Truth and Consequences: Using the Bogus Pipeline to Examine Sex Differences in Self-Reported Sexuality

Article excerpt

Research on self-reported sexual attitudes and behavior consistently indicates that men are more inclined than women to engage in sexual behavior outside of committed relationships and are less discriminating with regard to quality and quantity of sexual partners (Baumeister, Catanese, & Vohs, 2001; Clark & Hatfield, 1989; Hendrick, Hendrick, Slapion-Foote, & Foote, 1985; Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994; Okami & Shackelford, 2001; Oliver & Hyde, 1993). Recent reviews confirm that men, compared with women, are more approving of casual sex and report more frequent and explicit sexual fantasies (Hyde & Oliver, 2000; Jones & Barlow, 1990; Leitenberg & Henning, 1995; Okami & Shackelford, 2001). Additionally, men report an earlier age of first intercourse, a greater number of sexual partners (Smith, 1992), and a higher incidence of intercourse and masturbation (Oliver & Hyde, 1993). Women, on the other hand, report more sexual caution than do men (Hyde & Oliver, 2000). Furthermore, sex stereotypes exist such that men are expected to be more sexually permissive than are women (Cohen & Shotland, 1996; Masters, Johnson, & Kolodny, 1995; Oliver & Hyde, 1993).

Several of these well-established sex differences in sexual behavior are somewhat bewildering. Researchers have questioned the statistical improbability of men having more heterosexual intercourse partners than women, as these numbers should be equivalent for the sexes (Brown & Sinclair, 1999; Pedersen, Miller, Putcha-Bhagavatula, & Yang, 2002; Wiederman, 1997). Similar paradoxes exist with regard to men reporting more frequent intercourse than women. Because a partner is required, it is impossible for men to engage in heterosexual intercourse more often than their female counterparts. Furthermore, males typically report an earlier age of first intercourse than do females (Oliver & Hyde, 1993). Although it is plausible that males have their first sexual experiences with older females, it seems unlikely, given that adolescent females prefer older sexual partners (Elo, King, & Furstenberg, 1999; Kenrick, Gabrielidis, Keefe, & Cornelius, 1996). In light of these illogicalities, it is reasonable to speculate that some of the sex differences in self-reports of sexuality are not due to actual sex differences in behavior, but rather to differences in reporting as a function of differential normative expectations for men and women.


Gender roles and gender-typed expectations may have direct implications for men's and women's sexual attitudes and behavior. In general, men are expected to take agentic roles, being assertive, independent, and dominant, and women are expected to serve communal roles, being relationship oriented, selfless, and submissive (Cejka & Eagly, 1999; Glick, 1991). Such expectations encourage and foster role-consistent behavior by men and women both privately (Wood, Christensen, Hebl, & Rothgerber, 1997) and publicly (Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000). If women are expected to be relationship oriented, they may also be expected to disapprove of and avoid sexual behaviors that are perceived as being threatening to relationships or self-serving, such as casual sex, masturbation, and use of hardcore or softcore erotica. In contrast, frequent and early recreational sex as well as autoerotic sexual behaviors are more socially approved of and encouraged for men than for women. These behaviors are considered more agentic and independent than sexual behavior associated with long-term commitment, and men can enhance their dominance and power by participating in a greater number of short-term rather than close, long-term relationships (Baumeister & Sommer, 1997; Gabriel & Gardner, 1999). Consistent with this gender role perspective of sexuality, the only large sex differences reported in Oliver and Hyde's (1993) meta-analysis of various sexual domains were for attitudes toward casual sex and reported incidence of masturbation. …