A survey on the sexual double standard among Dutch youth

  • Auteur(s):
    Peggy M.J. Emmerink, Ine Vanwesenbeeck, Regina J.J.M. van den Eijnden, Jacques J.D.M. van Lankveld, Tom F.M. Ter Bogt
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The sexual double standard (SDS) is a pattern of divergent expectations concerning sexuality that dictates sexual restraint for women and girls, whereas it dictates sexual prowess for men and boys. Research shows that endorsing the SDS is related to negative effects for sexual and mental health, which are particularly strong for women. This paper offers an overview of the findings of four studies, part of the dissertation of Emmerink (2017), that explore SDS endorsement among heterosexual youth in the Netherlands. Study 1 focused on the development of a new questionnaire for the measurement of the SDS, assessing opinions on appropriate sexual behaviour of young men and women (“Scale for the Assessment of Sexual Standards among Youth” (SASSY)). The instrument demonstrated good psychometric qualities. Study 2 compared SASSY questionnaire scores (which measures conscious attitudes) with those on an indirect measurement (which measures attitudes of which people are unaware). While boys showed attitudes in line with the SDS on both the SASSY questionnaire and the indirect measure, girls showed an attitude in line with the SDS on the SASSY questionnaire, but a converse attitude (associating their own sex with sexual activity, instead of passivity) on the indirect measure. The SDS therefore seems to be working at different cognitive levels. Study 3 examined the relationship between SDS endorsement (the SASSY questionnaire) and demographic and psychosexual correlates. Men and religious youth showed higher SDS endorsement. This was also the case for men and women that attached more importance to masculinity/femininity. Only among men was a stronger sense of entitlement to sexual pleasure provided by a partner associated with stronger SDS endorsement. In Study 4 the relationship between SDS endorsement and sexual emotions and cognitions was addressed. For women only, a significant relationship emerged between stronger SDS endorsement and the experience of more negative emotions, mediated through decreased sexual autonomy. The results of the four studies point towards the SDS not being an extremely dominant attitude among Dutch youth (mean scores were generally low), but that some groups endorse it to a greater extent than others. Continued attention towards the possible effects of the SDS on young people’s sexuality seems warranted. Moreover, the results of the studies serve as pointers for future research, which could focus on the influence processes that underlie personal sexual attitudes in line with the SDS and on the personal lived experiences of sexuality and sexual autonomy. This last factor seems particularly relevant to study among girls and women.

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