Girls Lose Friends for Having Sex, Boys Gain Them, Study Shows

September 25, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Two adolescents kiss goodnight
Photo credit: Courtney Carmody/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

A new study shows that kids as young as 11-16 judge their peers based on their sexual activity. And there seems to be a double-standard for boys and girls.

The concept that males and females are treated differently for their sex lives is certainly not a new one, but a new sociology study shows the reactions of kids as young as 11 to 16 to their peers’ sex lives. Apparently, girls think it’s cool for other girls to make out with boys without having sex, while guys think it’s totally lame to draw the line at locking lips.

Researchers analyzed data from youngsters in 28 rural communities in Iowa and Pennsylvania. They found that, on average, girls took a 45 percent loss in peer acceptance after having sex, while boys gained a whopping 88 percent increase in acceptance. After making out, girls had a 25 percent increase in peer acceptance while boys took a 29 percent loss, the findings showed.

In an American Sociological Association news release, the study’s lead author, Derek Kreager, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Pennsylvania State University, said, “What really surprised us was that “making out” showed a pattern consistent with a strong reverse sexual double-standard, such that girls who “make out” without having sex see significant increases in friendships, and boys who engage in the same behavior see significant decreases in friendships.”

The findings seem to show that, even at these young ages, boys and girls are being influenced by the traditional biases about how a sexual act reflects on men versus women. Men are expected to act on impulsive sex drives to assert a sense of masculinity and power, while women are expected to value romance and demand respect in committed relationships.

Kreager added, “A sexual double-standard then arises because women and girls who violate traditional sexual scripts and have casual and/or multiple sexual praetorships are socially stigmatized, whereas men and boys performing similar behaviors are rewarded for achieving masculine ideals.”

Interestingly, the study showed that girls who defied traditional gender roles by having sex lost both male and female friendships, while boys who defied the scripts by “making out” without sex lost mainly male friends. As Kreager explained, “There is somewhat of a paradox for boys stigmatizing girls who have sex because these boys are punishing girls for behavior that benefits boys socially and sexually. We believe one reason for this is that only a small minority of boys have such sexual access, so those who do not have sex negatively define the girls who are having sex.”

This study brings an interesting issue to light: sexual biases start at a much younger age than typically discussed. Research usually focuses on men and women in college and young adulthood, but it fails to account for the social spheres that shape these gender scripts at a much younger age.

"During early adolescence, peer evaluations of initial sexual behaviors and virginity loss are likely to have large and lasting impacts on later sexual adjustment," Kreager speculates.

In a society where kids are bombarded with sexualized media images and have internet access at their fingertips, they’re beginning to explore their sexualities at younger ages. In turn, traditional male and female biases are surfacing at younger ages, which might make it more difficult to overcome gender double-standards in the future.

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