Gender’s Role in Misperceptions of Peers’ Sexual Motives

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Rose Wesche.

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Wesche, R., Espinosa-Hernández, G. & Lefkowitz, E.S. Gender’s Role in Misperceptions of Peers’ Sexual Motives. Sexuality & Culture 20, 1003–1019 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-016-9370-1

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Keywords

  • Sexual motives
  • Sexual double standard
  • Hookup culture