“Friends with Benefits”: Single Men and Women in Relationships

Throughout the last couple of centuries, traditional ideals of romantic love have suggested people find their soul mate, marry the loved one, have children, and live happily ever after. The cultural beliefs in love marriages have long shaped people’s dreams of a happy married life and kids.

However, many modern single men and women can also experience joy and be apparently happy in their lives. It turns out that for many, being single doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Marriage may appear to be desirable, but it is not always a necessary condition of well-being and happiness. 

Kim Mills, in her recent interview with Geoff MacDonald, a professor at the University of Toronto in Canada, asked:

Now when you’re studying people who are single, does that mean that they can’t have relationships, that they can’t have intimacy with other people?”

Speaking of Psychology: Living a happy single life,” Episode 215

In his answer to the question, Geoff MacDonald explained that single men and women have lots of opportunity for relationships and intimacies with their friends and family relationships.

Being single, they still have romantic and sexual connections. Culturally, over the last few decades, social norms of relationships have shifted toward more variety and flexibility. Currently, social norms allow more opportunities for casual relationships and sexual encounters. The line between dating and not dating is blurry. For instance, people can be some kind of “friends with benefits.”

What Is a “Friend with Benefits” Relationship?

What kind of relationship does a “friend with benefits” have?

As Geoff MacDonald comments,

“We know that there are a number of single people who tell us that they’re sexually active. And what we do know is that single people who are higher in sexual satisfaction tend to be happier with singlehood.”

The data, on the other hand, suggests that

“Singles who are happier with their sex lives are also more likely to end up in relationships down the road.”

As Geoff MacDonald further explains, it is possible that

“…being with people in sexual and romantic relationships, it’s not shopping for a product where if you don’t like it you take it back. The human heart works such that relationships are kind of sticky. And even when you are in casual sexual relationships, for example, next thing you know you’re leaving a toothbrush, and next thing you’re leaving a set of pajamas, and next thing you know it’s easier to just move in because you’re already spending three nights a week there.”

So, it is likely that

“even though sexual satisfaction is definitely something that’s associated with happiness in singlehood, that might also indicate somebody who’s on the road to being in a committed romantic relationship.”

Geoff MacDonald,Speaking of Psychology: Living a happy single life,” Episode 215

How “Progression Bias” Works

“Progression bias” is the tendency of people to make decisions that sustain relationships rather than dissolve them. For example, Samantha Joel and Geoff MacDonald (2021), in their recent study, showed emerging evidence of a progression bias in romantic relationships.

People are biased to make pro-relationship decisions over the course of relationship progression, according to the authors. In other words, they feel predisposed to making choices that favor the initiation, advancement, and maintenance of their romantic relationships.

Progression bias takes place in the contexts of relationship initiation, investment, and breakup decisions.

“getting into a relationship is often easier than getting out of one, and why being in a less desirable relationship is often preferred over being in no relationship at all.”

(Joel & MacDonald, 2021, p. 317).

“Progression bias” occurs in a situation:  

“when you get into a casual sexual relationship, and then it’s all of a sudden you find yourself more and more committed.”

Geoff MacDonald provides a couple of reasons why this “progression bias” can occur in the course of relationships. One of these is the evolutionary explanation.

In the cases of such relationship development, the mere exposure effect can be another psychological mechanism at work, supporting the progression bias.

Is It Okay to Be Single?

Since the middle of the 20th century, marriage and family have changed dramatically and surprisingly. The “golden age of marriage” and “sexual revolution” of the 1950s and 1960s promised that men and women should be happier in their love marriages. Being able to marry their romantic lovers and live with the partners they love should make them happy.

All these cultural ideals should make them presumably happy together for life: “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish always.”

Nonetheless, in the late 20th century, unpredictable shifts in marital and family relationships flipped the cultural script on those ideals of love and commitment. Marriage and family as love unions have lost their value in the minds of many men and women in Western modernized societies, while singlehood has grown in value.

