How’s The Double Standard Make Sense? 

Emma Stone in "Easy A"

Emma Stone in “Easy A”

People often ask:

How does the double standard make sense?

Men can’t have sex with women unless women have sex with men.

And, how is it fair that guys can have lots of sex — and be rewarded, in fact — but women are shamed if they behave in the same way. It’s crazy.

Logically, it doesn’t make sense.

But if you want to create a patriarchy that values and privileges men over women, the double standard helps to create that world.

Gender-equal societies don’t have double standards

When you have gender-equal societies you don’t get double standards. And evidence suggests that many early societies had gender equality.

But then patriarchy arose as warrior cultures celebrated what we now call masculine traits: physical strength, aggression, dominance, violence. And they overtook more peaceful, gender-equal plant-based societies. After which a sexual double-standard was often instituted.

Why? Take a look at a more recent non-patriarchal world that we know of. When Europeans first arrived on America’s eastern coast they met peoples who had no double standard.

Not knowing who daddy was gave women power

Not knowing who daddy was gave women a lot of power in those early, small communities where the village raised children. Family line was traced through women, couples lived with the mother’s family, clans were headed by women, and property passed from mother to child.

If you want male dominance, it helps to know who daddy is. So you limit women’s sexuality, but not men’s.

And then the double standard, itself, further creates a sense of male superiority.

Who’s free? Who’s not? Who’s shamed?

When men may have a lot of sex, but women may not, you create a sense of who is free and who is not.

And when women experience natural sexual feelings — which are thought bad unless she’s married — that creates shame. Which translates to low self-esteem. And it’s easier to dominate and control people with low self-esteem.

The double standard makes no logical sense.

But it makes a world of sense if the goal is shaming, dominating and controlling women.

[Parenthetical: Actually, these days men are more often against the double standard than women. Men like it when women easily want sex. But cultures that punish women’s sexuality leave them less interested. See here, here and here. But men and patriarchy are not the same thing.]

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 13, 2016, in feminism, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. “Not knowing who daddy was gave women power”
    This is the only one I have problem. I mean is this really fair on the father and child? Why can’t father know if the child is their?

    • There’s nothing wrong with men knowing that they are the father of a child. But the reality is you can’t always know. That’s why in some cultures the name and property are passed through women.

  2. Great post. It seems that it is impossible to ever break the grip a patriarchal society has as it seems to have been around forever…until realizing that no, it is not the case. It shows how warped pieces of our society can be ~ and also gives hope to the future.

  3. jessica alvarado

    I think this articles touches subject on good areas. For example, not all men think double standards are good and worth supporting, and others shame it (friends, family members, etc.) I personally don’t support it most of the time and would say I am in between.

    I say that I am in between because it can be difficult for me to support one over the other. Being that I am from a traditional Mexican family that believes marriage before sex is the “way to go”, my brain developed thinking in a certain way so that’s why I am in between.

    My personal thoughts when it comes to having sex with different partners such as men do, I believe that having sex before marriage is okay, but to a certain extent. I believe that being in a long term relationship in which one is in love with their partner, is okay. However when women begin to have sex with many guys throughout short term relationships, I find it to be somewhat shameful, because I just see it as not valuing the body and the mind, and a bit dangerous because of how easy it is to get an STD.

    With that being said, sometimes I hate the fact that I have somewhat of a bias and even hypocrite way of thinking, but that’s what happens when one is born into a traditional culture, and raised into another all at the same time (American culture).

    Perhaps my thoughts on double standards will change later in the future…we’ll see.


    • There can be good reasons for both women and men to choose to have relationships over casual sex. Including the fact that both women and men — about three quarters of each — say they prefer relationships over casual sex. Less problems with sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, too. And some people find it psychologically difficult to be physically intimate with people they aren’t emotionally intimate with — and they shouldn’t do casual sex, whether they are men or women.

      I just don’t get why it’s shameful for and sex but not the other?

  4. I definitely understand the double standard. I grew up in a large family being the youngest out of 7 and of course, being the only girl. I was always looked at like someone who couldn’t make decisions on my own and had to be carried by my family to make any decisions. It made me feel almost as an outsider because they made me feel like I couldn’t make my own decisions. It wasn’t until I started high school that I found my own voice and started making my own decisions about what I wanted to do with my time and my life. I started asking my own questions and I refused to ask anyone for help when I needed anything. I wanted to do everything on my own. That made me into the woman I am today and has brought me much more pride in myself to know I can handle my own no matter the situation.

