Source: Logan Weaver/UnSplash
People hook up for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s about sexual satisfaction, fun, and adventure. For others, it may stem from riskier motivations; e.g., the hope of initiating a longer-term relationship with their hook-up partner, peer pressure, or the desire to get back at an ex. Research suggests that whereas the first group of motivations typically leads to positive emotional outcomes, the second group does not.
The range of motivations described above is quite common in the general population. However, a different set of motivations is frequently encountered in people with more troubled personality types. A new research study sheds light on what motivates “Dark Triad” personality types, in particular, to engage in casual sex.
Understanding the Dark Triad
First, some background information about The Dark Triad. Contrary to how it sounds, the Dark Triad is not a “Star Wars” or “Avengers” movie. It is a well-researched personality type that consists of three traits that are particularly nefarious when grouped together in one person, as they often are.
The Dark Triad consists of a) narcissism, which is characterized by grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority b) psychopathy, which is characterized by high impulsivity and thrill-seeking along with low empathy and anxiety and c) Machiavellianism, which is essentially just extreme manipulativeness. Note that in the vast majority of cases, the levels of these traits can be described as “sub-clinical.” We usually aren’t talking about narcissists who want to take over the world, psychopaths who are mass murderers, or Machiavellian types who will lie, cheat and steal to get their best friend fired so they can have their job. Narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism exist as continuums, and Dark Triad personality types tend to possess one or all of these traits at moderate to high levels.
How the Dark Triad Influences Sex
Dark Triad personality types are notorious for seeking out casual sex at far above average rates. They typically prefer short-term hookups to longer-term relationships. The current study aimed to confirm this finding and to explore the relevant explanatory and motivational variables.
The researchers collected survey data from 379 undergraduate college students which included personality measures as well as questions asking about motivations for hooking up.
The findings confirmed the past finding that Dark Triad personality types do indeed prefer and engage in relatively more casual sex. They also found, however, that the motivations and contextual variables surrounding casual sex for Dark Triad trait individuals depended on each subject’s particular personality profile. Here is a summary of the study’s findings:
Dark Triad Subjects w/ Higher Psychopathy
Dark Triad subjects who were particularly high in psychopathy reported little to no regard for the people with whom they hooked up. They reported lower standards in choosing a partner, probably because they have little empathy, are impulsive, and ultimately don’t really care about their hook-up partner. This was especially true for those in this group who reported high “mate value” (viewing yourself as a major catch.) This group was also found to be thrill-seekers, explaining why they reported having risky sex often with partners they hardly know.
Dark Triad Types w/ Higher Narcissism
This group was found to have very high sex drives and reported frequently fantasizing about casual sex. This fact alone can explain why they reported frequently engaging in casual sex. Despite their feelings of grandiosity, however, narcissists are easily impacted by criticism and rejection. As a result, this group reported picking sexual partners who they viewed as being easy to “get,” who offered lots of flattery and who posed little risk of hurting the narcissist’s fragile ego. This group also reported high “mate value,” again demonstrating their belief that they are highly sought after as sexual partners. Narcissists can be incredibly charming (at first) so this confidence, combined with their charm, likely explains their ability to attain lots of casual sex with lots of different partners.
Dark Triad Types w/ Higher Machiavellianism
Dark Triad subjects with high Machiavellianism were primarily motivated to use casual sex as a mechanism for achieving an unrelated goal; for example, poaching someone else’s girlfriend or boyfriend, getting revenge, or manipulating their hook-up partner into helping them achieve some other objective. This is consistent with the finding that Dark Triad types with high Machiavellianism will flirt with, or message, a person simply because they are bored or are playing games, even if they have no real interest in the person. They report using online dating sites primarily to test out their flirting skills and “play” with people.
The findings in this study are important because they shed light on the motivational and situational context that explains the high frequency with which Dark Triad types engage in casual sex. They also hint at the emotional havoc that Dark Triad trait people can wreak in the casual sex, hook-up, dating scene.
No one is perfect and everyone has at least some less-than-ideal personality traits. Dark Triad personalities are dangerously unique, however, and most people would probably prefer to steer clear.