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Holiday Blog: “The Social Psychology of Gift Giving”

Holiday Blog: “The Social Psychology of Gift Giving”


You: What’s something I could give my partner this holiday season? Something that’s personal and unique, healthy, and still a surprise. Something that they would enjoy on their own but that we could also enjoy together… you know, if they wanted. What could it be?

Well, here’s a note to your wondering self: The most obvious choice when presented with this conundrum is Motorbunny! There are, however, some additional factors to consider. Let’s think through this a bit more before you put a beautifully wrapped power vibrator out on the hearth this winter.

The Science of Gifting

There are entire journals worth of science out there that explore the consumer social psychology of gifting. From what to give to how to give it, researchers have found patterns and trends that can help guide your choices when thinking up the perfect gift. These insights can shed some light on conventional gifts – and they can also guide us when thinking about unconventional choices. Because though a pleasure product may be “unconventional,” they are still objects that may connect with a person on similar levels.

Let’s unpack some consumer science findings about gifting in general. You can apply these insights to your own thinking but remember: With sex and sexualities come an array of social cues and meanings that we’ve collectively constructed over time. It’s important to contextualize in these terms as we go through.

1. Experiences vs. Stuff

It’s been found that giving the gift of an experience can strengthen a relationship more than the gift of stuff. This, regardless of whether or not the gift is consumed together. According to science, this is because of the emotional response that occurs when said experiential gift is consumed. The emotional response is presumably greater via an experience verses a finite object. 

Now, you might be thinking: A sex toy and, say, a sweater… Those are both objects – or, “stuff”? And you’re correct. They are both examples of stuff. It’s the experience of using each respective object, however, that’s different. And it may very well be that a sweater is capable of invoking an experiential response on par to that of sexual pleasure in some people – but chances are that the experience of the pleasure product is going to be more significant than that of the sweater.  

2. Give a Gift that Reflects Who YOU Are

You read that right: Give a gift that reflects you – the gift giver. Research has actually found that gifts that reflect who the giver is can increase closeness between the giver and receiver.

In one study, researchers did six experiments to test the outcome of giving gifts that reflect the giver (“giver-centric gifts”) versus giving gifts that attempt to reflect the recipient (“recipient-centric gifts”). So like, gifting your favorite song to a person versus trying to pick a song you think will be their fav. The study found that receiving a song that the gifter liked best actually made the recipient feel like that had been given a snapshot of that person’s true self -- a sort of baring one’s soul, so to speak. This, in turn, enhanced feelings of closeness.

Given this tendency, which was overwhelming according to the study, it stands to reason that the gift of a pleasure product may in fact also be perceived as baring one’s soul. You are sharing an intimate desire and an interest in exploration with your partner. Now, most certainly, this must be considered in the context of your specific interpersonal relationship, but the idea that giving a gift in this manner may enhance intimacy by revealing deeper layers is very compelling.

3. Opportunity to Indulge

Another aspect of gift giving might be making the *actual* choice. Like, you may have decided on supplies for your partner’s favorite hobby, but exactly what those supplies are… Well, you’re not too sure. So, do you take a guess? Or, do you get a gift card?

Your first instinct might be that a gift card is too impersonal (I know mine was!), however research has found that gift cards can embody a perfect balance. Gift cards have the flexibility of cash, even within the context of a specific store or outlet, but they are given and meant to be spent as gifts. Consequently, recipients feel more inclined to spend them less practically and more indulgently in instances where both types of goods are available, and the recipient’s needs are unchanged. 

In addition to giving an experience and potentially baring one’s soul, this finding implies that a recipient might feel inclined to indulge via a gift card that covers pleasure products. Reflecting on this study’s findings in conjunction with wider social patterns related to sexualities and sexual expression, however, makes me think that a gift card that were to narrow down the giver’s intent – In other words, saying “I am interested in having an experience in this range with YOU!” – would be a clearer choice that just hoping that your partner would spend a cash card on sex stuff.

No matter how you slice it, gift giving can be complicated -- but it can also be joyous! Take some time to reflect on your own interpersonal relationship and apply a little bit of this science – appropriately and in context – and see what sorts of fun shows up in your house this year!

Ready to pull the trigger? Check out our 5 tips for giving Motorbunny as a gift!

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