  5. When you think double standard about sex, you automatically think that it is men who create this double standard. You automatically assume that it is men who think it is okay for them to have multiple sexual partners and ooze sexuality, but if women do, it is provocative and “slutty”. However, this is not always the case. I was just at a friend’s bachelorette party, and of course, when you put a large group of women together with some booze, what do you get? Sex talk. The majority of the women in our group have been in monogamous relationships with their partners for about 10 years. For a lot of us, this partner was our only or one of two sexual partners in our lifetime. Then there are the few single girls in our group as well. As the sex talk continues, the women who are in relationships seem to harshly judge the single girls for going out there and meeting men and having a great time. These single girls have multiple sexual partners, but they are engaging in safe and healthy sexual activity. They are doing nothing wrong, but for some reason, women in these long-term relationships felt superior to these girls. They felt “more pure”, which is absurd. I have been with my boyfriend for 9 and half years, and I have nothing but respect for these single girls and their confidence. I say more power to you. I think it is so amazing to see a successful, confident women walk up to a guy in a bar and take control of the situation. We as women, face enough discrimination from men. Why do we do it to each other? Instead of helping men tear us down, I feel like we should be celebrating and supporting one another.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m planning to write a post relating to your question, But I sort of answered it in my response to the person above. Check it out. If my response still doesn’t make sense to you, Let me know.

  6. In my opinion, although in today’s society women’s rights and freedoms are different from the past, but they still not able to do anything like they want enough because of the actions and attitudes about thoughts. About the subject of sex is the issue that we always discuss why men have sex with women, it is not bad, but the women have sex with many men, it is not a good thing.
    In this section, I think it is about perspective and a different culture. In the section of the idea. I think there is nothing wrong with it, if women or men have sex with someone that they like as long as it’s not immoral or illicit action, but only women are at higher risk than men, because they can get pregnant and sometimes, that’s not what they want. Some woman can solve this problem, but some women don’t, and might have a baby that was born from a relationship with a guy only temporarily.
    In the field of culture, certain countries give priority to women’s preserve. Therefore, it does not encourage premature sexual intercourse. The best times for them is marriage. Women who has sex before marriage is seen as gullible and have been insulted, even if it seems unfair, but it is nurtured in those countries, but however, if women are careful in matters of sex, I think there is nothing wrong with it.

  7. I too think the double standard as promoting masculism. In modern today, we label men who have a lot of sex as “players” and women who have a lot of sex as “sluts”. These two terms have completely opposite connotations, one denoting someone who is successful and charming and the other denoting someone who is of low standard and low in society. This is not fair since it makes women want to hide their private lives, even amongst their friends. Whereas men commonly brag about how many women they have slept amongst friends. I think a major reason why this sort of labeling happens is that sex is treated as an activity that women have more control over then men. To men, it is considered prestigious if you are able to sleep with a girl, and so openly bragging about it might improve his status amongst his friends.
    As an extended discussion, I absolutely disagree with the label of some women as “trophy wives” whose role is to just act as a symbol of success for her husband. I have never heard of the notion of “trophy husband”, acting as additional consequence of the double standard which oppresses women to being objects of beauty and sex.

  8. This makes me very upset and angry because this is the reason many woman feel ashamed of the number of partner they have. Growing up in a male dominated society from a very young age I was made to feel ashamed about sex. In my family sex was something we never talked about especially being a girl I always had to stay quiet about the topic. I learned about birth control and sex from school or friends that had already done it. I was always very curious about it because I had no idea what it was I knew how it happened but that was about it. I started to read Cosmo magazines by the age of thirteen and I thought I had the whole thing figures out. I know kind of crazy right. At the age of fourteen I lost my V card to a random boy just because I was curious to see what all the fuzz was about. I only remember his name but not his face and I still don’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing because I learned very soon after how attached all my friends became to the guys they lost it to and some even stayed in unhealthy relationships because they believed they were attached to their first one forever. I in the other hand continued to search for Mr. Right and on the way would have random hook ups here and there I didn’t see it like a big deal I was single and having fun. I didn’t realize that it would be held against me and I would be labeled as a “slut” I didn’t see it as a bad thing to be in touch with my sexuality, I mean all the guys did it and it was perfectly fine. This really made me hold back and made me nervous to have sex with anyone because I came to the realization of how unfair society was when it came to women having random sex. For a while it made me feel very upset and I didn’t have sex with anyone. I felt like I was given a bad reputation for no reason. I was having safe sex and I didn’t see what the big deal was and I was made to feel ashamed because that’s the way our society is. We glorify men every time they have sex and make woman feel worthless for doing something we all have the right to do. Now that I am older I don’t feel ashamed of any of my actions because I know now that I was not doing anything bad. Judging other woman for the number of people they had sex with only give men more power to control our sex lives.

