Last year, study results allegedly indicated that, as a LiveScience title put it, “College Students Don’t Judge Women For Hooking Up.”
college students often harbor a sexual double standard around dates that is relatively relaxed when it comes to in-the-moment hookups. In hookup scenarios, the study found, students are open to a woman taking the sexual lead.
This year, results of a study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago implied that 75% of college students viewed men and women similarly in the arena of casual sex. Does this really mean that we can stop worrying about the “he’s a stud, she’s a slut” dichotomy and embrace a future where we’re all equally shamed, male and female alike?
Before we tackle what this study in particular might or might not mean, let us look to the not-so-distant past and consider another social issue where people are preoccupied with others’ non-platonic lives: interracial marriage. In the United States, it has gone from being almost entirely taboo to far more acceptable than not, according to Pew — although the level of acceptance varies from region to region and depends on the racial mix in question.
During the interim between the legalization of interracial marriage and today, when the numbers of interracial couples — and, as a result, mixed-race children — rise exponentially over the years, there was a curious period when the acceptance of such unions seemed to be rising but actual interracial marriage rates were not. The incongruities left much to be explained. If people were so much more accepting of interracial marriage, why were more individuals not embracing the opening of romantic possibilities?
An examination of the studies that allegedly showed a rise in tolerance of interracial marriage revealed a possible flaw in the questioning itself. People were asked if, in essence, they were okay with interracial marriage. To say “no” to a question like that would brand the respondent a racist, so people would answer with an automatic “yes.”
Studies conducted after this reexamination of the methodology added questions that were far less abstract, along the lines of “Would you approve of your child bringing home someone of another race?” These studies showed the gap between the hypothetical and the real that contributed towards the continued stigma towards interracial couples.
A similar wish to appear more progressive but without actually affecting progressive attitudes in their personal lives could very well be influencing the study participants who allegedly demonstrated that promiscuous people are equally judged across gender lines. In the study cited by the LiveScience piece, people were presented with a hypothetical scenario. The results would have likely varied if the question posed to men were, “Would you go out with a woman who has had casual sex?” or even “Would you date a woman who has had more sexual partners than you have had?”
On a completely speculative note, I would suspect that many men who answered “Sure, I’d be cool with a woman initiating” pictured a conventionally attractive woman (or at least one who is attractive to that particular man) taking the lead in a sexual encounter. Anecdotally, the further away from the “hot” category a woman is, the more likely she is to be pathologized as needy or desperate for making the first move. It would be interesting to see a study where women of varying levels of traits widely considered to be “hot” were each to be judged for initiating flirtation with men.
The negative attitudes towards interracial marriage did not change without brave individuals choosing to love whom they wished regardless of quasi-scientific categories of people. Ending double standards has to begin somewhere, too. Refusing to slut-shame or accept others’ slut-shaming is a good first step — as is taking studies like this with a grain of salt.