is that a lot of women just aren’t really using it seriously. Meaning, they’re not using it with the intent of meeting anyone else, because they think it’s actually kind of creepy and weird [chuckles] in a lot of ways.
So a lot of the people who are on these apps aren’t actually even realistic possibilities, because they’re not really fully committed to seeing things through. That creates this additional level of difficulty sometimes and finding the right person over those apps.
Angel Donovan: That’s an excellent point, because basically in my own experience, what happens is as soon as girls come on to it, I’ll start talking to them and I start talking to them whenever I’m at WhatsApp or Facebook and I’ll carry on the conversation there. Because I don’t expect them to hang around a long time, a lot of them. A lot of them dump the app because they say they’re getting a lot of creepy [chuckling] and direct – basically guys saying, “Hey, let’s hook up tonight” and they get a flurry of texts at around 10pm at night or every night.
It’s pretty predictable; all the girls pretty much say the same things, so they don’t last very long on there. But what I’m just kind of making the point is if you establish a normal relationship without intending to do that direct hookup route, they you have got a chance of establishing a normal dating or a normal kind of relationship with them. You’re not approaching in the same way as everyone else, and they’re like, “Oh you’re not like the other guys on Tinder because you’re not –.”
So it depends how you use it and what you want out of it, but if you meet the girls quickly and before they jump off because they get scared, then you can start something. You’ve got chance at someday and so on.
Justin Lehmiller: Since I’m thinking of it, there’s one study I saw recently that sort of looked at the length of messages that people send through these online dating apps and websites, and how that’s related to their likelihood of success in terms of getting replies and so forth. The take home message from that was not to overthink your message, because the messages that tend to get the most replies are actually the shortest ones; they’re actually shorter than a difficult tweet on Twitter.
So you don’t need to sit there and painstakingly think out everything that it is you’re going to say. Sometimes, a simple hi or hello or just a very short message can be even more effective.
Angel Donovan: That would definitely reflect my experience and some of the other guys. Online dating as well, same deal. Some people say you should write really long messages, and I’m sure there are some people that do that, but that’s not my experience of what people respond to.
Justin Lehmiller: And there are a lot of people who may say you’re just coming on too strong [chuckles] and so you just need to be careful and there’s a fine line in diminishing returns with spending more time on these messages.
Angel Donovan: Well yeah, if I kind of take us back to the kind of models that I think of it, if you’re writing a lot, it shows a lot of emotional investment, and at that stage of the relationship, it’s inappropriate. You don’t know anything.
Whenever I’m online dating or something, I don’t really think I’m going to learn much from a profile. It gives me some kind of indicator, but people can say anything they want on their profile. It’s not until you actually meet someone or talk to them on the phone at least that you’re going to really get some kind of real information.
So I’ll switch a few short messages and then ask them out for a coffee, on a date or whatever, and I’ll say like, “I’m sorry, but I think it’s kind of impossible to get to know people on this, so I’d rather just do a coffee date or something if you’re down for that.” The responses are always positive, and they always agree with me pretty much because the same thing’s going on from their side. They'd probably already been on a couple of dates where the guy didn’t turn out; they messaged back and forth for a month, and then had this date and then like, “Oh he’s not at all like I thought he was.”
Justin Lehmiller: [Chuckles] And he looks nothing like his picture [chuckles].
Angel Donovan: Exactly, right. You got that kind of efficiency, economical – I mean, if you’re going to do online dating or something like this, you’ve got to keep that perspective not to get heavily invested in something that may not at all reflect what you’re getting invested in. It’s just not appropriate; you don’t know much about this person, so investing that much energy looks weird to the other person.
Justin Lehmiller: Exactly. And one other piece of advice I could give here is to avoid the really crude pick-up lines that are often used. If you look at the research on how men and women perceive pick-up lines, women by and large don’t like the really cutesy and crude lines that a lot of guys tend to use.
Angel Donovan: They don’t at all! They always complain about this. I’m still amazed that guys use them. Have you got examples that you’ve come across? A bit more specific so that people can tell what we’re talking about here.
Justin Lehmiller: Sure. The kinds of things like, “Do you wash your pants in Windex? Because I can really see myself in them.” [Chuckling]
Angel Donovan: That is cheesy.
