In this article, we present results from a “cohort-longitudinal” analysis of sexual attitudes and behaviors based on a large sample of young adults (N = 7,777) obtained from a university setting over a 23-year period. We investigated gender, ethnicity, and cohort differences in sexual permissiveness, endorsement of the double standard, and sociosexuality. Compared to women, men had more permissive attitudes, particularly about sex in casual relationships, endorsed the double standard to a greater degree, and had a more unrestricted sociosexuality. Black men were generally more permissive than White, Hispanic, and Asian men, whereas ethnic differences were not found among women. Participants from the 1995–1999 cohort were slightly less permissive than those from the 1990–1994 and 2005–2012 cohorts. Although prior meta-analytic studies (e.g., Petersen & Hyde, 2010) found reduced gender differences in sexuality over time, our cohort analyses suggest that gender differences in sexual permissiveness have not changed over the past two decades among college students.
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Although the university, particular class, and survey remained constant across the 23 years, there were a few changes that occurred. In fall of 1997, the survey was modified to include directions and wording (for some items) that would be more applicable to homosexual participants. Second, the course was initially one of several electives in a University Studies program but then became an elective without being connected to the General Education program that replaced the University Studies program at this university.
We had no reason to believe that two underlying components were responsible for differential responses of sexual permissiveness for casual versus committed relationships. Rather, all five items were part of a general component of sexual standards with two linear components.
Our very large sample size allocated us very high statistical power to detect the smallest of effects (see Cohen, 1992). Thus, many of the p values in the effects described below were inflated towards high statistical significance (i.e., under p = .001), even for very small effects. Thus, our interpretations of each effect were based on the relative effect size.
We performed an additional test of the sex × ethnicity MANOVA in which we examined socioeconomic status and religiosity as covariates. We operationalized socioeconomic status as an aggregate of standardized scores in the following variables: mother’s education (less than 12 years, high school graduate, technical-vocational degree, some college, bachelor’s degree, some graduate work, master’s degree, advanced degree), father’s education (identical measure as mother’s education), and self-reported social status (lower class, working class, lower middle class, middle class, upper middle class, upper class); thus, higher scores reflect higher socioeconomic status. We operationalized religiosity as an aggregate of standardized scores in the number of religious services attended each month (0–4 or more) and reverse-coded self-reported religiosity (not religious, slightly religious, somewhat religious, very religious); thus, higher scores reflect greater degrees of religiosity. Neither socioeconomic status nor religiosity were significant covariates. Specifically, although socioeconomic status did not interact with gender and race, it did not uniquely predict the collective dependent variables. Religiosity was a significant predictor of the collective dependent variables (partial η2 = .04) but it interacted with race (albeit very weakly; partial η2 = .002), which thus prohibited it from being a covariate in this model.
In a separate analysis, we analyzed cohort differences in sexual attitudes and behaviors using multilevel modeling. We found no evidence of a nested structure (students nested in years of data collection) in all five of our dependent measure, all intraclass correlations (ICC) < .01. Likewise, in another related analysis, we correlated our five dependent measures, as well as the squares of these measures (to test for curvilinear effects), with the year of data collection (treated as a continuous variable). None of these correlations were significant, all rs ≤ .013, all ps > .26.
We also analyzed the effect of cohort on the endorsement of the DS by including cohort as a between-subjects variable in the mixed-measures analysis of the DS described earlier. This test revealed that cohort did not interact with the gender × gender of target person × stage of relationship interaction, F(3, 7716) < 1, partial η 2 = 0.
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Sprecher, S., Treger, S. & Sakaluk, J.K. Premarital Sexual Standards and Sociosexuality: Gender, Ethnicity, and Cohort Differences. Arch Sex Behav 42, 1395–1405 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0145-6
- Sexual attitudes
- Sexual standards
- Gender differences
- Ethnic differences