New research published in the journal Psychological Science reveals a pervasive but unfounded stereotype: that women (but not men) who have casual sex have low self-esteem. This result was consistent in six separate experiments with nearly 1,500 participants in total.
We were surprised that this stereotype was so prevalent. This stereotype was held both by women and men, liberals and conservatives, and across the spectrum in terms of people’s levels of religiosity and sexism.. “
Jaimie Arona Krems, study lead author and assistant professor of psychology, Oklahoma State University
But through the studies, Krems also observed that the stereotype was unfounded: there was hardly any relationship between participants’ self-esteem and their sexual behavior.
In one study, Krems and colleagues asked participants to read about a man, woman or unspecified person in their 20s who had had casual sex (for example, one-night stands) , monogamous sex, or no reported sexual behavior. Participants were then asked to make instant judgments about that individual’s personality based on this information. Women who had casual sex were judged to have low self-esteem. However, participants did not establish a link between men’s self-esteem and their sexual behavior.
In another experiment, researchers used a method called the conjunction error, which was made famous by Noble Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman in now classic 1980s research. to participants whether a man or woman who had casual sex was more likely to have been (a) an English student or (b) an English student with low self-esteem. Most participants responded that the second of these two possibilities was more likely even though it was statistically less likely to be true.
The team also found that this stereotype persisted even when participants were faced with conflicting information. “When we explicitly told participants that women who had casual sex liked it and were satisfied with their sexual behavior, participants always stereotyped them as having lower self-esteem than women in monogamous relationships who were not happy with their sexual behavior, âKrems said. .
Previous research has suggested that people perceived to have low self-esteem are less likely to be hired for jobs, elected to political office, or sought out as friends or romantic partners.
âAlthough not grounded in reality, the stereotype documented in this work can have adverse effects. Such stereotypes can have serious consequences in the real world,â Krems said.
Association for Psychological Science
Krems, JA, et al. (2021) Lay Beliefs About Gender and Sexual Behavior: First Evidence of a Ubiquitous and Robust (but Seemingly Unfounded) Stereotype. Psychological sciences. doi.org/10.1177/0956797620983829.