The Double Standard at Sexual Debut: Gender, Sexual Behavior and Adolescent Peer Acceptance

Abstract

A sexual double standard in adolescence has important implications for sexual development and gender inequality. The present study uses longitudinal social network data (N = 914; 11–16 years of age) to test if gender moderates associations between adolescents’ sexual behaviors and peer acceptance. Consistent with a traditional sexual double standard, female adolescents who reported having sex had significant decreases in peer acceptance over time, whereas male adolescents reporting the same behavior had significant increases in peer acceptance. This pattern was observed net of respondents’ own perceived friendships, further suggesting that the social responses to sex vary by gender of the sexual actor. However, findings for “making out” showed a reverse double standard, such that female adolescents reporting this behavior had increases in peer acceptance and male adolescents reporting the same behavior had decreases in peer acceptance over time. Results thus suggest that peers enforce traditional sexual scripts for both “heavy” and “light” sexual behaviors during adolescence. These findings have important implications for sexual health education, encouraging educators to develop curricula that emphasize the gendered social construction of sexuality and to combat inequitable and stigmatizing peer responses to real or perceived deviations from traditional sexual scripts.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Rose Wesche, Wayne Osgood, and Scott Gest for comments on an earlier draft. This project is supported by grants from the W.T. Grant Foundation (8316), National Institute on Drug Abuse (RO1-DA08225), and NIH Grant 2 R24 HD041025 awarded to the population center at Pennsylvania State University. The research uses data from PROSPER, a project directed by R. L. Spoth and funded by grant RO1-DA013709 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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Correspondence to Derek A. Kreager.

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The Double Standard at Sexual Debut: Gender, Sexual Behavior and Adolescent Peer Acceptance

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Kreager, D.A., Staff, J., Gauthier, R. et al. The Double Standard at Sexual Debut: Gender, Sexual Behavior and Adolescent Peer Acceptance. Sex Roles 75, 377–392 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0618-x

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Keywords

  • Sexual double standard
  • Gender norms
  • Adolescence
  • Social networks
  • Sexual activity