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Gender Similarities and Differences in Casual Sex Acceptance Among Lesbian Women and Gay Men

Abstract

Popular wisdom and scientific evidence suggest women desire and engage in casual sex less frequently than men; however, theories of gender differences in sexuality are often formulated in light of heterosexual relations. Less is understood about sexual behavior among lesbian and gay people, or individuals in which there is arguably less motivation to pursue sex for reproductive purposes and fewer expectations for people to behave in gender-typical ways. Drawing from scripts theory and pleasure theory, in two studies (N1 =  465; N2 =  487) we examined lesbian and gay people’s acceptance of casual sex. We asked participants who had been propositioned for casual sex whether they accepted the offer and to rate their perceptions of the proposer’s sexual capabilities and sexual orientation. They also reported on their awareness of stigma surrounding casual sex. We found a gender difference in acceptance: Gay men were more likely than lesbian women to have accepted a casual sex offer from other gay/lesbian people, and this difference was mediated by participants’ stigma awareness. We also found the proposer’s sexual orientation played a role in people’s acceptance. Lesbian women and gay men were equally likely to accept offers from bisexual proposers but expressed different acceptance rates with “straight-but-curious” proposers, which was mediated by expected pleasure. We discuss dynamics within lesbian and gay communities and implications for studying theories of sexual behavior and gender differences beyond heterosexual contexts.

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Notes

  1. We also inquired about perceptions of the proposer as dangerous. We do not analyze and present these data because perceived danger held relatively low predictive and explanatory value in previous studies (e.g., Conley, 2011; Conley et al., 2014), and lesbian and gay people may have concerns about danger (e.g., hate crimes, homophobia) that were not accounted for in the three danger items we included in the studies. Future research may explore how perceived risk and danger factor into people’s casual sex decisions. We also included an exploratory measure of stigma awareness in Study 1. Upon initial data cleaning procedures, we determined the included items were not reliable as there were inconsistent wording issues across the set of items (an issue corrected in Study 2). .

  2. A response option of “unsure” was included with a text entry box for participants to further explain. Prior to performing analyses, we read the open-ended responses for those who indicated “unsure.” We recoded a response as “yes” if it was clear the participant had accepted the proposal or as “no” if it was clear the proposition was denied. We removed three participants from the dataset who indicated “unsure” and provided an undecipherable response to the open-ended textbox.

  3. We explored the possibility that participants may not agree to an offer of casual sex if they are in a committed, monogamous relationship. Some participants commented in previous studies that they declined casual sex offers because they were in monogamous relationships during the time of the offer. If lesbian women in the sample were more likely to be in monogamous relationships (Patterson, 2000; Peplau & Fingerhut, 2007) and gay men were more likely to be single or in open relationships than lesbian women, relationship status could account for acceptance. In Study 2, 24% of lesbian women were in a committed, monogamous relationship at the time of the offer, compared to 22% of gay men. The gender difference in casual sex acceptance among people in relationships was not significant (χ2[1] = 2.09, p = .15), and when controlling for relationship status, we found a similar pattern of results such that lesbian women accepted offers less frequently than gay men did.

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Correspondence to Jes L. Matsick.

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Matsick, J.L., Kruk, M., Conley, T.D. et al. Gender Similarities and Differences in Casual Sex Acceptance Among Lesbian Women and Gay Men. Arch Sex Behav 50, 1151–1166 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01864-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01864-y

Keywords

  • Gender differences
  • Sexual behavior
  • Sexual orientation
  • Stigma
  • Sexual scripts
  • Bisexual