Gender and Sexuality: An Introduction to the Special Issue
Muehlenhard, Charlene L., Peterson, Zoe D., Karwoski, Leslie, Bryan, Tamara S., Lee, Rachel S., The Journal of Sex Research
SEXUALITY AND GENDER: THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT
Gender has been conceptualized by various authors as "the socially constructed roles associated with each sex" (Rosenblum & Travis, 2003, p. 23), as "what culture makes out of the `raw material' of biological sex" (Crawford & Unger, 2000, p. 21), and as "nonphysiological aspects of being female or male--the cultural expectations for femininity and masculinity" (Lips, 2001, p. 4). To clarify their use of the term gender, many authors contrast it with the term sex. For example, Rosenblum and Travis (2003) described sex as referring "to females and males--that is, to chromosomal, hormonal, anatomical, and physiological differences" and described gender as referring to "the culturally and historically specific acting out of `masculinity' and `femininity'" (p. 23). (1)
The articles in this issue reflect the cultural context of gender and sexuality. For example, Tolman, Striepe, and Harmon describe their endeavor into developing a model of sexual health for adolescent girls. Consistent with the emphasis on culture in the above definitions of gender, their model includes not only variables at the level of the individual girl (e.g., does she have knowledge about sexual health, is she aware of her own values) but also at three levels of contextual variables: variables at the personal relationship level (e.g., is she able to communicate with her partner about sexuality), the social relationships level (e.g., does she get social and emotional support from her family and peers), and the cultural level (e.g., does she have access to comprehensive sex education). The collection of articles in this special issue address gender and sexuality at all these levels.
The authors of these articles used diverse methods to study gender and sexuality, including experiments, surveys, interviews, ethnographies, literature reviews, and their own self-reports of the theory-development process. Each of these methods has its own strengths and limitations. Experimental methods are valuable for showing causation, and they allow careful control of potentially confounding variables. This control can sometimes be problematic for studying gender, however, because "although laboratory studies isolate variables from the contaminating influence of real-life social processes, gender is played out in exactly those real-life processes" (Crawford & Unger, 2000, p. 19). The same can be said for sexuality. Conversely, more naturalistic methods allow researchers to observe gender and sexuality operating in context, but they do not allow for control of potentially confounding variables. Thus, both experimental and naturalistic methods have something to offer. Used together, these methods complement each other and provide a richer understanding of sexuality and gender.
THE SEXUAL DOUBLE STANDARD
Several themes emerged repeatedly across these articles. One such theme was the sexual double standard: differential sexual standards for women and men, with harsher, more restrictive standards almost always applied to women. Crawford and Popp review and critique the literature on the sexual double standard, or more precisely, the literature on sexual double standards, given that these standards vary among subcultures and among individuals within a subculture. Crawford and Popp document numerous variations in what behaviors are considered acceptable or unacceptable for women, girls, men, and boys, and in what contexts these behaviors are considered appropriate or not for each group.
Alexander and Fisher investigated the sexual double standard using a laboratory study. In their ingenious study, they contrasted participants' self-reports of their sexual behavior in three experimental conditions: a bogus pipeline condition, an anonymous condition, and an exposure threat condition. In the bogus pipeline condition, where participants were attached to a "polygraph" that could allegedly detect deception, young women's and men's self-reports of masturbation and exposure to erotica were similar. …