Sex Roles

, Volume 79, Issue 3–4, pp 228–238 | Cite as

Exploring Heterosexual Adults’ Endorsement of the Sexual Double Standard among Initiators of Consensually Nonmonogamous Relationship Behaviors

  • Ashley E. ThompsonEmail author
  • Jocelyn Hart
  • Sarah Stefaniak
  • Carissa Harvey
Original Article


Although the traditional sexual double standard (SDS) has been well documented, recent research has produced inconsistencies. Some scholars argue that the SDS may only exist for less traditional sexual behaviors, reflecting society’s progression toward equality. Thus, the current study examined the SDS when evaluating individuals initiating a variety of forms of consensual nonmonogamy (CNM; i.e., romantic relationships that are sexually and/or emotionally nonexclusive). Using a between-subject experimental paradigm, 793 heterosexual U.S. adults (338 men, 455 women) read one of eight vignettes depicting an individual initiating one of five behaviors with their romantic partner (polyamory, swinging, open relationships, group sex, role-playing) and subsequently judged the initiator using three judgments of interest (cognitive abilities, morality, and relationship satisfaction). The results indicated that women initiators were judged more favorably than were men initiators and that role-playing initiators were judged more favorably than were CNM initiators. Among CNM behaviors, those initiating swinging and group sex were judged more favorably than were those initiating polyamory and open relationships. These results are consistent with research highlighting inconsistencies in the SDS in contemporary society and demonstrate the endorsement of a relationship double standard. Implications regarding gender equality as well as the promotion of inclusive sexual education are discussed.


Sexual double standard Consensual nonmonogamy Gender differences Stigma Polyamory Romantic relationships Swinging Open relationships Sexuality Group sex 



The first and second authors received funding for this project from a University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s Student/Faculty Collaborative Research Grant. We are grateful for the help of Aaron Bagley, Devon Egan, Jeramiah Gruendemann, Danica Kulibert, Sarah Londo, Elle Moore, Matthew Raymond, and Rebecca Tolfa through the entire research process.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This manuscript has not been published, accepted for publication, or simultaneously submitted to other journals or publications. No other previous publications or submissions would be considered redundant or very similar to this one. In addition, there are no known potential conflicts of interest. We also received relevant IRB approval for conducting this study (there was no deception, there was no risk of harm, all participants provided consent prior to completing the study, and everyone was instructed of their rights as a participant and debriefed appropriately).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ashley E. Thompson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jocelyn Hart
    • 2
  • Sarah Stefaniak
    • 2
  • Carissa Harvey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Minnesota DuluthOrdean Court DuluthUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin OshkoshOshkoshUSA

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