Does Sleeping Around Make You More Empathetic?

a stack of small teal silk pillows. the top one reads "do not disturb" with flowers stamped next to it
Image by gabby-girl / CC BY

In an earlier post, “Altruism Is Freaking Dead Sexy, Giving Is Hot,” I discussed a recent research study which suggested that a giving nature could predispose a person to have more sex partners.

In “Being Slutty Made Me More Empathetic” sex journalist Kate Sloan argues that the conclusion of this study could have the causality quite backwards. As Sloan writes:

A study done last year by Canadian psychology researchers found that people who score highly on measures of altruism — “selfless concern for the well-being of others” — tend to have more sexual partners than less altruistic folks, as well as higher self-reported desirability to others and greater frequency of sex when in a relationship. The study authors posit that altruism is an evolutionarily attractive trait and therefore gets you laid, a finding many of us can corroborate from times we’ve swooned over nice people. But I wonder if this correlation’s causation might go the other way, too: Maybe having more sexual partners can make you more empathetic and altruistic over time.

Being promiscuous has made my relationships more harmonious and my once-judgmental heart more forgiving, both in and out of the bedroom…When you invite someone into your bed, you’re also inviting them into the shadowy parts of your brain and heart.

It’s a fascinating idea, flipping the causality on its head. And there’s some intuitive appeal here. It is difficult to deny the humanity of those you are physically intimate with. To objectify them in 2-dimensional ways.

I will say, however, that there is a large body of research, even exempting the 2016 study by Arnocky et al., to support the idea that prosocial behavior has historically led to success in mating.

However, Sloan’s idea is a compelling one. And well supported, anecdotally, by her life experiences.

But the problem with anecdotal evidence is that it is so easily challenged by divergent experiences of others. And as I run it through my own filters, I find that it doesn’t quite square with my own history.

I’ve always been empathetic. And if anything, I believe it has been that empathy that has led me to so eagerly seek connections with others — whether friendship, romantic, sexual, or otherwise. I’ve long wondered about the inner lives of other people. Been a confidant, a keeper of secrets, a companion.

So one could argue that it was empathy (and hypersexuality) that made me slutty and not the other way around.

 

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