People will lie about their sexual behaviour to match
cultural expectations about how men or women should act – even though they
wouldn’t distort other gender-related behaviours, new research suggests.
The study found that men were willing to admit that they
sometimes engaged in behaviours seen by college students as more appropriate
for women, such as writing poetry. The same was true for women, who didn’t hide
the fact that they told obscene jokes, or sometimes participated in other
But when it came to sex, men wanted to be seen as “real
men:” the kind who had many partners and a lot of sexual experience. Women, on
the other hand, wanted to be seen as having less sexual experience than they
actually had, to match what is expected of women.
“There is something unique about sexuality that led people
to care more about matching the stereotypes for their gender,” said Terri
Fisher, author of the study and professor of psychology atThe Ohio State
University’s Mansfield campus.
“Sexuality seemed to be the one area where people felt some
concern if they didn’t meet the stereotypes of a typical man or a typical
Fisher discovered how people would honestly respond to
questions about sexuality and other gender-role behaviours by asking some study
participants questions when they thought they were hooked up to a lie detector
The study appears in a recent issue of the journal Sex Roles.
Participants were 293 college students between the ages of
18 and 25.
The students completed a questionnaire that asked how often
they engaged in 124 different behaviours (from never to a few times a day).
People in a previous study had identified all the behaviours to be typical of
either males (such as wearing dirty clothes, telling obscene jokes) or females
(such as writing poetry, lying about your weight). Other behaviours were
identified as more negative for males (singing in the shower) or more negative
for females (poking fun at others).
But some people filled out the questionnaire while they were
attached to what they were told was a working polygraph machine or lie
detector. (It was actually not working.)
The others were connected to the apparatus before the study
began, supposedly to measure anxiety, but the machine was removed before they
completed the questionnaire.
In general, the results showed that both men and women
tended to act as would be expected for their gender. Men reported more
typical-male behaviours and women reported more typical-female behaviours,
regardless of whether they were attached to the lie detector or not.
But for non-sexual behaviours, the participants didn’t seem
to feel any added pressure to respond in stereotypical ways for their gender.
In other words, women who were hooked up to the lie detector
and those who weren’t were equally likely to admit to bench pressing weights –
a stereotypical male activity.
“Men and women didn’t feel compelled to report what they did
in ways that matched the stereotypes for their gender for the non-sexual behaviours,”
The one exception was sexual behaviour, where, for example,
men reported more sexual partners when they weren’t hooked up to the lie
detector than whey they were. Women reported fewer partners when they were not
hooked up to the lie detector than when they were. A similar pattern was found
for reports of ever having experienced sexual intercourse.
Men and women
“Men and women had different answers about their sexual behaviour
when they thought they had to be truthful,” Fisher said.
This result confirms what Fisher found in an earlier study,
back in 2003 – with one important difference.
Back in 2003, women went from having fewer sexual partners
than men (when not hooked up to a lie detector) to being essentially even to
men (when hooked up to the lie detector.)
In this new study, women actually reported more sexual
partners than men when they were both hooked up to a lie detector and thought
they had to be truthful.
“Society has changed, even in the past 10 years, and a
variety of researchers have found that differences between men and women in
some areas of sexual behaviour have essentially disappeared,” she said.
Fisher said the results of the study may actually be
stronger than what was found here. Although half the participants were not
hooked up to the lie detector while completing the questionnaire, they had been
hooked up before they started.
“Some of the participants may have been made uncomfortable
by being attached to the lie detector at first, and that may have led them to
be more forthcoming and truthful than they otherwise would have been,” she