Newswise — Perhaps you've also embraced the notion that men who have multiple sexual partners are truly revered, whereas women who engage in the same behavior are scorned – the purported sexual double standard. However, a recent survey reveals that this notion is, in fact, a fallacy.

"We have yet to discover the presence of customary double standards imposed on women," asserts Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, an esteemed professor at the Department of Psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Conversely, men face slightly harsher judgments than women regarding brief sexual encounters. However, despite evidence to the contrary, the myth remains persistent, and a significant number of individuals continue to hold onto this belief.

Double standards are a myth

People widely believe that women experience greater levels of societal control compared to men. However, our findings contradict this belief when we questioned individuals about their perceptions of sexual behavior among women and men. Interestingly, people tend to hold more liberal views themselves than they assume society holds," explains Mons Bendixen, another esteemed professor in the same department.

"Much of the prior research has likely concentrated on long-term relationships rather than short-term sexual encounters. This selective focus may have contributed to the perpetuation of the myth. However, even when examining short-term encounters, we did not discover any indications of double standards," adds Kennair.

Sexual double standards, while an enduring and alluring part of folk psychology, have very little basis in reality.

The NTNU professors collaborated with two esteemed international researchers: Andrew G. Thomas, a senior lecturer at Swansea University, and David M. Buss from the University of Texas at Austin.

"This research further strengthens the growing body of evidence indicating that sexual double standards, although a captivating aspect of popular beliefs, lack substantial grounding in reality," remarks Thomas.

Jealousy, infidelity, control – and masturbation too

The research group conducted an investigation on how heterosexual Norwegian women and men assess potential partners by considering their sexual history. In a departure from previous studies, participants were specifically asked to evaluate these individuals as potential partners for their male and female friends.

The participants were provided with information regarding the potential partners' number of previous sexual partners, as well as their history of jealousy, infidelity, controlling behavior, and masturbation. The survey involved over 900 individuals who took part in the study.

The participants were tasked with rating the prospective partners on behalf of their friends and indicating the level of recommendation they would provide for each potential partner.

The study was based on the foundation of Sexual Strategies Theory, which elucidates the variances in how men and women approach short-term and long-term mating strategies. The survey results unequivocally support the findings derived from this theory.

Men judged more strictly for one-night stands

Kennair summarizes the main findings of the study as follows: "We discovered no evidence of a double standard in long-term relationships. However, when it comes to short-term relationships, men are subjected to stricter judgments, indicating a reversed double standard."

"Both genders face harsher scrutiny regarding enduring partnerships compared to casual encounters. This revelation bears significant importance," remarks Bendixen.

The prerequisites for engaging in long-term relationships surpass those for short-term relationships. Men face the harshest judgment in the context of short-term partnerships.

Many individuals are likely to dismiss this discovery, as it is widely believed to be an almost absolute truth that women who engage in sexual exploration face more severe judgment than men. However, the prevalence of this belief does not render it any more accurate.

The criticism towards individuals who have multiple sexual relationships is not particularly strong. While there may be a slight social disapproval, the level of criticism is relatively equal between genders.

Why would men judge women?

The professors were not notably taken aback by the outcomes.

"Why would men possibly judge women who express a desire to engage in sexual activities with them?" Kennair questioned.

The professors are also not surprised by the possibility that the opposite may be true under specific circumstances.

The phenomenon of women judging men is likely connected to the fact that women, in general, exhibit greater skepticism towards specific forms of sexual behavior compared to men.

Hence, women tend to exhibit a slightly higher level of skepticism compared to men when it comes to a potential short-term partner for a friend who has a history of numerous sexual relationships or is highly sexually active.

Men like women who masturbate

Regarding self-stimulation, the general population tends to be even less judgmental than they are about having multiple partners. In particular, women who engage in masturbation are actually subjected to less negative judgment compared to men, especially in the context of short-term relationships.

“Men find it sexy when women masturbate,” says Kennair.

This lack of surprise is supported by research, which confirms what is already apparent. Overall, there is very little evidence to suggest that many individuals are concerned about whether others engage in masturbation or not. The vast majority consider it perfectly acceptable.

"Contrary to condemning women's practice of masturbation, men were found to be highly accepting of it, especially in short-term situations. This aligns precisely with what we would anticipate according to evolutionary theory, which suggests that men would be interested in cues indicating sexual availability," explains Thomas.

However, not all behaviour is acceptable.

Cheating and controlling behaviour are not OK

"Potential partners with a past characterized by infidelity, jealousy, and controlling behavior are perceived as highly negative for both genders. This holds true for both male and female partners," affirms Bendixen.

Indulging in a propensity for infidelity or persistently accusing one's partner of being unfaithful carries the risk of tarnishing one's reputation and limiting future prospects.

"This perspective extends to both short-term and long-term sexual relationships, specifically concerning how participants assess someone's suitability for a long-term sexual partnership," explains Bendixen.

These behaviors become particularly significant when individuals contemplate whether it is worth extending the relationship beyond a brief encounter. People generally do not desire such partners, either for themselves or for those they know.

"When individuals are evaluating potential partners for long-term relationships, a history of cheating and controlling behavior becomes more problematic, not only for themselves but also for their friends," explains Kennair.

Religion, disgust and your own openness

The research group also investigated additional factors such as religiosity, the inclination to experience sexual disgust, and individuals' personal inclination towards engaging in short-term sexual relationships.

"These factors are associated with participants' inclination to recommend their friends to engage in sexual relations with partners who have a significant sexual history," explains Kennair.

More precisely, individuals who exhibit lower levels of religiosity, are less perturbed by the prospect of others engaging in sexual activities nearby, and hold a more permissive attitude towards casual sex are more inclined to recommend their friends to pursue sexual relations with individuals who have a history of multiple partners, engage in frequent masturbation, or exhibit controlling and unfaithful behavior.

"Among the individual factors examined, the openness to engaging in short-term sexual encounters was the only factor that had a greater influence on recommendations for female friends compared to male friends," notes Bendixen.

In simpler terms, if you personally have a greater inclination towards short-term sexual encounters, you are more likely to suggest a like-minded individual as a potential partner for a female friend.

Findings apply to people in the West and people we don't know

Two important points should be highlighted here. Firstly, our standards and scrutiny are typically higher when it comes to family and close relatives compared to strangers. We desire them to have exceptionally suitable partners, and this inclination is influenced by both biological and cultural factors.

“But we’re not closely related to the vast majority of people,” says Kennair.

It is crucial to acknowledge that these findings pertain specifically to the Western context, specifically Europe and North America. The researchers do not possess knowledge regarding how these issues are perceived in other regions of the world, where religious and cultural factors may significantly impact the results or possibly lead to different outcomes altogether.

"This study represents the first exploration of sexual double standards in Norwegian society, and it is important to note that the results are not influenced by the sample. The absence of sexual double standards seems to be a recurring pattern in every culture we have examined," remarks Thomas.

Reference: Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, Andrew G. Thomas, David M. Buss, and Mons Bendixen, Examining the Sexual Double Standards and Hypocrisy in Partner Suitability Appraisals Within a Norwegian Sample, Evolutionary Psychology 2023 21:1.

Journal Link: Evolutionary Psychology