Your sexual partner selection is shaped by your opposite-sex parent in childhood.

Your sexual partner selection is shaped by your opposite-sex parent in childhood.

And what if that parent was abusive in some way?

This article involves information from a psychology journal article entitled “Sexual Imprinting in Human Mate Choice” (Bereczkei, Gyrus, & Weisfeld, 2004). The full reference is at the bottom of the page.

Introduction

Well, there are the classic examples of “The female stripper who has daddy issues,” and the “Womanizing man who has mommy issues.” However, those are broad, mostly useless statements, even if they are sometimes accurate. People are endlessly complicated, and each individual deserves more attention than a single comment. So let’s take a journey through “Sexual Imprinting in Human Mate Choice” and see how we feel.

The problem assessed in the referenced journal article was whether phenotypic matching or sexual imprinting has a greater influence on human mate selection. Mate selection dependent on similarity can be influenced by phenotypic matching; also known as Homogamy (selecting sexual partners based on genetic similarity). However, the referenced authors suggested that sexual imprinting (selecting sexual partners based on parental influences) may have a stronger role (Bereczkei, Gyuris, & Weisfeld, 2004).

Personal Experience

My mother was a beautiful woman in heart and appearance. She was brash, radiant, forceful, hilarious, pretty, fun, and wild. When I was a teenager, her regular alcohol consumption became a dark thing. She used to have a drink or two for fun each night. That slowly became a bottle of rum every night, and our family fell apart.

In my early twenties, as my relationship with my mother deteriorated, I sustained nothing but unhealthy relationships full of good sex and lousy everything else. Drinking, screaming, lying, and cheating were the norm. As I look back, it seems clear to me that I was attracted to women that had my mother’s worst traits. A few of them may have looked like her, but they all acted like her.

My mother’s abusive, alcoholic torments may have ignited a strange fire in me that led to a sexual attraction to similar women.

I sought out and was attracted to, women that behaved as my mother did without even realizing what I was doing. I know more about myself and psychology now, and it seems to me that everyone’s parents, especially their opposite-sex parent, have a profound impact on sexual selection. For good or ill…

Sexual Imprinting and Phenotypic Matching

Adopted daughters, their rearing families, and their husbands were examined to count out the possibility of genetic similarity between daughters and parents affecting homogamy. The authors described sexual imprinting and phenotypic matching.

Sexual imprinting is a process that occurs in childhood where the “observed features of the opposite-sex parent” (Bereczkei et al., 2004, p. 1130) are used as a model for mate selection. One supporting reference was a study done by Bateson that suggested “an early fixation to a set of family characteristics will shape mate preferences during adulthood” (Bateson 1964; Lorenz 1965; Bolhuis & Horn 1992, p. 1130). Bereczkei et al. described one of the limitations of previous studies: “the difficulty of separating the effects of phenotype matching to self and sexual imprinting” (2004, p. 1130).

Phenotypic matching is the use of one’s phenotype, observable expressions of genetic traits, to select a similar mate. One supporting reference was a study done by Blaustein et al. that showed “animals have been found to prefer genetically similar mates” (1991; Holmes 1995; Pfennig & Sherman 1995, p. 1129). The authors described a logical fallacy first described by Archer (1989; Krebs 1989; Daly et al. 1997): “discriminatory altruism on the basis of phenotypic matching is uncorrelated with the likelihood of sharing an altruism gene,” reducing phenotypic matching to kin recognition, not mate selection (Bereckzei et al., 2004, pg. 1130).

Methodology of the Article’s Study

Three sets of tableaux were created for each of twenty-six families. The first set had a photo of the daughter on the left. The second set had a photo of the daughter’s adoptive father on the left. The third set had a photo of the daughter’s adoptive mother on the left. All three sets had a photo of the daughter’s husband plus three unrelated men on the right. 242 undergraduate (128 female, 114 male) psychology students were split into three study groups as judges. Around ten judges sat in a room as one tableau at a time was projected onto a screen.

The judges were asked to select a match based on the physical similarity between the left side photograph and one of the four right side photographs. The match options for each family being the daughter to her husband, adoptive-father to the husband, and adoptive-mother to the husband. The judges then rated the match on a scale of one to four (one being most similar, four being least similar). The daughters from the twenty-six families were administered an EMBU test in their homes. This test assesses an adult’s perception of their parents rearing behavior on three scales: rejection, emotional warmth, and overprotection. Finally, the perceived degree of similarity between the daughter’s husband and her adoptive-father were correlated with the EMBU test results.

Results of the Study

In study number one, judges matched the daughter to her husband 31.10% of the time.

In study number two, judges matched the adoptive-father to the husband 37.7% of the time.

In study number three, judges matched the adoptive-mother to the husband 27.2% of the time. When those results were plotted against the mean results from the EMBU tests, the authors found that:

fathers who were most frequent matches to their sons-in-law had shown more emotional warmth towards their adopted daughters” (Bereczkei et al., 2004, p. 1132).

Discussion

The results of the study led the authors to three key points.

One, there was a significant resemblance between the daughter and her husband.

Two, there was a higher degree of resemblance between the daughter’s adoptive-father and her husband.

Three, there was a strong correlation between emotional warmth from the daughter’s adoptive-father and the resemblance between the daughter’s adoptive-father and her husband.

To the authors, the results suggested that “homogamy may be achieved more by exposure to the opposite-sex parent early in life” (Bereczkei, et al. 2004, p. 1132). The authors also note that the results did not disprove that phenotypic matching contributes to homogamy. They go on to describe the confounding complications of the familiarization effect, and the significance of the olfactory system on mate selection.

Homogamy Definition: Mating with individuals who have similar characteristics.

My Conclusion

It appears that selecting sexual partners based on genetic similarity and parental influence are influencing factors. However, parental influence can have profound negative effects if the relationships are dysfunctional. You see, sexual imprinting is based on familial relationships (experiences), and so things can go horribly wrong. Genetic similarity is a choice (or compulsion) based on predetermined similarity rather than childhood experience.

In my case, I did not date women who looked like my mother so much as I dated women who acted like her. I was drawn and attracted to chaotic women who had little control over their emotions.

Women like hurricanes.

Now, my fiancé, who I have a healthy relationship with, and our first baby is on the way, is also a lot like my mother. Only she is full of my mother’s good traits and almost void of her toxic ones. My fiancé has the sense of humor, empathy, and loving attentiveness that my mother had. I am blessed to have such a healthy partner in my life.

Undoubtedly my relationships have been affected by mother in good ways and bad ways. For most of my twenties, I don’t think I had the slightest idea of what was going on. I believe this is one reason that understanding our nature and the elements that drive and shape us is essential. If we can share our knowledge, we may be able to avoid excessive harm.

Of course, we learn best through our own mistakes. However, with the psychological and biological knowledge that we have at our fingertips maybe we can ease the learning experience.

There is nothing wrong with being in a relationship with someone that reminds you of one, or both, of your parents. However, be careful; if it is the abusive, addicting aspects of your mom or dad that drives you into sexual relationships, think carefully about what you are doing.

References

Bereczkei, T., Gyrus, P., & Weisfeld, G. E. (2004). Sexual imprinting in human mate choice. Proceedings of the Royal Society, 271(1544), 1129–1134. doi: 10.1098/

End

When chaos and heartache reign, be steadfast and keep your heart open. Your heart will mend, and you will be able to avoid the grip of your demons.

The light of your attention is a beacon in the night.

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