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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Choosing Friends Based on their Sex Lives?

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Author Topic: Choosing Friends Based on their Sex Lives?
Executive Director & Founder
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A new study came out from Cornell this week, which studied Cornell students' (751 of them, anyway) attitudes per same sex friendships and potential friend's sexual lives, specifically per number of sexual partners:

College-aged women judge promiscuous female peers – defined as bedding 20 sexual partners by their early 20s – more negatively than more chaste women and view them as unsuitable for friendship, finds a study by Cornell developmental psychologists.

Participants’ preference for less sexually active women as friends remained even when they personally reported liberal attitudes about casual sex or a high number of lifetime lovers.

Men’s views, on the other hand, are less uniform – favoring the sexually permissive potential friend, the non-permissive one or showing no preference for either when asked to rate them on 10 different friendship attributes. Promiscuous men favored less sexually experienced men, however, if they viewed other promiscuous men as potentially interested in stealing their girlfriends.

The whole thing is here:

Now, obviously, commonality around a world of things is a factor when we choose our friends, so sometimes we might well be choosing friends based on parts of their sexual life, and that might include if their number or frequency of partners is or isn't like ours.

But clearly, more is afoot here.

I'm curious: is this something where any of you feel you choose friends around, or where you feel people have or haven't chosen you as a friend based on this particular factor?

If so, what's that been like, and why? If it's something happening to you rather than something you're choosing, what's that been like for you?

And, if you want to go all armchair about this, why do you think some people might be choosing friends around this criteria? And how much of all of this do you feel is based in ideas about people and sexuality that aren't sound? How much of this do you think has more to do with people's projections of how much the number of sexual partners someone has had has to do with who someone is as a person, and what kind of friend they'll be?

And, what does all of this say, do you think, about the whole slut/prude framework so many people still seem so stuck on?

Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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I personally don't really care about my friends' sex lives or whether they're sexually active; that's their business and not mine. But I do think I have some conjectures as to the results of this study.

On a subconscious level, one that they themselves aren't aware of, people might be jealous of others getting sexual attention or feeling inadequate due to their not receiving sexual attention from others.

On a conscious level, I think the study speaks to how ingrained the slut/prude or virgin/whore mindset has become in our society's conceptions of sexuality. People might also fall into this mindset through religious or philosophical dogma, or as a means of rationalizing away the previously mentioned subconscious impulses.

Even when people say that they have liberal attitudes toward sexuality due to that being the group standard in many college campuses, they still hold to their inner prejudices.

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This has never been something I've been aware of making personal friendship choices around. Though, in retrospect, a few exceptions aside, most of my friends have had a similar number (or fewer) sexual partners than I have had. I don't know if that reflects me making judgement calls without knowing it or not (though I would say probably not as I didn't know most of their sexual histories until after I'd become friends with them and I've certainly never stopped being friends with someone after learning their sexual history).

That said I think friend groups (like society at large) form norms, norms that might start to affect dating and sexual choices even if subconsciously. So it's entirely possible that without realising it we've developed certain norms and attitudes vis-a-vis sexual choices (particularly since my friend group largely entered our sexual lives while knowing each other). And, by the same token, it might also reflect the similar upbringings, age, personalities and larger overarching values (which may influence sexual values) of the people I am friends with.

When it comes to what's happening with the way women are responding to this questions I think it at least partially reflects another article you posted recently (the one about not using your full brain to stereotype). In other words I wouldn't be surprised if people are hearing 20 and are forming opinions and ideas about what a person who has had 20 partners would be like and making judgements based on that stereotyped persona rather than really thinking the question through. They might have ideas of how this "type" of women would dress or act or be to hang out with or what kind of friend they would be and then are saying "no" to the idea of friendship with this person based on the stereotype they've (possibly unconsciously) created.

And, undoubtedly, a lot of that plays into untrue and problematic opinions of promiscuous women and certainly reflects attitudes about the worthiness or acceptability of women who have had that many partners.

I'd also note that one thing that jumped out at me reading this was the number they used. 20, to me, sounds like a very high threshold for "promiscuous", which I say only because I feel many people (at least that I've been exposed to) would apply that label to an even lower number of partners. So, part of what might be happening here is shock value. In other words, even people who consider themselves liberal may hear 20 and, due to its shock value, fall back on to stereotypes they might not normally use.

This might explain why even women who see themselves as liberal respond the way they do.

However, I DON'T think this means they aren't also harbouring dangerous and problematic preconceptions about women who have had larger numbers of partners. If anything I think it might be a powerful indicator that even people who view themselves as having liberal views towards sex may in fact simply have moved their "prude/slut" threshold a little higher than it was before rather then completely disbanding the idea.

But I do take some hope in the thought that IF this is where people are coming from in their responses (that is from a stereotyped image of what a promiscuous women would be like as apose to "I wouldn't be friends with them regardless if they'd had that many partners," an obviously a huge theoretical "if" at this point) that being given a more clear image of the woman might change their response. In fact I'd be very interested to see a study that listed a series of characteristics about woman (sexual history being one of them) and measured the relative influence of sexual history once people had other things to form opinions from.

One aspect of the response that makes me lean towards the idea that increasing the amount of relavent characteristics being given might change the responses is that even women with high numbers of partners were more likely to not want to be friends with this hypothetical person. That given, they are clearly not seeing themselves in this person (unless they see themselves as particularly bad friends, but that would be a whole other issue) or, to put it another way, they are not seeing them as possibly being like themselves, someone who is presumably likeable and friendly or whatever else regardless of their sexual history. I.e. they are not seeing them as a whole and real and complex person. It gives me some hope that if you were able to break down that wall and make the hypothetical friend more real, you might see a change in response (at least from some respondents).

Ultimately though I think the most basic of basics from this study is really that women are clearly habouring some pretty serious judgements about what other women who have had lots of partners are like. Whether that's an outright "any women's who's had that many partners is a (insert negative term of choice) person who I would never associate with" or whether its about the associated characteristics (a women with that many partners wouldn't like the things I like, wouldn't do the things I do, would do these things, would act this way) it still underlies a pattern of shaming and disliking women with sexual histories that are on the longer side of the norm.

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On a slightly related topic, apparently in Australia Kevin Rudd has defeated Julia Gillard to be Prime Minister for the next election, after polling predicted a landslide against the current Labor minority government. Some older people related to me indicate that they don't support Julia Gillard because she wasn't married. But I'm sure there's been unmarried male Australian Prime Ministers before. You'd think as the first female Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard would get more women's support, but that may not be the case.

(Or else it is considered "okay" for men to overthrow their political party/business leaders but not women.) Regardless, it does seem to be a double standard and related to this thread's topic of figuring in judgements about sexuality with everything women do, and not doing so particularly for men.

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