  9. I agree with every single word. Men are encouraged, by friends and sometimes family members, to experience multiple partners. There is “Locker Room conversations” where men share stories of the women they have been with and maybe sometimes even keep score. These discussions are very degrading to women and the men should be ashamed of themselves for discussing such private details. If women were to do something similar to this they would be called sluts or prostitutes.

    I found your information about the first Europeans in America very interesting. I did not know at this period in history, women were the ones with the family lineage and support. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know who the father was, the mother was given the power.

    Both men and women may enjoy sex and should never be shamed for having such personal urges. But, of course, society today will shame women for this and still expect to see women exploited sexually on television and in the media for entertainment.

  10. I know, growing up on the internet as a preteen, I was exposed to a LOT of misogyny and slut-shaming, which I ended up internalizing. I repeated a lot of those same insults, never about a real person but often about fictional women characters in the media. I did not fully realize what I was saying. When I got to high school, it became cool to instead educate yourself on feminism and to not shame women for their sexuality, but to allow them to embrace it. I think one of the ways in which we were taught this was through musicians. My whole world was music as a teenager. My Chemical Romance was my first favorite band, and even through they’re all men, they often spoke of the sexism in the music scene. They told stories of bands sexualizing their female fans and asking women to take of their shirts for backstage passes. They often spoke to female fans at their shows about how such treatment is not okay and talked about how important it is to have respect for women. Eventually, other female popstars that I started listening to as well started talking about feminism. Lady Gaga has written songs about feminism and female empowerment (her song Scheiße is one example) and ended up being an important female role model for me. All of this control of women’s sexuality ended up hurting me a lot growing up, just because it taught me to judge other women when I shouldn’t have. I’m glad I was exposed to role models who educated me and allowed me to fix these unfair standards that I learned previously.

    • Thanks so much for sharing about this experience. I’m glad that things are starting to change! Glad to see both male and female feminists coming out of the closet.

  11. Aldo Sanchez Perez

    I agree this double standard is quite paradoxical. At the end of the day we are all human and healthy humans enjoy sex. However sex has strings attached some strings have positive connotations, while other negative from societies view point. Sex associated with drugs or certain music is bad in societies eye’s, and is rewarded with label like slut.

    • Okay but for women sex doesn’t have to be associated with drugs or certain music in order for a girl to be called a slut. Women often feel like they have to walk a narrow line between slut and prude.

  12. Margaret Powers

    I find this topic very interesting. I very much agree with what is being said here. Why is it okay for men to sleep around but when women do it, they get slut shamed or carry a negative reputation around with them? When men cheat on their wives, “the other women” is always the first one who gets blamed or thought of the reason for her husband cheating. It takes two to have an affair.

  13. I always found this concept to be so intriguing and confusing as well. Men love to brag about sex, but most of the time simultaneously shame women for doing the same. If they are straight, they have no interest in homosexual sex as well. Who in the world are they having so much sex with then? It is a massive double standard, and I agree with your dominance and control theory. I never thought of it in that way.

  14. Personally, I think men and women are different. Not that they should be in different levels, but they have different abilities to do different things. To be honest, I think double standard should exist, but it does not need to be existed everywhere.

    For example, only women had periods, or we can call it menstrual cycle just to be more polite. So it would be better if schools to allow those girls who have “troubles” to skip their PE lessons and not leaving an absence on the attendance sheet. A pregnant woman has priority to take a seat on public transport systems over a heavily loaded man with important documents and papers (Logically, they have the same amount of things to carry, so it isn’t fair to let the woman to get the seat just because she had an extra life in her stomach isn’t it? But the society still values the pregnant woman more and let her take the seat instead). These are all evidences showing the world needs double standard.

    So, in conclusion, I think double standard should exist, but only in a good way.

    • There are very few abilities/personality traits where women and men don’t strongly overlap. I’m curious as to where you think men are all one way and women are another?