Nowadays, approximately half of all Americans are single—more than ever before. In addition, nearly three-quarters are not in a committed relationship. About half of those singles are not interested in dating or looking for a relationship. Many feel happy to continue living that way (Pew Research Center, 2019).

So, is it okay to be single?

The Romantic Myth of Being Happy Together

For a very long time, cultural ideologies of love have inspired men and women to love, marry, and be happy together with their beloveds. Surprisingly, in the following decades since it became possible in the “golden age of marriage,” marriage started to lose its allure.

The increasing number of single people appears to be the modern trend in the United States, Canada, and worldwide. Numerous studies conducted over the years have shown that, on average, married people are happier and healthier than single people.

However, it turned out that many men and women can also be happy being single. Being single is not necessarily a bad thing. Single women and men can be no less happy than married ones.

So, it is possible that our modern cultural beliefs are still rooted in the tenets of the old myth that only marriage can make people happy. Maybe this belief is just an old stereotype that is not really valid anymore. Perhaps we need to overcome the societal stigma and stereotype of singles being lonely and unhappy. Maybe we should better understand that being happily single is not less valuable than being in a happy relationship.

“What makes some people happy with singlehood while others are not?”

Geoff MacDonald, a Professor at the University of Toronto in Canada, has investigated this issue. As an expert in this field, he recently talked about this topic with Kim Mills, who interviewed him on behalf of the American Psychological Association at the recent podcast of “Speaking of Psychology: Living a happy single life,” Episode 215

Is It True that Single People Are Less Happy than People in Relationships?

Multiple publications have shown that on average, the people who are in a romantic relationship feel happier; they are more satisfied in life than the people who are single (see, for review, Karandashev, 2019, 2021, 2022).

Men and women are both single before and after they enter into a relationship. They can be in different contexts and be of different personality. 

However, average data does not tell the whole story. We should acknowledge that the differences revealed in many studies are relatively small. Besides, the variability within each of these two groups of individuals is high (Karandashev, 2019, 2022).

All these statistics lead us to assume that not every single person is unhappy, and not every person in a relationship is happy in their life. So, the question remains: what types of single people are happier than other types of single people who are less happy?

Overall, for social scientists and relationship researchers, it is interesting to learn who those single people are and what makes them happy. And Professor Geoff MacDonald is on the front line of this research.

How Marriage Evolved Into Singlehood

In people’s minds, love and marriage relationships have been deeply associated with wellbeing and happiness. For a long time, many women and some men thought that marriage would bring them happiness in life. Yet, something unexpected occurred by the end of the 20th century.

Cultural Evolution of Marriage in the Second Half of the 20th Century

The cultural evolution of marriage and family since the middle of the late 20th century has been surprising for many people. Many social scientists did not anticipate these changes in marital relationships that occurred in many European and North American countries. 

In these and other modern Western societies, the “golden age of marriage” of the 1950s and 1960s brought to life the cultural ideologies of “love marriage” and “sexual revolution.”

As a result of cultural progress in relationships, women and men in love marriages should presumably become happier. Yet, the unpredictable evolution of marriage in the late 20th century reversed those romantic cultural ideals.

What Happened with Marriage and Family in the Late 20th Century?

In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, many dramatic changes occurred in marital and family relationships, both in positive and negative ways. Marriage became less popular among both men and women. Many significantly delayed their decisions to marry. Marriages became shorter-lived and ended in divorce.

Some simply did not wish to get married at all. Alternatives to marriage, such as cohabitation, have become common. Living together but not officially getting married became a frequent practice. Many men and women no longer consider marriage to be necessary in order to conceive, become pregnant, and have a child.

In the late 20th century, the cultural evolution of marriage led to a different model of parenthood. Many women postponed giving birth to a child and waited even later to get married. Unmarried women were more favorable for childbearing. Couples wanted fewer children.

Many men did not want to marry and take on marital and family responsibilities. They liked having relationships with women, but they didn’t want to be as emotionally or financially involved. They preferred to enjoy the pleasures of romantic relationships without commitments and obligations.

