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J Sex Res. 2011 Sep;48(5):437-49. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2010.506679. Epub 2011 May 24.

Identity, peer relationships, and adolescent girls' sexual behavior: an exploration of the contemporary double standard.

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  • 1Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Oakland University, MI 48309-4402, USA.


The idea of a sexual double standard emphasizes that men have more sexual freedom, whereas women are subject to social sanctions for the same behaviors. This research uses a sample of adolescent women to examine the social consequences of reporting a greater number of sex partners. The research explores whether there are broader social costs and feelings of low self-worth associated with a high number of sex partners, and also focuses on characteristics of the adolescents' close friends. The analyses of quantitative data (n = 600) provide support for the emphasis on the adolescents' immediate network of friends: Friends' attitudes and behaviors were significant predictors of respondents' own sexual experiences, while those reporting a higher number of sex partners did not report a lack of popularity, desire for more friends, or lower self-esteem. In-depth relationship history narratives collected from a subset of respondents (n = 46) provide additional context. Women often recognized the existence of a double standard on a societal or school level, but support or acceptance provided by the more immediate network of similarly situated friends serves as a buffer against such negative attributions. The findings suggest that programs targeting sexual behaviors should focus on how peer norms influence girls' sexual choices.

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