      The double standards you provide are a little different because 1) they aren’t logically impossible, unlike the one I am describing in the post and 2) these are based on health issues. So if a man were crippled or old than a woman should give up her seat for him, due to health issues.

      And I don’t understand why you would think that the double standard should exist. It Is hugely harming to both women and men. It represses women’s sexuality, And then they aren’t that interested in having sex with men. Nearly half of women have a low or no interest in sex. Guys don’t benefit from that.

      Have you seen this post?

      Women Are More Responsive To Repression

  15. Does the double standard make sense?

    No. For thousands of years women have fallen victims to the discrimination and mistreatment inflicted on them by men, using their physical superiority as means to manipulate and control women into listening to them. Because women are physically smaller than men collectively society has decided to it justifies the control of women.

    Any time society suppresses an entire group (whether it be based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc) that group is prone to submission. If you continuously tell a person that they should be/feel a certain way for an extended amount a time, eventually they are going to believe it if not they will begin to accept it.

    It takes an incredibly courageous individual to redefine social norms and habits.

    I think the majority of women (at least those who haven’t been brainwashed) wan’t gender equality. What woman wouldn’t? I think in order to end gender equality we should take steps to inform women of the injustices that exist against them. We (society) should make an effort to ensure all women are educated and able to sustain themselves. Schools should implement better sex education. Women should have access to contraceptives. (These just name a few of the issues society must implement).

    • And a lot of women actually are brainwashed. Or more accurately, socialized, So that the ideas are unconsciously internalized and society’s ideas get in our heads even if they hurt us.

  16. I believe the double standard is there as a means to balance out society’s expectation of men’s behaviour toward women, in this case, chivalry.

    If we were to alleviate the double standard completely, would it be fair to expect men to still continue being chivalrous to women?

    Personally, I am completely siding with chivalrous men, but like I have said earlier, and as the post above suggests, warrior cultures celebrate masculine traits. It has been our ancestors’ way of life, and we have subconsciously learnt to accept it and embrace it, hence the existence of the double standard in today’s society.

    • We seem to have shovel read as a way of balancing all of the negativity Women face. For instance, it’s really common for women on college campuses to be called sluts and bitches — a few years ago I study found that those two words were among the top for words used to describe college women. Nothing that negative were in the top four to describe college men. Not to mention all of the discrimination that women face — leaving them making way less money than men, for instance.

      I would prefer to not have to balance out all that negativity. I would like women and men to be equally valued and respected. And I would like them to be hired, promoted, and paid equally, too.

  17. The double standard is definitely an issue of concern when discussing how society functions, especially when focusing on the way men and women interact with each other. This is a topic that is particularly frustrating for me because I have seen many people be put down due to double standards, and I, myself, have been affected by it as well.
    For example, when I was wrestling, a teammate struggled to remain on the team because her mother did not think it was a proper thing for a lady to do. Whereas, many guys are raised to excel at physical activities. Of course, this had a negative impact on guys whose parents were so focused on sports, they did not allow or support creative endeavors such as dancing or drawing.
    It is important to discuss and mention both sides of the double standard when fighting to end it. People need to realize that while certain standards have benefits when you’re on one side or the other, double standards as a whole is damaging to the way people view themselves and others, as well as to our society’s interactions as a whole.

    • Because our society devalues the feminine — which is to say, human traits associated with women — men are discouraged from doing feminine things in a way that women aren’t discouraged from doing masculine things.

      So patriarchy is behind this problem. Men shouldn’t “debase” themselves to do things that Women are associated with. If we valued women and feminine traits more, then men wouldn’t have this problem.

      So patriarchy is behind both of these double standards.

  18. Well, most men are eager and willing to have sex with even women they don’t really know. On the other hand most women will take their time and will delay having sex as much as possible.
    So it’s supply and demand.
    Most men really want something that’s it’s very hard to get, so it’s an accomplishment if they can get it whereas most women can easily get it but they aren’t that intetested.

    Why is that men are so willing to pay for prostitutes and escorts whereas women never have to or want to pay for male prostitutes?
    We are talking about two extreme situations
    Guys are buying drinks, dinners, gifts, whatever. You never see women buying drinks, dinners, gifts. That’s because men are more interested in having sex than women are.
    It’s supply and demand.
    I have known a few women who were really keen on having sex. For them it was the easiest thing to go out and get almost any men they wanted any time they wanted

  19. Couldn’t agree more! Even the parenthesis makes perfect sense!

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