Academic journal article College Student Journal

Female Sexual Hedonism: Navigating Stigma

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Female Sexual Hedonism: Navigating Stigma

Article excerpt


Hedonism, as compared to the sexual values of relativism and absolutism, involves sexual behavior based on the pursuit of pleasure without the requirement for love and/or commitment. Analysis of responses to a 37 item Internet questionnaire completed by 391 undergraduate women revealed that thirty-one percent self-identified as being hedonistic (40% had hooked up). When compared to absolutist and relativistic women, hedonistic women were significantly (p < .000) less likely to require a committed relationship as a context for sex, less likely to be in a reciprocal love relationship and less likely to feel guilty/feel regret following a hookup encounter. Hedonistic women were also more likely to feel more comfortable making the first move in a relationship than absolutist and relativistic women. The primary mechanisms of stigma management by these hedonistic women were to believe in gender equality and to avoid discussing their sexual behavior with others who might disapprove. Symbolic interaction is used to interpret the data. Implications and limitations of the study are identified.

Singer/celebrity Miley Cyrus has become the poster girl for hedonistic female sexuality. From her AMA dance to her "Wrecking Ball" video and personal interviews (where she talks of masturbation/Ben Wa balls), Cyras has a libido on the loose. Reactions have been from "you go girl" to slut-shaming. What is clear is that female sexuality and its control, remain an issue and the double standard remains evident. Eighteen percent of 6660 undergraduate females compared to 30% of 1,149 undergraduate males self identified as being a sexual hedonist (defined as sex for pleasure without the requirement of a meaningful relationship context) (Hall and Knox 2015). While previous research has focused on male sexuality with 12% of 200 undergraduate males identifying their sexual values as "recreational" (Olmstead et al., 2013), the current study focused on factors associated with female sexual hedonism and the strategies they employ to avoid the accompanying stigma (e.g. being labeled slut, whore, trollop).


Men are more likely than women to report higher numbers of casual sex partners (Danube, 2014). Previous research has focused on hedonistic men and the double standard which insulates them from public derision. The concept promotes the idea that sexual behavior results in praise and respect for men but shame and degradation for women. Acceptance of the double standard is evident in the words used to describe hedonism- hedonistic men are thought of as "studs" but hedonistic women as "sluts." Indeed, Porter (2014) emphasized the double standard in her presentation on "slut-shaming" which she defined as "the act of making one feel guilty or inferior for engaging in certain sexual behaviors that violate traditional dichotomous gender roles." She pointed out that Charlie Sheen was a national celebrity for his flagrant debauchery but Kristen Stewart was shamed for her infidelity. Porter surveyed 240 undergraduates and found that 81% of the females reported having been slut-shamed (in contrast to 7.3% of the males).

A theme of the current study emphasizes that the sexual double standard reinforces men for their sexual hedonism but shames women. While males garner approval for sexual exploits, females are scripted to experience negative outcomes (e.g. negative self-esteem, depression, guilt, regret). With changing gender norms, what are the outcomes for today's modern women who are more likely to require sexual equality in their relationships, are economically independent, and who do not demand romance/commitment as the context for their sexual experiences?

Hypotheses, Methods and Participants

In this section we review the hypotheses for the study, the methods used in analysis and the sample.


The hypotheses included assessing significant differences between women espousing hedonistic (pursuit of sexual pleasure), absolutistic (virginity at marriage) and relativistic (sex in the context of a meaningful relationship) sexual values. …

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