Thus, the cultural model of love-based marriage that triumphed as a socially normative value and practice in the 1950s and 1960s waned at the end of the 20th century. The value of marriage and family as love unions faded while the value of singlehood grew in the minds of many men and women in Western modernized societies.

Why Modern Men and Women Prefer to Be Single

According to recent data from the Pew Research Center (2019), more Americans than ever before are single. About half of all Americans are single. And nearly three out of ten adult Americans are not in a committed relationship.

They live with a partner in a committed or not-committed relationship without being married. About half of those singles said they were not looking for a relationship and not interested in dating. Many are perfectly happy to stay that way.

Meanwhile, simply looking at marriage rates reveals that the number of singles is even higher. According to the United States Census Bureau, approximately half of all American adults, or approximately 127 million people, are unmarried. Those singles are an interesting bunch. Some people have never married. Some are divorced, while others are widowed. They are either older or younger. Some of them are parents. Others do not have children. All of these factors, as well as many others, may influence how people perceive singlehood.

So, the questions arise:

  • Whether the old belief that “marriage is important for happiness” is not valid anymore.
  • And whether single men and women can be no less happy than married ones

“What makes some people happy with singlehood while others are not?”

The Golden Age of Love Marriage in Western Societies

Love marriage appears to be a valuable cultural value in many countries throughout Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as many other modernized societies around the world. However, it was not always true in history. In the 20th century, industrialization, urbanization, increased social mobility, and social and cultural modernization brought the hope that love would finally conquer marriage.

When Was Love Marriage’s Golden Age? 

It turns out that the decade of the 1950s, which began in 1947 in the United States and lasted until the early 1960s there and until the late 1960s in Western Europe, was a truly remarkable time for marriage. Romantic love transformed marriage in the 20th century. Love finally conquered marriage. Romantic love and sexual fulfillment became the realities of premarital and marital relationships. In the Western world, marriage entered its heyday during this time period.

In that decade, there was a surge of support for the view that a happy marriage should be one in which each spouse feels they have received their fair share of sexual satisfaction, emotional closeness, and the opportunity to realize their full potential. The majority of people believed that they would not only find the greatest happiness in marriage but also the greatest meaning in their lives. Marriage had become nearly universal by the 1960s in many western European countries and North America (see for review, Karandashev, 2017).

What Was Good About the Golden Age of Marriage?

During that period, about 95% of all men and women strived to marry and married younger. During the 1950s, the norm of young marriage was so prevalent that an unmarried woman as young as twenty-one might be concerned about becoming an “old maid.” Many men and women relished the opportunity of courting and dating the partners of their own choice. They enjoyed marrying at their leisure and establishing their own households. The life span increased, married people felt happy, and divorce rates held steady. Married couples felt independent of their extended family ties. They enjoyed the freedom of their marital relationships (Coontz 2005, pp. 226–228).

By the 1960s, it looked like marriage had found the perfect balance between the personal freedom of a love match and the limitations needed for social stability.

Would the Golden Age of Marriage Spread Throughout the World?

Many social scientists thought that as industrialization spread around the world, love-based marriage and the male breadwinner family would replace the many other marriage and family systems in collectivistic societies. They predicted that love marriages would prevail over the consanguinity and arranged marriages widespread across many societies in traditional cultures.

For example, American sociologist William Goode (1917–2003), an expert on family life and divorce, conducted cross-cultural analyses of marriage and divorce across many societies. He examined family data from the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, China, and Japan available at the time.

Based on his analysis, Goode revealed that the above-mentioned cultural evolution of conjugal family systems and the “love patterns” in mate selection were evident in all of these world regions and societies. In his pioneering and seminal book “World Revolution and Family Patterns” (1963), he presented these results and conclusions in an explicit and direct way.

People across cultures prioritized their material and psychological investments in the nuclear family as well as their emotional needs. They believed that each spouse could legitimately expect to rely on the other, prioritize their relationship, and put their loyalty to their partner ahead of their responsibilities to their parents.

The Love Marriage Ideology 

According to William Goode (1959), the ideology of love-based marriage declares the individual’s right to choose his or her own spouse. This cultural ideology also emphasized the value of the individual over inherited wealth and ethnic group. Goode provided statistics and other data to show that love marriages were gaining popularity around the world at the time.

