Sex, lies and stereotypes

If I was to ask you to roll out a few sexual stereotypes you would have no trouble listing at least 10. You would assume that all of them were timeless, although in that regard you would probably be wrong. That thing about real men not crying for instance…go back to the times of the Greeks when Homer wrote the Odyssey and you’ll see that men were expected to cry, especially when family honour was at stake. So those stereotypes we hold dear may not have the hard currency we assume but nevertheless they exist. In fact, according to new research, when it comes to stereotypes about sexual behaviour both men and women will tell lies to make it seem as if they conform to those stereotypes.

For the research, men and women completed questionnaires that asked how often they participated in a series of 124 different behaviours. These behaviours had previously been tested as “stereotypical” sex role behaviours. They included, for instance, “typical male” behaviours like wearing dirty clothes and telling dirty jokes. The sort of stereoptypically female behaviour included writing poetry and lying about your weight.

The interesting part of the study was that half of the subjects were hooked up to a lie detector (polygraph) machine while they answered the questions. The machine was not turned on but the participants did not know that. The other subjects answered without being hooked up to a polygraph.

In general, both men and women reported stereotypical behaviours for their gender regardless of whether they were wired up to the polygraph machine or not. Men were willing to admit to “non-masculine” behaviours like poetry writing either with or without polygraph and women admitted to things like telling obscene jokes. However, things where a bit different when it came to reporting on sexual behaviour.

For instance, men reported more sexual partners when they weren’t hooked up to the lie detector than when they were. Conversely, but equally, women reported having fewer sexual partners when they were hooked up to the polygraph than when they were not.

It appears then that both men and women will lie if they think they can get away with it in order to conform with the sexual stereotypes that men are promiscuous and women prefer a more selective sex life. Apparently there are lies, damned lies, and sexuality. It raises problems of course if you want to establish the sexual history of a prospective partner. Taking a polygraph machine along could ruin the ambience of a first date so maybe the safest thing is just to assume that all date partners are lying…there’ll be less disappointment that way.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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