Justin Lehmiller: Really cheesy things like that. I don’t really know that many people use that specific line, but that’s not a good one. Sort of the classic pick-up line that isn’t good is sort of the “Hey baby, what’s your sign?” kind of thing. You’re much better off with sort of that simple hi or hello. Just keep it short and sweet and don’t get overly crude and very sexually suggestive and all these kinds of things right up front.
Angel Donovan: Definitely something that everyone should pay attention to there. All of those are funky pick-up lines. I’m still astonished at how many people use those things; I just don’t get it. Because I’m pretty sure most advisers don’t use them, but it’s still the point’s [unclear 45:22], don’t use them.
Justin Lehmiller: Right.
Angel Donovan: So a few things I saw in your blog, I’m not sure how much you’ve covered these yourself is basically some indicators of commitment when you’re getting into a relationship. It can apply to, say, friends with benefits, hookups, casual versus relationships; we were talking about a minute ago the conflict between women who might want a bit more, or some men, but mostly the trend is it’s mostly women who want to get emotional as a friend with benefits type of relationship.
Are there signals? I saw a few things on your blog and I was just wondering, I saw eye cues, physical intimacy and how the relationship started, the context, which kind of gave you signals as to what the type of commitment was that the other partner was. Because I know a lot of people get confused about this, like how serious is this person towards me, and obviously it can lead to negative emotions down the line if you can’t get it right.
Justin Lehmiller: Right, and you’re right, there are lots of different cues as to how committed people are, kind of what their intentions are for the relationship. I think some of that, eye movement stuff is really interesting.
In this one particular study, they found that what men and women were looking at in an image – whether they’re spending their time, for example, whether guys are looking at a woman’s breast or her face – it’s kind of an indicator whether they’re interested in just a short-term sexual fling or if they’re interested in a long-term relationship.
There is certainly something to that idea of “Excuse me, my eyes are up here” that might give you some sense of what that person’s motivations are, what they’re interested in and so forth. As long as you’re both on the same page, that’s fine!
Angel Donovan: Yeah. I just want to add something here. I used to do a lot of coaching and boot camps in bars and clubs where I take guys into the clubs and help them walk up to girls and talk to them and stuff, and I remember a few clients which had particular problems – when they walked up, they would basically look the girl up and down or they would check out her boobs or something like this, and instantly the girl would be disinterested.
It was like the easiest way to get blown out really quickly, and it makes perfect sense with this, I think. With simple eye cues, even if she’s not conscious about it, they’re going to pick up on it straight away, “This guy’s just looking for a later [clear 47:31] or whatever, so I’m going to stop talking to him right now.” That’s a real-world example, I think, fitted with what you just said there.
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah, that’s just one type of nonverbal cue that could potentially be a sign of what that person is really interested in, or what they’re really after. Also things about their own history that they reveal or acknowledge could be clues too. If someone for example has cheated in the past, then it’s probably – and they’re willing to admit to that – then it’s likely that they’re probably going to do that again in the future. That could be a potential warning sign or indicator of somebody who is in a relationship and then takes up with somebody else. That should be a warning flag if you’re looking for a committed, monogamous relationship.
Angel Donovan: Right. And so one [unclear 48:19] which, on your blog with the meat poaching research, I think that’s really interesting because in the pick-up artist industry, the community, they used to talk a lot about boyfriend destroying. It was pictured as this really cool thing where if the girl has a boyfriend, you’d be able to say some things to destroy a boyfriend in their mind and she would get more interested in you – it’s a horrible thing.
But some guys were using this to boost their ego and other things – very negative behavior. But what’s interesting I think is this research really shows that that’s a terrible idea [chuckling].
Justin Lehmiller: Right, it’s terrible from the standpoint if you’re trying to start out your own relationship that way by stealing someone else’s partner. Those usually don’t turn out very well and there’s also that other issue of, if you’re just doing this to make yourself feel better, that’s not a very nice thing to do, obviously.
Angel Donovan: Right. That part’s obvious, but what I like also is that the end-result – poached partners, if you’re taking someone else’s partner, that tended to be a more dysfunctional relationship and not as satisfactory, and then were less reliable mates, so they’re more likely to leave you later or have infidelity as I understood it [clear 49:27]. Is that correct?