Many social scientists agreed with Goode and supported this conclusion. They believed that in Western societies, love marriage and the nuclear family increased their popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. They thought that the cultural evolution of marriage had prevailed in Europe and North America and had reached its culmination.

Their scientific prediction was that the rest of the world’s cultures would soon follow this marriage pattern that will soon be prevalent across many societies. This way of thinking about relationships was very appealing to young and educated people, especially women (see for review, Karandashev, 2017).

Sexual Love in Cultural Contexts

As I explained in another article, many scholars and laypeople equate sex, sexual love, and erotic love. However, I believe researchers should distinguish between these concepts because they mean somewhat different things (Karandashev, 2022). Sexual love is

  • intense feelings of sexual desire, interest, and attraction;
  • various sexual emotions and feelings;
  • various sexual acts between two individuals.

Sexual love is biologically rooted and, therefore, cross-culturally universal. Nevertheless, its cultural understanding can be specific. People in different societies deem sexual love in their cultural contexts.

What Does “Coitus” Mean for Sexual Love?

The roots of the word “coitus” convey the meaning of “a coming together.” So, the broader meaning of coitus extends beyond physical satisfaction. For men and women, the intimacy of intercourse is more important than the intensity of masturbation (Hite, 1976/2004, pp. 61-78; 1981/1987, pp. 485-502).

The Greek and Latin Origins of the Western Lexicon of Sexual Love

The Latin word “libido” and the Greek word “epithymia” conveyed the meaning of sexual love in Western cultures. Their meanings include yearning, longing, and the desire for sensual self-fulfillment. The sexual love in the words “epithymia” and “libido” conveys the meaning of the desire for sensual pleasure of the body and the gratifying release of sexual energy. All other feelings and emotions of love are of secondary importance in the case of sexual love (Tillich, 1954; Larson, 1983).

What Is the Greek “Epithymia”?

The term “epithymia” refers to “the longing for coitus, the hungering and thirsting for sexual closeness and union with a partner” (Karandashev, 2022). The general physical attraction to a partner is essential in this case. A lover centers his or her emotions not only on sexual desire and the partner’s body but also on the person as a whole. Coitus gives not only physical but also emotional satisfaction (Larson, 1983; Lomas, 2018; Tillich, 1954).

The Sexual Love of “Epithymia” in Other Cultures

Many other cultures of the world express the term “sexual love” in a way that is similar to the Greek word “epithymia.” For instance, Eastern cultures have their own lexical equivalents for sex and sexual love. Some of them appear surprisingly similar.

The Arabic Origins of the Sexual Lexicon

Professor of Linguistics Zaidan Ali Jassem discovered that the “love and sexual terms” in English, French, German, Greek, and Latin could have Arabic origins (Jassem, 2013). For example,

“English, French, Greek and Latin erotic (Eros) comes from Arabic ‘arr ‘intercourse, making love’; English, French, and Latin abhor obtains from Arabic kariha/’akrah, kurh (n) ‘hate’ via /k & h/-merger; English and German love/lieben derives from Arabic labba (‘alabba) ‘to love, live/stay’, turning /b/ into /v/; English hope (hobby) and German hoffen is from Arabic 2ubb ‘love, hope’, turning /2/ into /h/ and /b/ into /f/ in the latter”.

(Jassem, 2013, p. 97).

The modern Arabic terms for sex and sexual love are الجنس والحب الجنسي (aljins walhubu aljinsiu).

The Sexual Love Lexicon from Other Cultures of the World

Here are several other examples from other cultures around the world.

In the Philippines, the word “kilig” refers to the subjective experience of butterflies in the stomach when a person thinks of or interacts with someone sexually attractive and desired.

In the indigenous language of Yagán (Chile), the term “mamihlapinatapai” refers to the way people express unspoken mutual desire through their appearance.

According to American historian and ethnologist Daniel Brinton (1837–1899), several American languages have their own special lexicon of sexual love, which is different from the words for sex and other forms of love (Brinton, 1886).

