Not One Sexual Double Standard but Two? Adolescents’ Attitudes About Appropriate Sexual Behavior

Background

Popular belief holds that sexual behavior is evaluated more liberally (e.g., admiration for having sexual intercourse with multiple persons) for men than for women. These sexual double standards are likely to influence adolescents’ sexual development. For example, sexual double standards can increase female adolescents’ fear of stigma (Hamilton & Armstrong, 2009) and increase male adolescents’ risk of peer rejection (Kreager & Staff, 2009). In different ways, the sexual double standard decreases both female and male adolescents’ sexual agency. Therefore, it is important to gain more knowledge on the manifestation of the sexual double standard in current society. Additionally, the measurement of the sexual double standard construct is controversial, and has to be done cautiosly by investigating equivalence of the included items prior to investigating mean differences.

Method

In this paper we examine if there is a sexual double standard among Dutch youth using data from 455 adolescents (Mage = 14.51, SD = 0.64). To examine this, we first assessed measurement properties of commonly used items for assessing the sexual double standard. Based on this assessment of equivalent measurement properties, we then examined the existence of the sexual double standard in a sample of Dutch youth by comparing their attitudes about sexually appropriate behaviors of both male and female adolescents.

Results

Confirmatory factor analyses showed that the sexual double standard concept was measurement equivalent across sex, and partly across evaluations of the same and opposite sex. Factor analyses demonstrated that there was not one, but two sexual double standards. Male adolescents evaluated male sexual behavior more liberally than female sexual behavior, but female adolescents evaluated female sexual behavior more liberally than male sexual behavior.

Conclusion

Researchers have been involved in an ongoing debate about the actual existence of a sexual double standard in current society. Our current study, based on a stringent and successful test of measurement equivalence, demonstrated that nowadays adolescents do not have one sexual double standard, but instead have two. Specifically, male adolescents endorse a more traditional double standard, in which male sexual behavior is evaluated more liberally than female sexual behavior. In contrast, female adolescents endorse a reversed double standard, in which female sexual behavior is evaluated more liberally than male sexual behavior.

Finding two sexual double standards instead of one might indicate that sexual inequality is decreasing. However, it still indicates that male and female adolescents judge the other sex slightly differently than they judge their own. Educating children about equal rights for men and women, and equal (sexual) needs of male and female adolescents may help to create less stereotyped and less judgmental gender expectations. Sexual double standards have real consequences for the development of individuals’ psychosexual identities and health; they deserve our continued scrutiny and attention.

Contact: M.Hensums@uva.nl

Link to paper > Contact > Website >
Read all news