The “Sextual” Double Standard: An Experimental Examination of Variations in Judgments of Men and Women Who Engage in Computer-Mediated Sexual Communication

Abstract

Although computer-mediated sexual communication (i.e., sexting) is a common behavior, research indicates that perceptions of sexting are generally negative. However, no research has attempted to quantitatively examine how perceptions of sexting vary according to the gender of the individuals involved. Thus, the current study investigated the endorsement of the sexual double standard (SDS; defined as the tendency to judge women more harshly than men for engaging in comparable sexual behavior) when evaluating hypothetical individuals who engage in sexting. A total of 949 U.S. adults (512 men, 438 women) participated in a between-subject experimental paradigm, in which they were randomly assigned to read one of 16 vignettes depicting a hypothetical sexting scenario and evaluate one of the individuals involved using three constructs of interest (morality, cognitive abilities, partner quality). The results provided no evidence of a SDS with respect to sexting, with hypothetical men and women being judged similarly on three constructs of interest. However, judgments of those who sext were largely influenced by the target’s role in the interaction (sender/receiver, requester/non-requester) and the familiarity of those involved (casual/committed partners). Hypothetical targets described as sexting with a casual partner and adopting an active role were judged as less moral, having lower cognitive abilities, and being poorer quality partners than those described as sexting a committed partner and adopting a passive role. Overall, these results indicate that the traditional SDS has given way to an egalitarian standard, perhaps due to recent societal shifts. Implications for investigators, educators, and practitioners are discussed.

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This work was supported by a graduate student internal grant from the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

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Appendix A

Appendix A

Experimental Vignettes

  1. 1.

    Woman/committed/requested/sender

Kelly and John have been in a committed romantic relationship with one another for over 2 years. They have agreed that they are exclusive with one another and keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while Kelly and John are texting, he sends her a message asking her to send him a nude photo of herself. Kelly agrees and moments later sends the photo to John.

  1. 2.

    Woman/not committed/requested/sender

Kelly and John met about a week ago and have went out on one date. They have yet to discuss whether they are exclusively with one another but they keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while Kelly and John are texting, he sends her a message asking her to send him a nude photo of herself. Kelly agrees and moments later sends the photo to John.

  1. 3.

    Woman/committed/not requested/sender

Kelly and John have been in a committed romantic relationship with one another for over 2 years. They have agreed that they are exclusive with one another and keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while Kelly and John are texting, Kelly decides to send him a nude photo of herself. John was not expecting this photo of Kelly.

  1. 4.

    Woman/not committed/not requested/sender

Kelly and John met about a week ago and have went out on one date. They have yet to discuss whether they are exclusively with one another but they keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while Kelly and John are texting, Kelly decides to send him a nude photo of herself. John was not expecting this photo of Kelly.

  1. 5.

    Woman/committed/requested/receiver

Kelly and John have been in a committed romantic relationship with one another for over 2 years. They have agreed that they are exclusive with one another and keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while Kelly and John are texting, Kelly asks John to send her a nude photo of himself. John agrees and moments later Kelly receives the photo.

  1. 6.

    Woman/not committed/requested/receiver

Kelly and John met about a week ago and have went out on one date. They have yet to discuss whether they are exclusively with one another but they keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while Kelly and John are texting, Kelly asks John to send her a nude photo of himself. John agrees and moments later Kelly receives the photo.

  1. 7.

    Woman/committed/not requested/receiver

Kelly and John have been in a committed romantic relationship with one another for over 2 years. They have agreed that they are exclusive with one another and keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while Kelly and John are texting, Kelly receives a nude photo of John. Kelly was not expecting this photo of John.

  1. 8.

    Woman/not committed/not requested/receiver

Kelly and John met about a week ago and have went out on one date. They have yet to discuss whether they are exclusively with one another but they keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while Kelly and John are texting, Kelly receives a nude photo of John. Kelly was not expecting this photo of John.

  1. 9.

    Man/committed/requested/sender

John and Kelly have been in a committed romantic relationship with one another for over 2 years. They have agreed that they are exclusive with one another and keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while John and Kelly are texting, she sends him a message asking him to send her a nude photo of himself. John agrees and moments later sends the photo to Kelly.

  1. 10.

    Man/not committed/requested/sender

John and Kelly met about a week ago and have went out on one date. They have yet to discuss whether they are exclusively with one another but they keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while John and Kelly are texting, she sends him a message asking him to send her a nude photo of himself. John agrees and moments later sends the photo to Kelly.

  1. 11.

    Man/committed/not requested/sender

John and Kelly have been in a committed romantic relationship with one another for over 2 years. They have agreed that they are exclusive with one another and keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while John and Kelly are texting, John decides to send her a nude photo of himself. Kelly was not expecting this photo of John.

  1. 12.

    Man/not committed/not requested/sender

John and Kelly met about a week ago and have went out on one date. They have yet to discuss whether they are exclusively with one another but they keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while John and Kelly are texting, John decides to send her a nude photo of himself. Kelly was not expecting this photo of John.

  1. 13.

    Man/committed/requested/receiver

John and Kelly have been in a committed romantic relationship with one another for over 2 years. They have agreed that they are exclusive with one another and keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while John and Kelly are texting, John asks Kelly to send him a nude photo of herself. Kelly agrees and moments later John receives the photo.

  1. 14.

    Man/not committed/requested/receiver

John and Kelly met about a week ago and have went out on one date. They have yet to discuss whether they are exclusively with one another but they keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while John and Kelly are texting, John asks Kelly to send him a nude photo of herself. Kelly agrees and moments later John receives the photo.

  1. 15.

    Man/committed/not requested/receiver

John and Kelly have been in a committed romantic relationship with one another for over 2 years. They have agreed that they are exclusive with one another and keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while John and Kelly are texting, John receives a nude photo of Kelly. John was not expecting this photo of Kelly.

  1. 16.

    Man/not committed/not requested/receiver

John and Kelly met about a week ago and have went out on one date. They have yet to discuss whether they are exclusively with one another but they keep in contact by texting frequently. Late one evening while John and Kelly are texting, John receives a nude photo of Kelly. John was not expecting this photo of Kelly.

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Harvey, C.A., Harvey, T.A. & Thompson, A.E. The “Sextual” Double Standard: An Experimental Examination of Variations in Judgments of Men and Women Who Engage in Computer-Mediated Sexual Communication. Sexuality & Culture 24, 712–732 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-019-09658-8

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Keywords

  • Sexual double standard
  • Computer-mediated sexual communication
  • Sexting
  • Sexual script theory