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Feminspire | April 17, 2014

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New Research Presents the Science Behind Being a Slut

New Research Presents the Science Behind Being a Slut

What’s the difference between Mark approaching Lisa for a hookup and Lisa approaching Mark for a hookup?

Mark is a human male; Lisa is a slut. Only now, being a “slut” has scientifically defined qualities: “Lisa [is perceived] to be less intelligent, less mentally healthy, more promiscuous, less competent, and more risky than Mark—even though Mark and Lisa both accepted the sexual offer.”

These characteristics are derived from new “research” on the way heterosexual individuals are perceived based on their sexual permissiveness. The Psychology of Women Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal, released a study on Nov. 29 titled “Backlash From the Bedroom: Stigma Mediates Gender Differences in Acceptance of Casual Sex Offers.”

A team of researchers led by Terri Conley, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, surveyed some 3,000 participants ages 18-74 to determine the relationship between causal sex and social stigma for men and women.

This sexual double standard has been studied for decades. Research has backed theories that women accept casual sex less than men because they have fewer ova then men have sperm, meaning women must be more selective in choosing mates for evolutionary purposes.

The idea of stepping outside the box of gender stereotypes has also been documented by researchers. Citing the workplace as an example, when managers act as competitive, assertive leaders, men are perceived as likable and hirable, while women are perceived as less hirable and “manly.” There is no way for women to win in this scenario, where a damned if you do, damned if you don’t perspective holds women back from promotion and advocating on their own behalf.

How does this translate to casual sex? One study was conducted in a large university setting, where the average age of a participant was 22. Participants read one of two scenarios:

“Mark is a student at [your university]. One day, a woman approached him on campus and said ‘‘I have been noticing you around campus and I find you to be very attractive. Would you go to bed with me tonight?’’ Mark was quite surprised, but he quickly replied, ‘Sure, where and what time?’’”

The second scenario read the same, but Lisa replaced Mark as the acceptor of casual sex.

Participants rated on a scale how intelligent, promiscuous, mentally healthy, and physically attractive Mark or Lisa was for choosing to hook up. The idea of a double standard was confirmed by results.

Another study turned the tables on participants, asking, ‘‘assuming you were free that night, how likely would you be to accept the sexual offer?’’ Unsurprisingly, men were more likely to accept the offer than women.

When the researchers assigned a response to the offer of casual sex to participants, the results were particularly demeaning. Participants were asked to imagine one of two outcomes: they accepted the offer of casual sex, or they refused the offer. The results showed that women are often their own harshest critics: “Women believed that they would be perceived more negatively overall and as less intelligent than men did if they accepted the sexual offer,” the study states. “Also, women who imagined agreeing to the sexual offer thought that they would be perceived as significantly more promiscuous, socially inappropriate, and sexually desperate (relative to men) if they agreed to the sexual offer. Conversely, women (relative to men) believed that they would be perceived as more intelligent, mentally healthy, physically attractive, socially appropriate, sexually well adjusted, and more positively overall if they refused the sexual offer.”

What was men’s main concern about accepting or refusing an offer of casual sex, according to the study? To refuse would to be perceived as “gay.” Women who participated in casual sex were socially ostracized; men who didn’t participate in casual sex were seen as effeminate.

In other words, to be a slut is inappropriate for women, and to be a woman is inappropriate for everyone.

These are only two of the proven double standards the researchers identified through studies. The concept of slut-shaming women for having casual sex in a society where promiscuous sexual behavior is only acceptable for men is not a theory – it’s a state of mind that has led to a culture of unsafe sexuality.

That’s right. By understanding that women, like men, are sexual beings with sexual needs who should not be reproached for taking control of their sexuality, society will benefit as a whole.

“A lack of sexual autonomy may not only predict women’s decreased sexual pleasure, but may also interfere with sexual safety; sexual autonomy is linked to the ability to negotiate desired sexual behavior, contraceptive use, and safer sex behaviors,” the researchers concluded. “Thus, increasing women’s sexual agency could potentially reduce sexual assault, sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancies.”

Wanting to have casual sex that is consensual, safe from unwanted pregnancy and disease transference, and is pleasurable, does not make women stupid. What is “risky” about practicing safe sex? What is “mentally unhealthy” about making sure both partners agree to sexual activity and receive mutual pleasure? What makes men not “promiscuous” for seeking out sex with women (or men, as the study’s goals were independent of sexual orientation)? Why will the same hand that gives a man a high five for “scoring” slap a woman for being a “slut”?

By eradicating the stigma faced by women who have casual sex, society can move forward to address aspects of sexuality that are actually harmful – things like rape culture and access to affordable birth control. As long as sex itself is shameful, we might as well hide the key to our chastity belts with the axe to crack the glass ceiling.

Written by Lauren Slavin

  • http://www.facebook.com/melissa.d.sa Melissa De Sa

    I really enjoyed this read!