Cultural Values in Individualistic Cultures

Individualism and collectivism are the two opposite constructs and dimensions of culture. These dimensions have been among the most popular in cultural and cross-cultural studies of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s (Hofstede, 1980/1984; Marsella et al., 1985; Triandis, 1995). Cross-cultural researchers have investigated how various social, economic, and psychological parameters vary depending on whether people live in individualistic or collectivistic societies. The variables of emotional experiences and expressions were among those (Karandashev, 2021).

The Examples of Individualistic Countries

Many of the most individualistic societies are in North America, Western and Northern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Among those typical instances are the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark (Hofstede, 1984; 2011; Hui & Triandis, 1986; Gelfand, et al., 2000; Kashima, et al., 1995; Triandis, 1995).

Individualistic Cultures vs. Collectivistic Cultures

There are two key groups of cultural phenomena that distinguish individualistic cultures from collectivistic cultures (Hofstede & Bond, 1984, p. 419). Individualistic cultures

  • emphasize individual goals, whereas collectivistic cultures emphasize group goals over individual goals.
  • expect people to look after themselves and their immediate family, whereas collectivistic cultures expect people to belong to in-groups, such as families, that look after them in exchange for their loyalty

The Values of People in Individualistic Societies

Triandis and his colleagues considered personal independence, autonomy, initiative, self-reliance, and freedom as the values associated with individualism in a culture (Triandis, 1995; Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal, Asai, & Lucca, 1988). These cultural values of individualistic societies are the opposite of the collectivistic values of family unity, loyalty, and integrity. Individualistic cultures promote the formation of personal and specific friendships.

Here are several key features of cultural values, norms, and practices that people follow in individualistic societies. Individualistic cultures tend to appreciate

  • personal autonomy,
  • personal independence,
  • the primacy of personality uniqueness,
  • the individual’s goals and actions,
  • individual initiative and self-realization,
  • the individual’s rights rather than duties,
  • a person’s self-interest and his immediate family,
  • less concern for the needs and interests of others.

The Personal Identity of Men and Women in Individualistic Cultures

The individuality of a person and their personal characteristics constitute their self-identity. In terms of personal motivation, people prioritize individual goals over collective goals. Interpersonal connections and relationships are loose and relatively independent.

People in Individualistic Cultures Exhibit Uniform Behavior Towards Members of the In-Group and Out-Group

The cultural norms of individualistic societies encourage men and women to follow the same norms and rules of behavior in both in-group and out-group relationships and contexts. In individualistic cultures, where interpersonal independence and autonomy are highly valued, men and women commonly follow the same kinds of behavior in contact with others from their in-groups and out-groups. It is different from collectivistic cultures in which people highly value embeddedness and interdependence. They tend to differentiate their behavior toward others from their in-group versus out-group (Smith & Bond, 1999).

These Experiments Show Hidden Reasons Why Privileged Social Classes Can Be Against Equality

The social policies and practices of social equality have progressed significantly in many contemporary societies. People in some countries, such as Scandinavia and other North European countries, adopted equality cultural values more quickly and easily than in others. However, in the United States of America, progress on equality is still sluggish and encounters opposition from voters and policymakers. People may explicitly express their support for social equality. Yet, implicitly, they may be reluctant to adopt the policies and practices of equality.

Why does such a discrepancy take place? Why do people tacitly resist equality?

Why Did Researchers Explore “Zero-sum” Beliefs?

A group of researchers led by N. Derek Brown (Brown et al., 2022) looked into the effects of conservative ideology, belief in the status quo, a preference for social hierarchies, and the “zero-sum” worldview of people who prefer to maintain their social advantage.

The study took a special interest in how the zero-sum mentality of men and women affects their opinions, attitudes, and actions. They think that equality can make it harder for them to get and preserve what they need. People in advantaged groups think it’s good when equality grows within their own group but not when it grows between groups. Researchers conducted a series of experiments with several samples of American participants. They discovered interesting results, illuminating why and how individuals in privileged social groups persistently believe that policies that advance equality are detrimental to their own interests. Accordingly, they mistakenly think that inequality is good.

