Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 1003–1019 | Cite as

Gender’s Role in Misperceptions of Peers’ Sexual Motives

  • Rose WescheEmail author
  • Graciela Espinosa-Hernández
  • Eva S. Lefkowitz
Original Paper


The sexual double standard influences men’s and women’s sexual attitudes and behavior, leading men and women to consider distinct sexual motives, or reasons whether or not to engage in sexual intercourse. The goal of the present paper was to document how the sexual double standard shapes perceptions of peers’ sexual motives. We build on past research by using open-ended questions and measuring perceptions of both same-gender and other-gender peers. The sample included 154 heterosexual college students (50 % female, 49 % European American, 25 % Latino American, 26 % African American) recruited via probability sampling. When we compared perceptions of men’s and women’s sexual motives, we found that participants seemed to rely on the sexual double standard. Participants were more likely to attribute a female-stereotyped motive (e.g., romantic relationship characteristics, feeling “ready”, emotional investment) and less likely to attribute a male-stereotyped motive (“easy”, arousal, physical appearance) to female peers than to male peers. However, when we compared participants’ own motives to perceptions of their peers’ motives, participants overestimated male-stereotyped motives and underestimated female-stereotyped motives in peers, regardless of peer gender, possibly in congruence with stereotypes of hookup culture. These findings demonstrate that, although individuals sometimes rely on the sexual double standard to attribute sexual motives to others, misperceptions of peers’ sexual motives may also be influenced by stereotypes of hookup culture. These misperceptions contribute to pluralistic ignorance that may influence college students’ sexual behaviors.


Sexual motives Sexual double standard Hookup culture 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.University of North Carolina WilmingtonWilmingtonUSA
  3. 3.University of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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