Congratulations if your husband or boyfriend constantly appreciates your sexuality and physical appearance – you may feel more confident because of their compliments.
Andrea Meltzer, Assistant Professor of Psychology, found out in her new research that flirty comments from romantic partners won’t cause negative consequences to heterosexual women. Instead, the comments may offer confidence boost to women.
The result is totally different from the previous study on flirty comments from male strangers, under which situation women would feel psychologically negative. It’s not about the comments, it’s about the right person who says them.
Why the new angle was thought of
Having discovered the “hole” in the previous literature about research that examined the predominantly negative consequences of comments that come from male strangers, Meltzer decided to see what kind of influence comments from romantic partners can have on women.
"I think it is important to consider context," she said. "Rarely are things inherently only bad or only good. Often, implications depend on a number of factors. Given the importance of women's sexuality and physical appearance in romantic relationships, it seemed likely that the psychological closeness of the men who attend to women's sexuality and appearance plays an important role in those women's psychological experience."
How the study went
Meltzer recruited 44 college-age women in heterosexual dating relationships and 174 heterosexual newlywed couples separately for two studies.
In the first study involving college-age dating women, Meltzer asked them to complete an initial survey assessing their self-esteem at first.
Then she gave them a diary each, asking them to complete one diary entry each time they were in a situation where a man drew attention to their sexuality, attractiveness or physical appearance. They also needed to identify the person who made the comment and assess their self-esteem in that moment.
In the second study, the new wives were also asked to complete the initial survey assessing their self-esteem, while the husbands completed an initial survey assessing how much they value their wives for their sexuality and physical attractiveness. After 4 to 6 months, the wives completed the self-esteem assessment survey again.
In both studies, women experienced a decline in their self-esteem when a male stranger attended to or valued them for their body or sexuality, whereas a boost in self-esteem generally occurred when their romantic partners did the same thing.
The results did not seem to change regardless of whether the couple was married or dating. They also were not affected by the relative health of the relationship.
"Regardless of how happy the partners were, heterosexual women seemed to benefit when their male partners drew attention to their sexuality and physical appearance," Meltzer said.