What Did the First Set of Experiments Show?

For the first set of experiments, researchers recruited people from advantaged groups, such as white Americans, able-bodied people, men, and people who have never been convicted of a crime. Then the researchers showed them the proposals that would improve the resources available to members of a less-advantaged group, such as Latino Americans, people with disabilities, women, and people who have been convicted of a crime. In this experimental condition, researchers did not take anything away from the advantaged group. In some cases, researchers openly told the participants from this advantaged group that there were no limits on the resources. Therefore, these proposals to improve equality would not harm their own prospects. Still, on average, these people thought the proposals were bad. Nevertheless, these participants mostly perceived the proposals as harmful.

Here Is Another Experiment on Equality Beliefs 

Prior to the November 2020 election, researchers conducted another experiment among white, East Asian, and South Asian California voters. The researchers asked about a ballot initiative that would repeal an existing ban on affirmative action in public employment, contracts, and university admissions. Researchers considered these people to be the privileged group because many of them, compared to other social groups, studied at public universities or worked in the public sector.

Two-thirds of these respondents said they were liberal. Nevertheless, they thought that allowing affirmative action programs would have hurt their chances of getting public sector jobs, contracts, and college spots for their families. The results of this experiment showed that when they thought affirmative action would hurt their own interests, they more likely answered that they would vote against this proposition. The general vote that year did not support this affirmative action proposal.


Thus, the results of the first set of experiments supported the researchers’ prediction that “zero-sum” attitudes strongly affect people’s actions against social equality.

How Altruistic Are Western Attitudes in Love Relationships?

The Christian ideals of agape, which have been prevalent in Western cultures, placed a greater emphasis on the value of altruistic agape love as opposed to passionate Eros love.

Passionate Versus Altruistic Love

On the one hand, the experience of passionate Eros love makes a lover more likely to be egocentric, possessive, and sexually obsessive.

On the other hand, when a lover experiences altruistic Agape love, he or she is more likely be unselfish, act benevolently, to give freely, and be willing to sacrifice for others (Nygren 1989).

Throughout the centuries, one and another kind of these cultural values have competed with one other in the minds of romantic lovers inspiring various love story plots. The most romantic stories, however, inspired lovers to put the interests of the beloved first, above their own, prioritizing altruism over passionate possessiveness.

What Does It Mean to Love Altruistically?

Individuals with predominant altruistic love in heterosexual relationships perceive the beloved as an idealized, unique individual. Their passion is to make their loved one happy. Their love is capable of overcoming selfishness in a relationship centered on the well-being of a partner.

Such altruistic lovers are willing to give up a lot of things in their life for the sake of the person they love and care about.  The well-being of their beloved is the most important thing in the world to them. For the sake and life of a beloved, they are willing to endure inconvenience, discomfort, suffering, and pain, and if necessary, even death. This altruistic love, known as agape, is very romantic. It may look not less romantic than passionate love (for example, Ben-Zev & Goussinsky, 2008).

Their selfless attitudes prioritize the well-being of the beloved. Their altruistic attitudes go beyond their self. Reciprocation is not important: they do not expect anything in return. they are willing to give the beloved rather than receive from him/her.

Giving for them is a joy of love. They give everything they have and themselves without considering the material or psychological cost of what they do. As Erich Fromm (1956) once beautifully noted,

“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.” 

(Fromm, (956/2006, p.21).

Religions in Cultural Perspectives

How Are Religious Cultures Different from National Cultures?

Religious cultures are similar to national cultures yet differ in several ways. Religion, like national and ethnic cultures, can be thought of as a type of culture and a cultural system (Cohen, 2009; Saroglou & Cohen, 2013).

Religious parameters of culture can strongly correlate with other cultural dimensions of the country. Such a correlation between the religious elements of culture and other cultural characteristics makes it difficult to disentangle the unique function of religion from that of other aspects of cultural life. Nevertheless, I argued in another article that the main reasons why religions should be considered as cultures with their own sets of cultural meanings, values, norms, and practices.

