First up: Maas, M. K., Shearer, C. L., Lefkowitz, E. S., & Gillen, M. M. (2015). Sex rules: Emerging adults’ perceptions of gender’s impact on sexuality. Sexuality and Culture, 19, 617-636.
Past work (see Petersen & Hyde, 2011) has demonstrated consistent gender differences in heterosexual experiences and behaviors. However, we have little understanding of what drives these differences. We used semi-qualitative methods to ask male and female college students about their perceptions of how being male or female impacts their own sexual thoughts and feelings.
Specifically, we asked women: “‘‘How does being female affect your thoughts and feelings about sex?’ and “‘How would your thoughts and feelings about sex be different if you were male?’’ We asked men corresponding questions about being male/how things would be different if female. Then we coded their responses for content and tone.
The most common response for women was that being female caused them to worry about their reputation and emotional wellbeing (more than a third of women). One women stated, “‘I feel that when girls sleep around they are branded sluts, whores, hos…so I don’t do actions that would make people feel that way about me.’’
The second most common theme for women (almost a third of women) was about how women should avoid being promiscuous or should engage in monogamy or abstinence. For instance, one woman stated ‘‘Since I am a female, I feel that it is wrong to have casual sex with as many partners as I like. I have to control my urges when it comes to different men I am attracted to, but not interested in marrying.’’
The third most common theme for women was concern about physical protection from pregnancy and STIs (almost a third of women). One woman stated, “‘It makes me more cautious because if someone gets pregnant it will be me. It’s a lot easier for guys to run from a relationship if there are children involved.”
When asked how their thoughts and feelings would be different if they were male, women most commonly referred to how they could be more promiscuous, or wouldn’t have to think about monogamy or abstinence. The second most common difference was that they would not have to worry about their emotions or reputations, and the third most common was that sex would have different meaning or that they would have different sexual attitudes.
Men’s most common theme was that being male affected their sexual desire (more than a third of sample). One man stated, ‘I feel that being a guy makes you think about sex all the time. Women are everywhere…how can you not think about it?’’
Men’s second most common theme was related to the control of sexual activity (e.g., pressure to initiate, needing partner’s consent, about a quarter of men). One man stated ‘‘…I feel I must be careful not to do anything without the proper consent. It is easy for a girl to call rape.’’
When asked how their thoughts and feelings would be different if female men were most likely to describe changes in sexual desire, and for instance, thinking about sex less. One man wrote ‘‘I probably wouldn’t think about it as much or be as driven to want it.’’ Second most common for men was having different level of control of sexual activity, or being less aggressive. Third most common was for men to refer to being more cautious or using protection more, referring to both contraception and to being more cautious in sexual situations.
There were clearly gender differences in these themes. For instance, women were more likely than men to describe that being female caused them to worry about their reputation and emotional well-being; being female meant they needed to remain abstinent, only have sex in a monogamous relationship, or avoid casual partners; being female caused them to worry about physical consequences such as pregnancy or STDs. Men were more likely than women to describe that being male meant they need to be sexually aggressive, initiate sex, or need a partner’s consent; and being male caused them to think about sex a lot or all of the time.
The tone of women’s responses was more negative than men’s, and women’s perceptions about how being female affected their thoughts and feelings about sex were more negative than their perceptions about how their thoughts and feelings would be different if they were male.
Overall, these findings provide support for a continuing sexual double standard for men and women, and, I believe, provide a more nuanced perspective than running male/female differences in standardized questionnaires. They are also important to interpret in light of recent attention on rampant sexual assault in Hollywood and other industries, and the associated #metoo campaign.
“The post About That Sexual Double Standard… first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on May 29, 2018.”