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The belief that women and men are held to different standards of sexual conduct is pervasive in contemporary American society. According to the sexual double standard, boys and men are rewarded and praised for heterosexual sexual contacts, whereas girls and women are derogated and stigmatized for similar behaviors. Although widely held by the general public, research findings on the sexual double standard remain equivocal, with qualitative studies and early attitudinal surveys generally finding evidence of the double standard and more recent experimental vignette des often failing to find similar.

In this study, we extend prior research by directly measuring the social status of sexually permissive youth.

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Our thus support the existence of an adolescent sexual double standard and suggest that sexual norms vary by both gender and socioeconomic origins. In contemporary American society, it is a commonly held belief that sexual behaviors are judged differently depending on the gender of a sexual actor Milhausen and Herold Boys and men are thought to receive praise and positive attributions from others for non-marital sexual contacts, while girls and women are believed to be derogated and stigmatized for similar behaviors.


The relevance of this double standard for sexual development and gender inequality has prompted substantial research on the topic see Crawford and Popp for a review along with the publication of several popular trade books with titles such as Slut! Although public perceptions generally support the sexual double standard, scientific evidence remains equivocal and contested.

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Ethnographies of secondary schools and early attitudinal studies found evidence of the double standard Eder, Evans, and Parker ; Oliver and Sedikides ; Sprecher, McKinney, and Orbuchwhereas more recent experimental vignette studies generally fail to find similar Gentry ; Milhausen and Herold ; Marks and Fraley ; The existence of a modern sexual double standard thus remains in doubt, opening the door for further research and innovative study des.

However, studies in this vein have primarily relied on undergraduate convenience samples that may not generalize to adolescent populations. Moreover, the attitudes captured in survey des may not translate to the enactment of gendered behaviors in social situations, leading to a disjuncture between motives and outcomes Reskin School-based ethnographies and individual case studies address this issue by focusing on the expression and consequences of gendered sexual attitudes in specific social contexts.

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These studies therefore link psychological concepts with their socially constructed meanings and outcomes, bringing us closer to understanding how sexuality is regulated in a given social context and who potentially benefits or is stigmatized by these processes.

Such studies are not without their own limitations, however. The small scale and relatively homogenous samples of most qualitative studies limit their generalizability and ability to make statistical comparisons. In this study, we build on the strengths of both survey and ethnographic research by quantitatively measuring the expected social consequences of sexual behavior in a national sample of adolescent youth. Specifically, we rely on network data collected from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health Add Health to test whether the association between adolescent peer acceptance and the of self-reported sexual partners varies ificantly by gender.

Our use of peer-network data allows us to statistically compare the peer status levels of sexually permissive boys and girls and their non-permissive peers. The importance of peer status for adolescent development and informal school organization has prompted generations of researchers to identify the criteria underlying teenage popularity. Colemanin his seminal work Adolescent Societyfound that social class background, athletics, physical attractiveness, and material possessions e.

For the most part, the criteria for adolescent popularity operate in the same directions for both girls and boys, even if some characteristics or activities — such as attractiveness, athletics, or physical aggression — may have stronger associations with peer status for one gender than the other Coleman ; LaFontana and Cillessen ; Steffensmeier and Allan Sexual behaviors may provide an exception to this pattern.

According to the sexual double standard, the social consequences of early romantic and sexual experiences differ substantially by gender, with gender-specific norms governing the appropriate of sex partners; the conditions under which it is acceptable to engage in sexual activity e. Although gendered norms of appropriate sexual conduct have existed for centuries e. Shifts in sexual norms may result in a single standard of sexual conduct that is applied to both men and women Marks and Fraley Accordingly, negative perceptions of sexual permissiveness may lower the social desirability of a sexual actor regardless of his or her gender.

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Tests of a modern sexual double standard remain inconclusive and contested. We first review this research, paying particular attention to modern adolescent peer contexts and potential gender differences in sexual norm enforcement.

We also consider sociodemographic variations in the double standard, such that gender and socioeconomic background may combine non-additively with sexual experiences to affect adolescent peer acceptance. Finally, we discuss those individual and social characteristics that may moderate or make spurious any link between sexual behavior and peer status.

Attitudinal surveys and ethnographic studies have generally found evidence of contemporary sexual double standards. In perhaps the earliest study of sexual attitudes, Reiss asked student respondents to directly comment on normative sexual behavior, finding that a majority of the respondents who did not endorse sexual abstinence agreed that it was acceptable for a male, but not a female, to have premarital intercourse. Similarly, more recent survey research suggests that respondents perceive women to be judged ificantly more harshly than men for having higher s of sex partners Milhausen and Herold ; Sheeran et al.

These findings are commonly confirmed in school-based ethnographies.

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If not, the culture is threatened by her philanthropy, and punishes her by ruining her reputation and taking away her status. from experimental vignette des have been much less consistent. In these studies, subjects are provided with sexual information e. The sexual information and gender of the target are then randomly varied to test for the existence of a double standard. Although early studies with this method tended to find evidence of the double standard, recent studies fail to find similar.

