Sex similarities and differences in preferences for short-term mates: What, whether, and why

Norman P. Li, Douglas Kenrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

313 Scopus citations


Are there sex differences in criteria for sexual relationships? The answer depends on what question a researcher asks. Data suggest that, whereas the sexes differ in whether they will enter short-term sexual relationships, they are more similar in what they prioritize in partners for such relationships. However, additional data and context of other findings and theory suggest different underlying reasons. In Studies 1 and 2, men and women were given varying "mate budgets" to design short-term mates and were asked whether they would actually mate with constructed partners. Study 3 used a mate-screening paradigm. Whereas women have been found to prioritize status in long-term mates, they instead (like men) prioritize physical attractiveness much like an economic necessity in short-term mates. Both sexes also show evidence of favoring well-rounded long- and short-term mates when given the chance. In Studies 4 and 5, participants report reasons for having casual sex and what they find physically attractive. For women, results generally support a good genes account of short-term mating, as per strategic pluralism theory (S. W. Gangestad & J. A. Simpson, 2000). Discussion addresses broader theoretical implications for mate preference, and the link between method and theory in examining social decision processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)468-489
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2006


  • Economics
  • Mate selection
  • Short-term mating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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