Healthy Living

For Men and Women, Too Much Casual Sex Means Losing Peer Respect

Female Students
Image REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Many cultures do not approve of multiple sexual partners. In many parts of the world, a woman can be punished for engaging in casual sexual activity. But the sexual history of the United States is different as it is mostly considered to be liberal. Now, the researchers have found that casual sex is no longer hot and hooking up too much results in losing peer respect.

College students in the West coast are more likely to be liberal about casual sexual activity than college students in the Midwest regions, the study found.

"Men and women are increasingly judging each other on the same level playing field. But, gender equality and sexual liberation are not synonymous. While we've come a long way in terms of gender equality, it seems that a large portion of both college men and women lose respect for individuals who they believe participate in too frequent casual sexual activity,” said Rachel Allison, co-author of the study from the University of Illinois at Chicago's Department of Sociology.

The study was based on a sample size of 19,000 students. Participants were given an online questionnaire that asked them to respond to statements like: "If (wo)men hook up or have sex with lots of people, I respect them less." Using answers to this statement and other questions, researchers categorized participants into four groups; egalitarian conservative, egalitarian libertarian, traditional double standard and reverse double standard.

Researchers found that almost half, or 48 percent, of the study group were egalitarian conservative or people who judged men and women based on same standards but were somewhat conservative about people having multiple partners. These people lost respect towards both men and women if they have many partners.

About 27 percent were egalitarian libertarian meaning that they judged people equally and didn't lose respect towards either men or women based on sexual history.

Interestingly, 13 percent belonged to the reverse double standard category where people tend to lose respect toward men if they have many partners but not toward women. About 12 percent were in the traditional double standard which, as the name suggests, means that people have different standards to judge sexual history of men and women and lose respect for women for hooking up too much.

The study also found that people in traditional double standard category were most likely men. A majority of women participants (54 percent) belonged to egalitarian conservative.

Buddhists, Jewish or non-affiliated students were less likely to lose respect for someone based on their sexual history than Catholics.

Also, 76 percent of women who described themselves as fundamentalist Catholics judged people more harshly based on sexual activities.

Researchers have called this study a sea-change in terms of studies based on sexuality because it explores differences in attitudes towards casual sexual activities of both men and women

"You have to remember how far the sexual revolution has come. Before, sociologists would study stigma directed toward sexually active unmarried women. Now, we are looking at whether stigma still exists toward men and women who too often engage in purely recreational sexual activity outside the confines of a dating relationship. That's a sea change in attitudes towards sex," Risman said.

The new research is to be presented at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

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