There’s sort of an expectation that when we’re younger, we will sow our “wild oats”. We party, drink way too much, and have as many hook-ups as possible (well, some of you people do, anyway.)
Apparently, this sowing of oats is so we can get it all out of our systems, and then happily “settle down” later on in life. But is it really?
I was always conflicted when I was younger about how to live. Part of me wanted to be the party animal, to make out with random people at parties. And part of me saw that behaviour in others, and made me shake my head in disgust.
As it turns out, I was a fairly boring 20-something. I drank, but not until I was about legal age. I also didn’t do any recreational drugs, despite our high school/college being full of them. I definitely did not attend any late-night orgies, and had limited intimate relationships.
On the other hand, I’m kind of glad I didn’t get too crazy in my youth. It could have led to all kinds of problems, such as an unplanned pregnancy (I was not ready to parent anyone at 20, let alone take care of myself.) I also could have had my heart ripped out by some of the young women I didn’t date, leaving my emotionally scarred and afraid to date ever again. I also could’ve ended up in hospital from over-indulging in vices during wild parties where sexual encounters often arise.
However, I sometimes wonder if I would have turned out differently had I pursued by impulses more in my “heyday”. Would I have destroyed the emotional (or physical) parts of me that have allowed me to be a dad and husband? Or would I be the same person, without sometimes feeling nostalgic for my earlier years?
I wanted to know how much research there has been about the outcomes of sowing/not sowing wild oats, and so I did a bit of Googling.
More sex partners points to… higher marital unhappiness?
As this article points out, the term dates back to early agriculture, relating to the need to weed wild oats to get the best grain crop. “Therefore, wild oats are associated with damage and wasted time,” notes the source. Well, that seems pretty straightforward.
Another article on the subject lists pros and cons of sowing wild oats. Apparently, giving in to impulsive behaviour in your youth convinces you that you’re ready to live an honest life. It also eliminates regret from “missing out” later in life. I wouldn’t say I have regret, but I do think about that time occasionally (obviously, or I wouldn’t have written this.)
Then there’s actual research from the Institute for Family Studies. It doesn’t use the term “sowing wild oats,” but points to some patterns based on sexual history.
Apparently, women who have had fewer sex partners report being happier in marriages. In fact, having just one partner ranked the highest on the marriage satisfaction chart.
This is a bit hard to digest — I can’t imagine any adult only having one partner in their life. I think it’s good to experience intimacy before marriage, so you can learn how to express it well. However, one explanation offered is that if you’ve never had sex with anyone else, you have no one to compare it to.
Meanwhile, women who sowed their wild oats (six to 10 sexual partners) reported lower levels of satisfaction in a monogamous relationship. This one makes a bit more sense to me — if you’re the type that likes variety, then marriage could be a bigger challenge.
But what about us dudes?
As this article from the Good Men Project explains, it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. It could depend on the younger man’s testosterone levels, and the environments they’re raised in.
But it also points to a desire to avoid looking at the past with disappointment. “I also believe that some men (present company included), don’t want to walk around with regrets nagging at their souls, so “getting it in” as much as possible is almost life-or-death. Again, this is just the nature of life,” writes the author, Amir Campbell.
The Institute for Family Studies had some more data on this point, some of which surprised me. “As for women, men who report only one sexual partner in their lifetime are more likely to report very happy marriages,” notes the source. That kind of dispels the theory that men need to have sex with everything that moves before marriage.
In fact, 71% men with one partner ever reported being happily married, which is higher than the same metric for women at 64%. Interestingly, men with multiple sex partners in their history also have less reported marital satisfaction, but not as dramatic of a drop-off between six to 10 partners (62% satisfaction in this range for men, compared to 52% for women.)
So, by this data, it seems men can be happy whether they take home many women before marriage, or only have sex with their high school sweetheart that they end up marrying. On the other hand, women seem quite happy with one lifetime partner, but less happy with marriage when they’ve slept with multiple partners (especially after four.)
“Heyday” is usually a reference to one’s glory days, when one partied hard, and had casual relationships. But it doesn’t always have to point to the past. It can be any time in your life that you shine the brightest — so perhaps I’ve finally reached my “heyday” in my 40s.
After all, I’ve got a partner who loves me and vice versa — as well as a great kid, a loyal pup, steady work, and a mortgage. I’m pumping out more art and writing than probably ever. By all accounts, I’m doing pretty well. And now is all that really matters.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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