The Continued Emergence of a Sexual Single Standard

August 18, 2012

A new study of over 19,000 college students measures attitudes about casual sex, or hooking up. Views continue to shift, with sizable numbers of both sexes indicating disrespect for students who engage in casual sex. Measuring attitudes as a bellwether of shifting trends in the SMP is valuable because it reflects students’ willingness to judge fellow students by withdrawing approval. This is in keeping with our knowledge about the sexual behavior of college students, which demonstrates that only a small number of students are promiscuous.

The irony, of course, is that feminists seek the eradication of the sexual double standard to create a culture where there is no standard, no judgment, no shame for either men or women who engage in casual sex. Instead, we see an increasing move to a single standard of increased judgment for both sexes. Young people are becoming less tolerant of casual sex. According to Rachel Allison, co-author of the study from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Sociology:

Men and women are increasingly judging each other on the same level playing field. But, gender equality and sexual liberation are not synonymous. While we’ve come a long way in terms of gender equality, it seems that a large portion of both college men and women lose respect for individuals who they believe participate in too frequent casual sexual activity.

The other co-author, sociology professor Barbara Risman agrees:

You have to remember how far the sexual revolution has come. Before, sociologists would study stigma directed toward sexually active unmarried women. Now, we are looking at whether stigma still exists toward men and women who too often engage in purely recreational sexual activity outside the confines of a dating relationship. That’s a sea change in attitudes towards sex..

The survey asked students to agree or disagree with the following statement: “If women hook up or have sex with lots of people, I respect them less.” The same question was asked re men. Four clear groups emerged:

There were differences in attitudes among student groups:










There were also some very interesting highlights by gender:

1. 54% of women and 35% of men disrespect both sexes for hooking up.

2. 25% of men and 6% of women support a double standard holding women accountable for casual sex, but not men.

3. Male athletes and fraternity members were the most supportive of a double standard against women. 

4. Sorority women judged men the most harshly for hooking up.

It’s possible that the Greek culture of judgment from men foments this gender war, the researchers suggest.

“Women who hold to this reverse double standard are invoking a kind of gender justice,” study researcher Barbara Risman, a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a statement. “They are critical of men who treat women badly, and they do not accept a ‘boys will be boys’ view of male sexuality.”

My take on these findings:

1. The finding that half the students disapprove of  casual sex erodes Pluralistic Ignorance on campuses, decreasing peer pressure and a “grass is greener” mentality.

2. The traditional double standard has weakened considerably, even among men.

3. The men most likely to engage in casual sex express the strongest disrespect for their sexual partners, confirming the tendency of men to feel repulsed by their partners after casual sex:

For men who pursue a short-term mating strategy, first-time sex signals both that a goal has been achieved and that there is a possibility of becoming entangled in an unwanted long-term relationship. After first-time sex, the feelings men and women experience do indeed differ. Women more than men experience a positive affective shift toward increased feelings of commitment for their partners (Haselton & Buss, 2001), whereas, men who have had many sex partners (defined as 6+), (and therefore successfully pursue a short-term strategy) experience [an especially] negative affective shift marked by a drop-off in physical attraction to their partners (Haselton & Buss, 2001). These effects are hypothesized to prompt behaviors to secure investment (for women) or to extricate oneself from a potential romantic entanglement (for short-term oriented men). 

4. Sorority women are pissed off that the men they’re having sex with won’t commit.