Gender Issues

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 139–163 | Cite as

Is Everybody Doing It? Perceptions and Misperceptions of Sexual Behavior in the College Freshman Population

  • Alexandra I. Zelin
  • Mindy J. ErchullEmail author
  • James R. Houston
Original Article


Descriptive and injunctive norms have been shown to influence people’s perceptions of what actions are considered appropriate, but they are frequently based on misperceptions. Men and women often hold varying perceptions with regards to sexual attitudes and behaviors. One hundred fifty-six heterosexual freshman women and 135 heterosexual freshman men were surveyed about their own sexually permissive attitudes and behaviors and their perceptions of their best friend’s and the average same-sex freshman’s attitudes and behaviors. We anticipated and found that women and men perceived a three-tiered significant difference in sexually permissive attitudes, with participants reporting the least permissive attitudes while reporting the perception that the average freshman had the most permissive attitudes. Differing results were found for the tiered differences for sexual intercourse and giving and receiving oral sex. In general, women’s own number of sexual partners was related to their own sexually permissive attitudes and their perceptions of others’ attitudes and behaviors. In contrast, men’s own number of sexual partners was typically only influenced by their own sexually permissive attitudes and their perceptions of other men’s behaviors. Ultimately, women’s behaviors are influenced by perceptions of others’ actions and beliefs in addition to their own beliefs, whereas men’s behaviors are influenced only by their own beliefs and their perceptions of others’ behaviors.


Sex Oral sex Social norms Descriptive norms Injunctive norms Sexually permissive attitudes 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra I. Zelin
    • 1
  • Mindy J. Erchull
    • 2
    Email author
  • James R. Houston
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AkronAkronUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Mary WashingtonFredericksburgUSA

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