The impact that young teens’ sexual activity has on their circle of friends differs for girls and boys, a new study finds.
Researchers looked at data from youngsters in 28 rural communities in Iowa and Pennsylvania who were followed from ages 11 to 16, and found that girls lost friends for having sex and gained friends for making out without sex.
But boys lost friends for making out and gained friends for having sex, according to the study scheduled for presentation Monday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in Chicago.
The investigators found that after having sex, girls had a 45 percent loss in peer acceptance, while boys had an 88 percent increase in acceptance, on average. After making out, girls had a 25 percent increase in peer acceptance, while boys had a 29 percent decrease, the findings showed.
“In our sample of early adolescents, girls’ friendship networks shrink significantly after they have sex, whereas boys’ friendship networks expand significantly,” study lead author Derek Kreager, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Pennsylvania State University, said in an ASA news release.
“But what really surprised us was that ‘making out’ showed a pattern consistent with a strong reverse sexual double-standard, such that girls who ‘make out’ without having sex see significant increases in friendships, and boys who engage in the same behavior see significant decreases in friendships,” he added.
The findings are consistent with traditional biases about men and women, the study authors said.
“Men and boys are expected to act on innate or strong sex drives to initiate heterosexual contacts for the purpose of sex rather than romance and pursue multiple sexual partnerships,” Kreager said. “In contrast, women and girls are expected to desire romance over sex, value monogamy and ‘gatekeep’ male sexual advances within committed relationships.”
So, Kreager added, “a sexual double-standard then arises because women and girls who violate traditional sexual scripts and have casual and/or multiple sexual partnerships are socially stigmatized, whereas men and boys performing similar behaviors are rewarded for achieving masculine ideals.”
In addition, the study found that for girls, defying traditional gender scripts by having sex can cost them both male and female friendships. Yet, for boys, making out without sex cost them male friends, but not female friends.
“This pattern suggests that other boys are the peers that police social norms when it comes to masculinity, whereas girls receive strong messages about gender-appropriate sexual behavior from boys and girls,” Kreager explained.
“It is not surprising that girls do not punish boys for ‘making out,’ as this behavior is rewarding for girls both socially and physically. However, there is somewhat of a paradox for boys stigmatizing girls who have sex because these boys are punishing girls for behavior that benefits boys both socially and sexually,” Kreager said. “We believe one reason for this is that only a small minority of boys have such sexual access, so those who do not have sex negatively define the girls who are having sex.”
This research, focused on adolescents, demonstrates that the sexual double-standards that have previously been studied in college students “also affect youth who have only just reached sexual maturity,” Kreager said in the news release.
The data and conclusions of research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about teen sexuality.