Academic journal article
By Crawford, Mary; Popp, Danielle
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 40, No. 1
Traditionally, men and women have been subjected to different "rules" guiding sexual behavior. Women were stigmatized for engaging in any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage, whereas for men such behavior was expected and rewarded. Boys had to "sow their wild oats," but girls were warned that a future husband "won't buy the cow if he can get the milk for free" (Crawford & Unger, 2000, p. 288). Women were faced with a Madonna-whore dichotomy: They were either pure and virginal or promiscuous and easy.
These rules have been the subject of considerable research. Reiss (1967) conducted the first large-scale and systematic study of sexual double standards. Although others had studied sexual behavior, Reiss focused on attitudes toward "various degrees of heterosexual permissiveness embodied in our premarital standards" (p. 6). His study included random samples of students from five selected high schools and colleges as well as a nationally representative sample of 1550 adults. His survey assessed attitudes toward "premarital sexual permissiveness" and their demographic and sociocultural correlates, such as age, race, social class, religion, and family characteristics.
Reiss (1960, 1964) classified attitudes toward premarital sexual activity into four general categories: abstinence (premarital intercourse considered wrong for both sexes), double standard (males considered to have greater right to premarital intercourse), permissiveness without affection (premarital intercourse considered right for both sexes regardless of emotional involvement), and permissiveness with affection (premarital intercourse considered right for both sexes if part of a committed relationship). Subtypes were delineated within each category. For example, within the double standard category, Reiss distinguished between an "orthodox" view that permitted premarital intercourse for males but not for females under any circumstances, and a "transitional" view that permitted premarital intercourse for females only if they were in love or engaged to be married.
Based on this attitude classification scheme, Reiss (1964) devised a pair of parallel 12-item scales. Participants responded to 12 items first with a male referent and then again with a female referent (e.g., "I believe that petting is acceptable for the male/female before marriage even if he/she does not feel particularly affectionate toward his/her partner"). As the sample item shows, the scales reflected Reiss's belief that degree of affection was an important factor in sexual attitudes.
Reiss classified participants into one of the four subtypes based on their responses to individual items and on the differences between their responses to the same items with a male versus a female referent. Overall, 42% of the student samples endorsed abstinence from premarital intercourse, with a sizeable minority endorsing permissiveness with (19%) and without (7%) affection. An orthodox double standard was endorsed by 11% and a transitional double standard by 14%. The adult sample was more conservative, with 77% endorsing abstinence, only 11% endorsing some form of permissiveness, and 9% endorsing some degree of double standard. These overall results were influenced by other variables. For example, in both student and adult samples, women were far more likely than men to endorse abstinence, and men more likely than women to endorse double standards.
Reiss maintained that although the orthodox double standard was a minority attitude, egalitarianism had not yet been achieved. Double standards were evident within the abstinence and permissiveness categories as well as the double standard category itself. For example, a respondent might endorse abstinence from intercourse for both sexes but believe that only men were entitled to kiss and pet without relational affection or commitment.
Throughout Reiss's account of his research, a progressive path toward greater sexual equality for males and females is assumed. …