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Hate slut shaming? Study finds gender inequality to blame for restrictive sexual morality

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“Slut shaming” could be the product of inequality between men and women in the economic realm. A new study seeks to explain anti-promiscuity views by examining the economic situation of men relative to women — and its findings suggest that “slut shaming” could have its genesis in concerns over parental investment.

Brunel University researchers Michael E. Price, Nicholas Pound, and Isabel M. Scott noted in their study that “restrictive sexual morality is a key element of most religious codes and politically conservative ideologies.” However, they added that “individual-level associations between opposition to promiscuity and adherence to these belief structures are somewhat circular, by definition, and consequently not particularly informative.”

“Humans a regroup-oriented and moralistic organisms and, as conservative and religious moral systems tend to oppose promiscuity, it is not surprising that members of these groups will also tend to oppose it. A more interesting issue is how these moral systems became so opposed to promiscuity in the first place.”

Their study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that both sexes are more averse to promiscuity in social environments characterized by greater female economic dependence on a male mate. In such an environment, paternity certainty is particularly important for both men and women, according to the female economic dependence theory of promiscuity aversion.

“When a female and her offspring depend more on male investment, this investment is more valuable to her, her offspring, and the male providing it (if the offspring are also his own),” Price and his colleagues explained. “Further, when females depend more on this investment, it should also be costlier for males to provide, because its increased value should motivate men to expend more time and energy to produce it.”

“Due to the increased value and cost of male parental investment under conditions of greater female dependence, actions which undermine paternity certainty (and which thus reduce male motivation to produce parental investment), such as promiscuity, will become more threatening to both mated men and mated women,” the researchers said.

In other words, in environments where women are dependent on men, the men in those environments have more to lose, biologically speaking, from spending resources on raising a child that isn’t their own — while women don’t want other women competing for their male mate’s resources, since they have little of their own.

An initial survey of 656 U.S. residents aged 18 to 80 years found that perceptions of high female economic dependence were positively associated with the belief that promiscuity is wrong, even after controlling for the effects of age, sex, religiosity, and conservatism.

The researchers confirmed the findings in a second, larger study of 4,533 individuals. In addition, they found that opposition to promiscuity was linked to one’s own personal economic situation. Anti-promiscuity views were significantly lower among heterosexual women with higher incomes, and significantly higher among heterosexual men who earned more than their partners.

However, people’s social environment appeared to have a greater impact on their opposition to promiscuity than their own personal economic situation.

“These personal income related variables were generally weaker predictors of anti-promiscuity views than perceived female economic dependence in one’s social network,” the researchers said.

Price and his colleagues also examined data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey to determine that median female income was a strong predictor of anti-promiscuity views at the state level.

Both studies found that women tended to be more opposed to promiscuity than men. The finding is “consistent with the theory that men are in general more favorably disposed than women towards short-term mating,” the researchers wrote.

Restrictive sexual morality may persist even when the economic situation becomes more equal, the researchers said, because of cultural lag.

“So although female economic dependence is contrasted with religiosity and conservatism in the above studies, these variables may actually be fundamentally related: religious and conservative moral systems may be anti-promiscuity because they themselves arose in environments where females depended heavily on male investment.”


  • FreeThoughtGuy

    Seems about right, I’d be interested to know how it relates to restrictive clothing too. My experience is slut-shaming is greater in cultures/religions where women usually have to wear more. Whereas where men & women have equal body freedom, such as top-free equality for example, women are more respected. My theory is the more the female body is taboo the more sexualized it becomes and the more men objectify it. Whereas where its more normal part of life its significantly less so and men are able to see women more as persons than sex objects. Might make for some interesting research, could add some legitimacy to campaigns like Free the Nipple, or not…