Promiscuous women and men may face social isolation from peers of the same sex due to their sexual activities, a new study says.

When college-aged women and men were asked to judge promiscuous women who had bedded 20 sexual partners by their early 20s, the women surveyed judged them more negatively. Even if the participants were just as promiscuous, or reported liberal attitudes about sex, they viewed the women as unbecoming of friendship, according to a press release.

The study was conducted by providing 751 college students with almost matching vignettes about a male or female peer — men received vignettes about a male peer and women received one about a female peer. The only difference was that some of the vignettes told the participant that the peer only had two partners and the others said the peer had 20. Researchers then asked the participants to rate the person on a range of friendship factors, including warmth, competence, morality, emotional stability, and overall likability.

The researchers found that regardless of how promiscuous the female participants' were, they still viewed the more promiscuous women more negatively on nine of the ten friendship attributes, only judging them positively on their outgoingness. Men on the other hand showed no preference on eight out of the ten variables, only favoring less promiscuous men when it came to mate guarding and dislike of sexuality.

The researchers believe that this study proves that even though cultural attitudes about casual sex have become more liberal recently, women still face the double standard of being "slutty," while men are celebrated for their sexual accomplishments.

"For sexually permissive women, they are ostracized for being 'easy,' whereas men with a high number of sexual partners are viewed with a sense of accomplishment," Zhana Vrangalova, a Cornell graduate students in the field of human development and lead author of the study, said. "What surprised us in this study is how unaccepting promiscuous women were of other promiscuous women when it cam to friendships — these are the very people one would think they could turn to for support."

The authors said that the reasons for these outcomes might be that men and women are just trying to guard their mates from threats to the relationships.

Based on previous research, men viewed promiscuous women unsuitable or long-term romantic relationships, while women who rejected other women with a high number of sexual partners did so because they wanted to avoid the stigma associated with being friends to such women, Vrangalova said, adding that these reasons could isolate women from many social circles.


Vrangalova Z, Bukberg R, Rieger G. Birds of a feather? Not when it comes to sexual permissiveness. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. June 2013.