Cultural experts believe that religion has a considerable impact on the cultural characteristics of societies, but cross-cultural researchers overlook this factor (e.g., Cohen, 2009; McCutcheon, 1995, see review Karandashev, 2021a).

Four major cultural dimensions of religions

Researchers identified four major dimensions of religious cultures, which are present in many religions and denominations with some cultural variation (see Saroglou & Cohen, 2013 for a detailed review). These are

  1. Fundamentalist (orthodox) expression vs. questing expressions of religious beliefs and practices.
  2. Intrinsic vs. extrinsic reli­gious orientations.
  3. Traditional reli­giousness vs. modern spirituality.
  4. Mystical dimension of religion, focusing on the spirituality of the mystics

For example, the distinctions between fundamentalist and questing expressions of religious beliefs and practices are identified among Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. The differences between intrinsic and extrinsic religious orientations are found among Orthodox, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. Variations in the dimension of organized traditional reli­giousness vs. modern individual spirituality are discovered in many religious cultural contexts. The mystical dimension of religion, centered on the spirituality of the mystics, appeared to be common to many religions. In particular, it was found that mystic experiences are similar among Iranian Muslims and American Christians. They are also similar in religiousness among Indian Hindus, Tibetan Buddhists, and Israeli Jews (see for a detailed review, Saroglou & Cohen, 2013).

How Do Religious Cultures Influence National Cultures?

National cultures are the sets of cultural meanings, values, norms, and practices that have evolved due to the impact of various cultural factors, such as ecological, ethnic, social, political, and religious ones. All those variables, in a historical perspective, merged to form specific national cultures. On a daily basis, religions interact with other cultural factors, affecting people’s emotional and cultural lives.

Religious cultures have profound ties with national and ethnic cultures. Religions and religious cultural variables are among the strong factors that determine the national cultures of countries. So, countries with similar Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist religious cultures can have a lot in common with each other culturally.

Religions have historically shaped the cultural patterns of nations. However, the opposite effects have also occurred when a country’s culture influenced religious development in some ways (Norris & Inglehart, 2004). Religious culture comes into the national culture being modified and transformed.

For example, according to anthropological studies, Islam in different countries advocates different cultural values. The Muslim populations of Egypt and Bali maintain different cultural traditions, despite sharing the same faith and adhering to the same Islamic principles (Wikan, 1988).

The Ways How Religious Cultures Shaped Eastern and Western Civilizations Let’s look at how cultural differences between the West and the East have evolved and persisted for hundreds of years, in part because of their shared religious history.

The difference between individualistic Western societies and collectivist Eastern societies is the most well-known cultural difference between the West and the East.

Eastern societies tend to be largely collectivistic cultures, while Western societies are mostly individualistic.

The Buddhist religion is quite collectivistic in many respects. This can explain why Japanese culture tends to be a collectivistic culture. And generally, collectivistic cultural values and beliefs are commonly associated with Eastern religions. The cultural worldviews, social perspectives, and schools of thought of Eastern societies are substantially determined by their religions. Confucianist societies tend to be collectivistic, while Islamic societies are frequently hierarchical. On the other hand, Christianity, and Protestantism in particular, is strongly related to individualistic values and beliefs. This can explain why many Western European and European American societies are individualistic cultures. For instance, Protestant societies are often individualistic and egalitarian. Many aspects of Western national cultures and their worldview biases are substantially shaped by Christianity. Their scholarly, social, cultural, and political approaches to the modern world are Western and Christian-centric (Basabe & Ros, 2005).

The Religious Cultural Values of Interdependence and Independence There are several ways in which religious values can predispose people to think and feel in certain ways. For instance, in general, religious people are more interdependent than those who are not religious (Cohen & Rozin, 2001; Cukur, de Guzman & Carlo, 2004, Triandis, 1995). Religions differ in their values of interdependence. Those who are monotheistic are more self-sufficient, while non-theistic are more interdependent (Basabe & Ros, 2005).

