Casual Fridays: You think THAT is romantic?

Last week's Casual Fridays study started out innocently enough: A contact on Twitter asked if most women would prefer fresh fruit or chocolates as a romantic gift. That's a fascinating question, I said -- maybe even interesting enough to merit study on Casual Friday. With Valentine's Day coming up, it might be a valuable service to our readers, preventing them from making a big mistake on the big day.

But once we're asking, I figured, why not ask about a few other possible gifts, like jewelry or perfume. And maybe we should ask about sexy lingerie and sex toys, just to make things more interesting. And so we did, and so the study ballooned into the largest Casual Friday survey ever. Do you want to know if any of our readers think sex toys or lingerie would be a romantic gift for the first date? We've got the answer. But you'll have to wait for that one. First, let's get a sense of the general results.

We asked readers to rate ten potential gifts that they might give or receive from their romantic partner, on a scale of 1 (negative) to 5 (romantic). A rating of 3 is neutral.

Since traditionally men and women prefer different sorts of gifts, we sorted the data by sex. Here are the results for women:


The orange bars show average women's ratings of gifts for themselves. The green bars show what our male respondents predicted their partners would like. Remember, 3 is neutral, so anything below that reflects a negative response. On average, women said they had a positive response to all the gifts except expensive jewelry and perfume. The highest-rated gifts are dinner (at home or out) and flowers.

Perhaps most interesting are the places where men's predictions don't match up with women's actual preferences. While men thought women would respond positively to perfume and expensive jewelry, in fact they did not, and the difference is statistically significant. Women also responded significantly more positively to sexy nightwear and sex toys than men thought their partners would (but read on before you make your order from Frederick's of Hollywood, guys!).

Next, let's take a look at how men responded:


As you might expect, men aren't especially interested in receiving jewelry, perfume/cologne, flowers, or sexy nightwear. But again, sex toys provides the most interesting difference: women predicted men would find sex toys romantic, but on average men were neutral, and this reflects a significant difference in the ratings.

So does this result suggest that men should run out and buy sex toys for their loved ones? Not necessarily. While on average, women respond positively to sex toys, there's a lot of individual variation. Take a look at this graph of the responses to the sex toys and sexy nightwear questions:


Sure, over 200 women rated sex toys a 4 or a 5, but that leaves over 250 neutral or negative responses, including 68 ratings at the bottom end of the scale. Still, if you compare this to men's responses, you'll see that men might be a bit too conservative:


Only 102 men rated sex toys a 4 or a 5 as gifts for women -- quite a dramatic gap in response compared to women! And 122 men thought their partner's response to a sex toy would be extremely negative. Of course, the men could be acting quite rationally -- the negative impact on a relationship from a sex-toy-gone-wrong is, let's say, a bit more dramatic than unwanted flowers.

But giving the right gift involves a lot more than gender. You probably would give your romantic partner a much different gift after just a week or two of dating than you would if you've been married for years. We also asked readers how long they've been together, and we tallied the gift ratings against the relationship length for men and women. Here are the results, first for women:


And now for men:


This represents a ton of data, but I'll make just one observation. Men seem to think women's interest in gifts declines a bit in very long relationships, but this doesn't actually appear to be true -- instead it's their own interest in receiving gifts that wanes.

A few readers asked why we asked both about both sex and gender identity. We did this because in the past we've had complaints about asking "only" the sex question. It's certainly true that many men feel more like they're women, and vice versa. We decided to try to capture that this time around. I haven't had time to match the gender identity information with the gift preferences, but the I think the raw gender/sex responses are interesting on their own:


Most men rated themselves as quite masculine, but a full third of male respondents rated their gender identity as closer to neutral than masculine. Females' assessment of their male partners' gender identity matched this pattern quite closely. But ratings of women were different:


Again, most men rated their female partners as quite feminine, but women rated themselves as less feminine, with over half rating their gender identity as 5 or lower on our scale, with 4 neutral and 7 extremely feminine.

Since we didn't necessarily study both partners in a relationship, this difference in ratings could reflect our reader-base (perhaps Cognitive Daily doesn't appeal to extremely feminine women). But it's also possible that there's a real gap between how men see women and how women see themselves.

That leaves just one question we still haven't answered: Would anyone think a sex toy or sexy lingerie would be a good gift on a first date? We asked readers to imagine how they'd feel about someone they liked a lot giving them each of the gifts on our list on the first date. Would it be romantic, or a turnoff? Here are the results for the two hot-button items; I'll leave the analysis to you:


More like this

Error bars?

One of the more interesting Friday surveys, I think. If I were going to use this info, I'd say that a couple preparing a special meal for themselves at home would be the most romantic of all. Provided their kitchen is large enough and the kids are spending the night elsewhere.

Here is why we don't do error bars on Cognitive Daily. If you must know, the 95 percent confidence intervals for the first two graphs are roughly in the 0.1 range.

Since this isn't a random sample, wouldn't it be a little odd to have error bars anyway? Like, this sample might be close enough to a random sample to actually be useful, but it might not. It is rather useful if your partner reads Cognitive Daily, however!

Unless you randomly sampled the respondents?? But why would you have done that?

An interesting survey. I think the observation that perhaps "feminine" women don't read science blogs might have some truth to it ... In my case, for instance, my girlfriend, while extremely feminine by my calculation, is extremely uninterested in anything techy, let alone science-y. I just couldn't see her reading the blog (or any blog, really).

I sort of wish there had been the option to include our own ideas of what would constitute a romantic gift. In my experience, the most romantic gifts ever to be received (or given for that matter) are those which are handmade by the other person.

I wonder if the current economic climate has something to do with the interest in cooking a nice dinner at home. It would be interesting to repeat the survey in 'better times' and see if the results differ.

I'm having trouble figuring this out from the graphs -- do the predictions and actual desires match more closely for people who've been with their significant others longer?

Good data, very interesting read! I'd be curious to see the stats on "dick in a box" for first date vs. married couples. Would it change if there was a home cooked meal in the box too?

Regardless of statistics and home cooked meals versus big dildos most people would agree that it's more about the effort that goes into picking a gift..IE: picking out something with characteristics that would specifically appeal to your partner. I'd be thrilled to the gills if my boyfriend bought me a vibrator but most likely it will be something electronic that I have absolutely no interest in.

On the gender ratings: I do think that there's something to the idea that "girly girls" don't read science blogs - after all, liking science is stereotypically un-girly. But I'd also wager that there are some social-pressure-type reasons for the discrepancy in femininity ratings. I think straight boys (on a very general level) want to believe that they are with very feminine girls, and therefore judge their partners as being more feminine than they really are. Partly because very feminine girls are considered more attractive (based on research in attraction and faces, voices, etc), and partly because being with a girly girl reinforces their heterosexuality. On the other hand, the female readers of CD might see too much girliness as being a bad thing - especially since many of the traits that bring success in academia/science are typically masculine ones. Obviously this doesn't apply to everyone, but it could account for some of the discrepancy.

Apparently there is truth to the adage that the way to a man's heart to through his stomach.

It's nice to know that you just didn't pick out the feminine/masculine thing at random. But I'm still lost. What does gender identity have to do with being masculine or feminine? I don't feel like I'm any less of a woman when I'm wearing overalls in a machine workshop, but I certainly feel less feminine compared to when I'm wearing a nice dress, makeup and heels.

I wonder if the current economic climate has something to do with the interest in cooking a nice dinner at home. It would be interesting to repeat the survey in 'better times' and see if the results differ.