Early adolescent girls who have sex lose friends, while boys gain buddies for “doing it,” according to a new study. In research presented Aug. 24 at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA), study investigators also found that girls gained friends but boys lost friends for making out but not having sex.
“In our sampling of early adolescents, girls’ friendship networks shrink significantly after they have sex, whereas boys friendship networks expand significantly,” lead author Derek A. Kreager, PhD, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Pennsylvania State University, said in an ASA news release.
Kreager acknowledged that he and his team were surprised that making out showed a pattern that was consistent with a strong reverse double standard, “such that girls who make out without sex see significant increases in friendships, and boys who engage in the same behavior see significant decreases in friendships.”
For the study, Kreager and his colleagues analyzed data provided by adolescents in 28 rural communities in Iowa and Pennsylvania. The 921 students in the study were followed from 2003 to 2007 when they were in sixth to ninth grade and were 11 to 16 years old. The group completed in-home surveys that included questions about sexual activity.
At regular intervals over the course of the study, participants were asked to nominate their best or closest friend in the same grade. To identify changes in peer acceptance, the researchers considered how many friendship nominations the participants received in each interval.
Findings showed that in the intervals where sexual activity was reported, girls experienced a 45 percent decrease in friends. Boys, on the other hand, experienced an 88 percent increase in peer acceptance.
When girls reported making out without having sex, they experienced a 25 percent increase in friends. However, boys who made out but did not have sex saw a 29 percent decrease in peer acceptance.
The study also found that girls who were having sex lost both male and female friendships. For boys, making out but not having sex meant a loss of male friends, but not female friends.
Kreager noted that the study results were consistent with traditional gender biases. “Men and boys are expected to act on innate or strong sex drives to initiate heterosexual contacts for the purpose of sex rather than romance and pursue multiple partnerships,” he explained.
Women and girls, said Kreager, are expected to want romance over sex and value monogamy. This sets up a sexual double standard wherein “women who violate traditional sexual scripts and have casual and/or multiple sexual partnerships are socially stigmatized, whereas men and boys performing similar behaviors are rewarded for achieving masculine ideals.”
The research team concluded that other boys are the peers that police social norms as they apply to masculinity. Girls, on the other hand, receive strong messages about gender-appropriate behavior from both boys and girls.