Background: A significant portion of premarital sexual activity is casual rather than in relationships, and commentators disagree on whether this is what women prefer. Objective: We examine gender differences in attitudes toward casual sex. We also assess whether there is a double standard whereby women are judged more harshly for casual sex. Methods: We use a large online survey of U.S. university students to examine gender differences with regard to attitudes and reports of sexual behavior. Results: While distributions overlap, the average man looks more favorably on casual sex than the average woman. Both sexes show substantial openness to relationships. We find evidence of a double standard: men are more judgmental toward women than toward men who have casual sex. Men appear to over-report and/or women to under-report intercourse and fellatio, suggesting that men see these acts as enhancing and/or women see them as diminishing their status. Conclusions: Women face more negative judgment than men when they are known to engage in casual sex, and they also report less interest in casual sex than men. Our analysis does not permit us to assess whether the double standard we find evidence of explains why women have less interest in casual sex, but we hypothesize that this is the case.
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