Erotic Love in Cultures Around the World

Many laypeople and academics are interested in sexual and erotic themes. The topics of this kind are related to how people experience and express love.

As I said in another article, love and sex are intimately interconnected and sometimes difficult to distinguish. For their better understanding, several questions should be answered. Among those are: What is sex? What is love? What is sexual love? What is erotic love? I recently explained what erotic love is. Here I talk about erotic love across human cultures.

Erotic Art and Erotic Love

People had sex from the early origins of human evolution. It was natural and biologically embedded in their species. However, erotic love appeared on the scene with the onset of culture.

The cultural ideas of erotic art and literature have been depicted in painting, sculpture, music, songs, dances, theater, and fashion design. These artistic mediums conveyed the aesthetic values of body shape and movement, the structure and expressiveness of the face, and the melody and rhythm of music and singing.

What is “erotic” in erotic love?

In the same way that erotic art does, erotic love characterizes the physical attractiveness of a person and the setting in which they are situated. A person who is feeling erotic love looks at the body with admiration. He or she perceives the beautiful body as “nude” rather than “naked.”

Look at the dictionaries, and you’ll see the meaningful differences between the two. The impression of a beloved’s nude form is about the presence of his or her attractive physique, but the impression of a naked figure is about the absence of clothes. Both can have various connotations hidden beneath the surface.

When you are in a museum of sculpture and painting, you look at the nude figures and admire their beauty. Looking at a nude figure in the museum, you don’t experience sexual arousal every single time, don’t you? It is because you experience erotic love, not a sexual one. You experience erotic feelings, but usually non-sexual ones. Both together are not compatible in that context.

In the same way, when you are alone with your beloved being without clothes in bed, looking at her or him, you see them nude and experience erotic feelings. Yet, you don’t feel sexual arousal every single time you look at them. You feel erotic rather than sexual love.

At another time, however, you can experience both erotic and sexual love for them, perceiving them both naked and nude. One of these experiences can prevail over another or not. 

Two Examples of How Erotic Love Was Represented in European and Eastern Cultures of the Past

In the course of the history of art across different cultures, a wide variety of cultural models of erotic art and erotic love have been portrayed. Both men and women were depicted as the objects of erotic love in ancient Greek and Roman art, as well as in Indian art, yet in different cultural contexts and settings. They can still be seen today in the form of paintings and sculptures in the museums of the world.

European Examples of Erotic Art

The depiction of nude women and men in art during the Renaissance period was fashionable and generally conveyed positive associations. Erotic images of women and men can be found in the works of many poets and painters. In nude figures, artists personified their ideals of beauty, graciousness, soul, and love. During the Renaissance, great artists like Giorgione, Leonardo, Titian, Michelangelo, and Veronese created works that praised erotic beauty.

For instance, the “Venus of Urbino” painting depicted “a humanly beautiful nude woman whose pose is borrowed from the idealized beauty of Gorgione’s “Sleeping Venus.” This love allegory represents a European cultural model of love of that time, depicting the victory of love over temptation and time (Grabski, 1999, p.9).

Eastern Examples of Erotic Art

The Sanskrit aesthetic philosophy and art of Indian culture elevated the feeling of “shringara,” one of the nine rasas. “Shringara” means “erotic love” as an attraction to beauty. This feeling is related to the feeling of “rati,” meaning passionate love and sexual pleasure. Nevertheless, these two feelings are still emotionally different.

The love lyrics in Sanskrit and ancient Indian paintings and sculptures beautifully portrayed the stunning pictures of shringara, an Indian culture of “erotic love.” The concept was described as being evidently different from “kama” as presented in ancient Indian medical literature. The diverse feelings of kama were about desires and sensual pleasures of the body (Orsini 2006, p. 10). The Kamasutra, an old Sanskrit text dated to 400 BCE–200 CE, presented a lot of ancient Indian knowledge and wisdom about sexuality, erotic pleasure, and emotional pleasure. This literary text identified and vividly described four types of sexual experiences. Those distinctively referred to sex, sexual love, erotic love, or associated feelings.