Popular culture perpetuates a lot of poor information about intimate relationships. The systematic disinformation can, and does, lead people astray, and not just into hilariously awkward situations (see almost any romantic comedy), but into genuine misery. In fact, as social psychologist Matt Johnson made known on the very first page of his new book, Great Myths of Intimate Relationships, the largest predictor of life satisfaction is relationship satisfaction. “So, we had better pay attention to those relationships!”
In his book, Johnson tried his best to pay more than mere lip service to intimate relationships. Sorting through a boatload of scientific evidence, he dispelled twenty-five myths on topics ranging from online dating, to sex, to divorce. Here are four of those myths.
1. Men have a much stronger libido than women. Stronger? Probably. But the difference is much narrower that what common thinking dictates. In his book, Johnson points to pioneering studies by Meredith Chivers of Queen’s University. In a series of experiments that have been repeatedly replicated, Chivers had both men and women watch various sexually stimulating videos and asked participants to report their levels of arousal. Participants were also equipped with devices to measure blood flow to their genitalia, a physiological sign of arousal. Men’s self-reports of arousal closely matched their physiological signs of arousal, but women’s did not.
“Women — straight and lesbian — seemed to be pan sexual,” Johnson summarized. “The women had blood flow when watching the sexual videos regardless of who was with whom… Clearly, there’s a large gap between the arousal that women report and the arousal they feel.”
This divide may be societally constructed, Johnson suggests. If women had not had their sexuality systematically repressed for centuries, their libido might be more on par with men’s.
2. Opposites attract. More than 8 in 10 individuals desire a partner with opposite traits that complement theirs. Fueling this situation is the widespread myth that “opposites attract.” But scientific evidence does not bear this belief out.
“There’s essentially no evidence that differences lead to greater attraction or improved relationship outcomes,” Johnson reports. Similarity, however, does predict attraction and relationship success. Honestly, this makes sense. While scientific fact is often counterintuitive, in this case, what’s intuitive seems to be correct. People aren’t magnets, after all.