Justin Lehmiller: Yup. If you think about it logically, if you’re able to convince this person to cheat on their partner and take up in a relationship with you, what’s to stop someone else from doing the same thing to her later on and you become the person who had their partner poached? This reliability question’s there with poached partners, certainly.
Angel Donovan: Yeah. It’s interesting whether it’s kind of something that someone – it’s in their behavior, so you’re just feeding off a behavior which that person has had in the past. They probably had more infidelities and started more relationships in this manner. I’ve seen that sometimes with women in the past where they had that kind of background, so I was like “Ah, right. This kind of a dynamic” versus, say, it was the first time you think they’ve experienced this.
And maybe by having done it once, do you think it kind of opens it up to happen more because they kind of rationalize it in a positive way? I don’t know what your perspective is on how our brains work from that perspective.
Justin Lehmiller: There’s also something to be said about, sort of once you pass a certain moral boundary, making additional transgressions if you will in that same area aren’t as big a deal. So sort of once you crossed this threshold, it sort of opens the gates for you to engage in that behavior continually in the future.
Angel Donovan: Right, yeah. It’s definitely that, and I’ve seen that with some friends in terms of exploring their sexuality. For instance, where they’ve been kind of sexually inhibited before, they’ll start exploring their sexuality and it kind of goes to more and more extreme levels.
I guess you see that with porn as well. People start off with basic porn, and they tend – this is what we hear; I don’t know what the research actually quantifies in terms of “Oh they’re actually getting into more and more freaky porn.” We know that people are watching freaky porn and that’s kind of a trend; it’s getting more and more freaky. How that progresses is they start normal and kind of steadily wear down their barriers, as you put it, and build up their tolerance to freakier and freakier things over time.
Justin Lehmiller: I think the thought there with the porn stuff in particular is that you sort of become desensitized. You’re exposed to something in pornography that initially is very shocking to you – eventually that shock goes away and it takes something with sort of a higher threshold to reach that same sort of level of excitement.
That gets into this whole other question of porn and is it a bad thing and can people become addicted to it. That’s an area where I don’t necessarily consider myself to be an expert, but I know it’s a big controversy in the field where some people claim that porn addiction doesn’t really exist; it’s not really a problem. Whenever porn does start to become a problem, there’s usually something else at the base of that – depression or anxiety or there’s some other issue in your own life that is causing you to act out in this way, and that it’s not necessarily the porn.
But then you’ve got people on the other side who are all about this desensitization and that porn is like an addiction, just like alcohol and other things like that, so that’s not really a settled issue in the field right now.
Angel Donovan: Yeah. I actually have a bunch of other questions I wanted to get to, but I noticed that we’re running out of time. I don’t want to keep you too long so just a couple of other questions to round off.
Who, besides yourself, would you recommend for high quality advice in this area of life? Anything to do with dating, sex, relationships – in these areas.
Justin Lehmiller: There’s actually a website called the Science of Relationships that I write for on occasion, and I know a lot of people who are contributors to it, who tend to provide pretty good advice and insight and also just summaries of the latest research that's out there in sort of a responsible fashion. That’s one potentially good site of tracking down multiple people at the same time.
Angel Donovan: So I followed these links and the one you mentioned earlier I’ll put the links in the show notes for people to access easily. And last question, top three recommendations to help men get better with this area of their life as fast as possible.
Justin Lehmiller: Based on my reading of the research, the kinds of things that stand out to me – I’m not saying this is in any way a scientific list – the things that kind of stand out to me are first and foremost to communicate. Be upfront about your expectations and what it is that you want and try to establish that norm of just being open and honest and communicating, because lack of communication is really the biggest problem in most relationships.
You have to give me another minute to think of [chuckling] the rest of this.
Angel Donovan: So Justin, thank you very much for all of your points and your authenticity today. I really like it when people push back and say, “I’m sorry, I just can’t prove that.” We have nothing to give on that; I’d rather get that answer than some made up answer, so I really appreciate how genuine you’d been and how accurate based on what is scientifically provable today. It’s been a great discussion, thank you very much for your time.
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah, thanks so much for having me, I really enjoyed it.
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DSR Podcast is a weekly podcast where Angel Donovan seeks out and interviews the best experts he can find from bestselling authors, to the most experienced people with extreme dating lifestyles. The interviews were created by Angel Donovan to help you improve yourself as men - by mastering dating, sex and relationships skills and get the dating life you aspire to.
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