Sexual Hypocrisy

The purpose of this study was to determine if undergraduates (N = 839) apply the same standard to themselves when labeling a behavior “having sex” as they apply to their significant others if those persons engage in the same behaviors outside the relationship. Using a between-participants design, one form asked participants if each of 11 behaviors constituted having sex if they engaged in the activity; the other form asked participants if each of the same behaviors constituted having sex if their significant other engaged in the activity outside their relationship. Participants answering for themselves were less likely to indicate a behavior was having sex for all behaviors except penile-anal and penile-vaginal intercourse. Men were also more likely than women to indicate most behaviors were having sex. (more)

Differing male vs. female standards on what is “sex” are probably related to these reputational pressures:

Buss presented data from a cross-cultural study across 15 different cultures (n=2,471) that examined the impact of various acts on status and reputation. Results:

  • Being a virgin and effect on status and reputation: male’s reputation does down, female’s goes up.
  • Being sexually experienced on status and reputation: male’s goes up, female’s varies, but is less positive.
  • Reputation as an easily accessible sexual partner: negative for both males and females.
  • Having sex with a date on the first night: tends to be bad for both, but worse for females than males.
  • Having sex with two people in one night: negative impact of status and reputation for both sexes, but more for women than men; Women view other women more negatively than they view men who have had sex with two people in one night.
  • Being unfaithful to a Long-Term mate: decreases status for both sexes, but women more than men.
  • Having an unfaithful mate: loss of status for both sexes, but more status loss for men than for women.

In other words, sexual double standards exist and are robust across cultures, and the reputational consequences are ubiquitous but worse for women than for men. (more)

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  • Manti

    > In other words, sexual double standards exist and are robust across cultures

    I don’t think that the facts described in your post can qualify as “double standards”. “Double standards” means that you are applying the same standards for two identical objects, but men and women are clearly not identical (and I must point out that neither of them is worse or better, they are just different).

  • ~K

    Interesting, but how about people in same-sex relationships? That would probably give another set of interesting data about double-standards – for self vs. significant other. I would be very interested to know if men or women in same-sex relationships showed the same biases or different.

    I wish that the summary of Buss study were more clear about who feels what. The only bullet point that specifies women’s opinion vs. men’s opinion is the bullet point about having sex with two people in one night.
    Just seems like there are a lot of holes in this study.

  • The first study doesn’t really isolate a double-standard as the authors think. The problem is that the question-pairs they used differed on two dimensions: (a) whether the actor was the survey-taker or someone else, and (b) whether an existing committed relationship was implied. As a result, the difference in responses could show a double-standard (I hold myself and my partner to different standards), or it could show a framing effect (I hold both of us to a different standard when potential cheating is involved), or both. For more, see my post:

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