  • Kiana

    This is such an interesting and well-written article. You did a wonderful job!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rhiannonmarypayne Rhiannon Payne

    A million gold stars for this

  • Chris Morrow

    Is that a brain giving me the finger? And is it saying (thinking?) “Fuck your slut-shaming slut pride?” Because the article wasn’t really about slut pride. I’m a tad confused.

    The article itself was kinda excellent, though.

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  • Obious!

    Typically written by a woman. You can rationalize it any way you want, it all revolves around genetic programming.

    Men are genetically programmed to spread their semen/genetics to as much women as possible. If someone beats him to it, even worse when the woman is the cause, his chances for furthering his genetics with her decline, as the other guys semen is now swimming around in her. So, therefore she suddenly has become uninteresting to further him, tainted it you will. Also, if she is apparently willing to do this with anyone, his chances are even more slim, aka she is a slut and therefore written of.

    For women on the other hand, this is different. If she sees the guy with lots of other women, apparently he is doing something right and his semen must be of superior alpha male quality. It makes him only more interesting.

    So yes, there is a reason for a double standard, not very romantic, its called Natural Selection. Jeez this was know decades ago.

    • Luna

      Nothing you’ve said explains why women are more likely to be slut-shamed than men. Furthermore, you can easily twist the evolutionary evidence to claim that women are genetically programmed to want to sleep with tons of different men.

      • Stephen

        ….no, you can’t.

        Get real here. Picture cave-man times. A man sleeps with lots of women. Evolution says that man is probably #1 in good physical shape #2 confident and decisive and #3 a good leader. If a woman gets pregnant by him, he is in a position to protect her, both with his own strength and through alliances (i.e., followers). Because he is a high-value commodity, genetically speaking, it makes perfect sense that a man that gets a lot of women would be celebrated.

        Conversely, a baby takes a lot of work. If a cave-man is going to commit to one woman and one baby, it makes a ton of sense, again speaking in evolutionary terms, to make sure that it IS HIS BABY. If a cave-woman slept around with every guy in the tribe, the probability of the baby being one man’s is profoundly low.

        So you can argue, “we have safe sex now,” etc… but that doesn’t matter. I could make the same argument for not succeeding at life:

        We evolved to value people that work hard. In cave-man days, survival wasn’t promised. Many people died.

        In modern society, very few people starve to death (if any). Therefore it “isn’t fair” that really rich people are treated better than bums.

        It is what it is. Period.

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  • Nate

    Getting laid is easy for most women, and it takes work for most men. People are usually celebrated for achieving difficult things. So, women who abstain or are selective, and men who get lots of women are seen as achieving victory in the face of great opposition. Men who don’t go after women and women who let many men in, are seen as lazy and/or gluttonous.
    Often, an argument or debate is really just two sides trying to prove what side is more or less lazy or more or less successful.

    In my opinion the biggest issue is that people get hung up on bullshit issues like this. Words, like slut or fag, only have the power you give them. If you want to be offended you will be offended. Stop worrying about if the hot guy likes you or if he thinks you are a slut. That shit doesn’t matter. Care more about others and do more for others, and care less about how you are perceived and life will be much better for everyone.

    • Luna

      “Getting laid is easy for most women, and it takes work for most men. People are usually celebrated for achieving difficult things. So, women who abstain or are selective, and men who get lots of women are seen as achieving victory in the face of great opposition.”

      This sounds like the ramblings of bitter dude who is getting laid far less than he wants to.

  • Bill

    While women CAN physically have casual sex over the years and it does not destroy them, inside they are never truly content with this..A very small % that might have underwent abuse/are bipolar/repeatedly hurt can block out their natural female emotions as a way to protect themselves.

    Apparently casual sex for women with no emotions is satisfying, yet the women who claim to do this admit they have done it very very sparingly, or with friends..Or once in their entire lives after a break up.
    Sounds more like being lonely than really enjoying emotionless casual sex.

    Sorry, there are double standards..
    One small example would be crying… Acceptable for women over many small things, not acceptable for men..I doubt many women would be attracted to guys who cried almost daily over any small thing.

    I am pointing out that sex is vastly different for men and women.. That is how we are made.. Even the girl who says she has casual sex without emotions points out the sex she had was with people she was already emotionally connected to, her friends.

    I have found that the most insecure women are the most sexual. Making a guy cum seems to be a quick fix for their insecurities. of course afterwards they feel like trash, or are so cold that they lack feelings completely.

    I have NEVER met a secure, balanced, confident woman who could just have sex, get up, leave, and feel happy never seeing the person again.

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  • Stephen

    *yawn* another idiot taking a dabble of science and extending it WAY past what the research said.

    The differences between men and women are not “a double standard” or “cultural stigma.” Men that sleep with women are alpha males and women that sleep with a ton of men are sluts. It’s always been like that, it will always be like that. Complaining about it is much like complaining about the fact that eating Micky D’s will get you fat. “It’s not fair! I should be able to eat anything I want.” Tough shit, it’s biology, you can’t.

    Evolution, you know, biology. This shit isn’t “cultural” and I have no idea how people can’t see that.