Casual Sex and College Students: Sex Differences and the Impact of Father Absence

Catherine Salmon, John M. Townsend, Jessica Hehman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Recently, much attention has been focused on understanding casual sex, or hooking up, among college students. The current study uses an adaptationist approach to investigate sex differences in casual sex behavior, emotional reactions, and the influence of father absence. If males and females possess different emotional mechanisms designed to evaluate the consequences of sexual behavior, we would expect sex differences in emotional reactions following that behavior. A sub-theory of life history strategy, psychosocial acceleration theory, predicts that stressful childhood environments will result in accelerated puberty and increased adult promiscuity. This study examines the impact of one childhood stressor, father absence, on casual sex, along with the previously mentioned sex differences in college students. Results indicate that (1) while there was no significant difference in the number of overall sex partners in the last 12 months, males had significantly more casual sex than did females, (2) females had significantly more negative emotional reactions to casual sex than did males, and (3) males and females who grew up in stressful childhood environments (indexed by father absence) were more likely to engage in casual sexual behavior. These results are discussed in light of sexual strategies theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)254-261
Number of pages8
JournalEvolutionary Psychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2016


  • Casual sex
  • Father absence
  • Sex differences
  • Sexual strategies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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