To reconcile these null with pervasive beliefs in the double standard and from earlier attitudinal studies and ethnographic research, Marks and Fraley suggested that the double standard is a cultural fiction reified by individuals who selectively attend to confirming evidence presented to them in the media or in conversations, but not personally endorsed by them.

In this study, we extend prior research by testing the sexual double standard using a measure of peer status derived from social network data see also Newcomer, Udry, and Cameron A social network consists of a set of interdependent nodes e. At the level of the individual i.

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Incoming friendship nominations thus provide a measure of peer status for each individual in the network. A network approach shares the advantages of experimental vignette and ethnographic des. Similar to experimental des, our approach overcomes much of the response bias arising from self-reported measures of sexual attitudes Paulhus Our method eliminates this problem by directly measuring the pd outcome of the sexual double standard e.

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Another advantage of a network approach is that it allows us to examine the characteristics of the peers who provide status to sexual actors Newcomer et al. A critical question regarding the sexual double standard is whether the gender of an evaluator matters for the sanctioning or support of sexual behaviors.

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ethnographic and interview research suggests that girls are the arbiters of female sexual conduct Coleman ; Eder et al. The authors speculated that the increase in female sexual insulting of other girls during adolescence might result from an increasing awareness of sexual double standards, jealousy, or the lack of alternative discourses regarding adolescent female sexuality.

If sexual standards do differ by gender, then sexually permissive women may not be accepted by female peers, but be well liked by male peers.

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Similarly, permissive men may be accepted by other men, but be disfavored by women. Assessing whether the gender of the evaluator conditions the association between sexual partnerships and adolescent peer status is an advantage of a network approach over prior research in the area. The large-scaled Add Health survey also allows us to examine whether variables beyond gender, such as socioeconomic background, potentially moderate the link between peer status and sexual behavior.

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Socioeconomic differences in the sexual double standard have received relatively little research attention, with several authors arguing that female sexual permissiveness in reduced peer acceptance regardless of social origins. Youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods may thus draw upon multiple frames and sexual scripts regarding teenage pregnancy and ideal romantic relationships.

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A final benefit of our study is that it allows us to control for variables that may attenuate any association between sexual permissiveness and peer acceptance. Thus far, we have presented hypotheses stating that sexual behaviors affect peer status and that this association may be conditioned by gender and socioeconomic origins.

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However, other scholars have argued that these correlations are explained by stable individual traits or characteristics of the sexual contacts. Likewise, girls and women who have sex in an uncommitted relationship may lose peer status.

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If this argument is accurate, then relationship exclusivity should attenuate any association between of sexual partnerships and adolescent peer acceptance. Teenage romances often fall into patterns of serial monogamy, where individuals participate in single-partner relationships of short duration and even shorter between-partner periods. Girls who have intercourse within serially monogamous relationships may thus damage their reputations even while they believe that they are abiding by current norms of appropriate sexual conduct.

Sexually suggestive clothing or early sexual development may be enough for females to be sexually stigmatized and rejected by peers Eder et al. As in the case of relationship context, addressing issues of physical appearance and development are essential for accurately testing the permissiveness-status link.

Research shows that early sexual initiation is associated with a of problem behaviors, such as illicit drug use, heavy drinking, delinquency, aggression, poor achievement, and school dropout Capaldi, Crosby, and Stoolmiller ; Costa, Jessor, Donovan, and Fortenberry, ; Elliott and Morse, These risky behaviors may represent underlying social incapacities that limit connections to peers e.

Controlling for violence and drug behaviors is thus an important aspect of testing the link between sexual permissiveness and peer acceptance. Add Health is a nationally representative longitudinal study of adolescents in grades 7 to From tothe study collected four waves of student data, with additional surveys administered to parents, siblings, and school administrators. In the current analyses, we rely on data from the first two student surveys e. In one class period during the fall ofAdd Health administered in-school surveys to all available students in each of sampled schools.

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The questionnaire asked respondents about basic demographic and behavioral characteristics. Students also nominated their five best male and five best female friends. Approximately six months after the in-school survey, Add Health selected a stratified sub-sample of students to complete a more extensive in-home interview.

To ensure confidentiality, sensitive questions including questions regarding sexual activity were administered using portable laptops and headphones.

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Of the 14, students who completed both surveys, approximately 7 percent of students attended a school that did not complete the network portion of the interview and 5 percent were missing information regarding their socioeconomic origins. Less than 10 percent of the remaining 12, respondents were missing information on any of our predictor variables e. Upon list-wise deletion, our dataset includes 5, girls and 5, boys who ranged in age from 12 to 20 during the first wave of data collection.

To address potential bias resulting from missing data, we used multiple imputation techniques in the statistical package Stata the ICE procedure to regain a nationally representative sample Royston In unlisted analyses, we imputed values into five datasets, with all independent and dependent measures included in the imputation procedure Rubin The ICE procedure uses an iterative multivariable regression algorithm that detects the distributions of model variables and applies the appropriate regression technique e.

OLS, logistic, or ordered logistic in calculating imputed values.

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