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Promoting Theory-Based Perspectives in Sexual Double Standard Research

Abstract

The sexual double standard (SDS) has been a focus of research for several decades. Numerous anecdotal accounts of the double standard exist, detailing its consequences and impact on women’s, as well as men’s, sexual behavior and identities. Empirical research, however, has yet to completely corroborate the degree to which the double standard pervades everyday life. The disparity between anecdotal accounts and empirical evidence related to the SDS may be the result of the partially atheoretical approach with which the SDS has traditionally been examined. The goal of the present paper is to encourage researchers to take a more theory-oriented approach to understanding the double standard. Our goal is not to provide another comprehensive literature review or an argument for the “best” theory, but rather to promote theory-based perspectives in future SDS research. In the current paper, three theoretical perspectives—evolutionary theory, social role theory, and cognitive social learning theory—and their relevance to the SDS are discussed. We discuss four hypotheses, one related to the core tenet of the SDS itself, and three related to moderating factors, including characteristics of evaluators (i.e., gender, gender roles beliefs, and sexual history), characteristics of targets (i.e., relationship type engaged in, sexual activities participated in, and power status), and social factors (i.e., cultural background, historical era, and socialization agents). Existing research is also interpreted in light of one or more of the theoretical perspectives in the hopes of guiding future research.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Collin Scarince, as well as the editor and reviewers for reading earlier drafts of this article and providing us with feedback and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Yuliana Zaikman.

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Zaikman, Y., Marks, M.J. Promoting Theory-Based Perspectives in Sexual Double Standard Research. Sex Roles 76, 407–420 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0677-z

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Keywords

  • Sexual double standard
  • Evolutionary theory
  • Social role theory
  • Cognitive social learning theory
  • Sex differences
  • Sexual behavior
  • Gender roles