If you were sexually permissive,1 would you approve of your friends’ sexual permissiveness, too? After all, who are we to judge when we act the same way ourselves? Well, let’s say something you value is at stake. The attitudes of an overly sexy friend could threaten your own romantic relationships (“Hey BFF, let’s share everything, including your partner!”). Would you be likely to “mate-guard” your partner from a sexy friend? Or, do you believe in sharing?
To find out what people think of a potentially “slutty” friend, experimenters assigned two groups of college students to read about a same-sex stranger (i.e., women read about Joan, whereas men read about Jim).2 For one group, Joan/Jim was described as having two past sexual partners; the other group learned that Joan/Jim had 20 past partners. The students answered questions about their friendship potential with Joan/Jim and whether they would allow Joan/Jim to be close friends with own their romantic partners. Then, the students reported their own sexual permissiveness (e.g., whether sex without love is okay, how many sexual partners they’d had).
The result? All the women and the non-permissive men thought the sexually permissive version of Joan/Jim seemed less desirable for friendship, compared to the more chaste version of Joan/Jim (though permissive women didn’t rate 20-partner Joan as negatively as non-permissive women did). Permissive men had no preference for one version of Jim over the other when it came to friendship desirability. But all study participants, regardless of permissiveness, felt a stronger need to keep 20-partner Joan/Jim away from their own romantic partners.
The lesson? If you’ve got a lot of notches on your bedpost from a lifestyle of extra sexy loving, don’t expect a lot of sympathetic friends who’ll let you befriend their partners – even if they do exactly what you do!
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1Here, “sexually permissive” refers to a range of so-called “slutty” attitudes and behaviors: actual or desired frequent, casual, premarital, or extra-dyadic (i.e., cheating) sex or having sex with multiple partners. Sexual permissiveness may also include becoming sexually active at a young age and engaging in sexually inviting behavior, such as dressing provocatively.
2Vrangalova, Z., Bukberg, R. E., & Rieger, G. (in press, 2013). Birds of a feather? Not when it comes to sexual permissiveness. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi: 10.1177/0265407513487638
Dr. Helen Lee Lin – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Helen’s past research has focused on potential problems in relationships, such as keeping secrets from a significant other. She is also interested in communication as well as the use and consumption of media in relationships, and is planning to work in applied contexts for her future projects.