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Responsiveness and Desire for Sex: The Goldilocks Phenomenon

Gurit Birnbaum presented research on how a partner’s responsiveness (in other words, their emotional availability and supportiveness) influences a person’s desire for sex with them during a first impression, and how this differs based on attachment style and gender. For men, the more responsive their female partner was, the more they desired sex with her (Birnbaum and her colleagues reasoned that men may misinterpret a woman’s responsiveness as a cue that she is interested in sex). But for women, the opposite pattern emerged - responsiveness was associated with less desire for sex. It’s possible this is because women feel overwhelmed with too much responsiveness early in the relationship; this may indicate low mate value (“Why is he so desperate?”) or low masculinity/dominance. In contrast, men perceive responsiveness as an indicator they are a desired sexual partner (“She must really like me!”). Birnbaum gave an example of one man who felt the need to show her his affection and interest by taking her on three very elaborate dates (including a vacation to Hawaii) -- all within the first three dates!

For people low in avoidant attachment (i.e., those with less of a need for emotional distance in relationships), their desire for sex was higher when their partners were more responsive, but for those who are highly avoidant (i.e., those who do express desires to be distant from partners) actually desired sex less as partner responsiveness increased. Perhaps highly avoidant people felt overwhelmed by a highly responsive partner, whereas others felt comforted by a partner who paid attention their needs.

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Lindsey Rodriguez, M.A. - Science of Relationships articles
Lindsey's interests include the development of a comprehensive, dyadic perspective for examining how problematic alcohol use and interpersonal relationship processes interact to influence various physical, emotional, and relational outcomes for individuals and their relationship partners.

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