Although children have been learning gender-role stereotypes since infancy, the empha­sis on gender-role differentiation often increases during adolescence. One way that gender-role expectations for males and females are revealed is through the existence of a sexual double standard: different standards of sexual permissiveness for women and men, with more restrictive standards almost always applied to women (Abbey, 2011; England, 2010; Lyons et al., 2011). As we will see in Chapter 14, the double standard

can influence both male and female sexuality throughout our lives. Sexually emerging teenagers often receive the full brunt of this polarizing societal belief. However, evi­dence gathered in recent years indicates that the sexual double standard is diminishing among adolescents and adults in North America, especially among women (Coontz, 2012; Davidson et al., 2008; Lyons et al., 2011).

Because the double standard continues to affect adolescent sexual behavior, let us briefly consider some of its potential influences. For males the focus of sexuality may be sexual conquest. Young men who are nonaggressive or sexually inexperienced are often labeled with highly negative terms such as sissy. On the other hand, peers often provide social reinforcement for stereotypically masculine attitudes and behaviors; for example, approval is given to aggressive and independent behaviors. For some young men, telling their peers about their sexual encounters is more important than the sexual act itself:

My own self-image was at stake. There I was — good-looking, humorous, ath­letic, liked to party—but still a virgin. Everybody just assumed that I was an expert at making love. I played this role and, without a doubt, always implied, "Yes, we did, and boy, was it fun." (Authors’ files)

For females the message and the expectations are often very different. The following account illustrates one woman’s view of both sides of the double standard:

It always seemed so strange, how society encouraged virginity in girls but it was okay for boys to lose theirs. I came from a large family, with my brother being the oldest child. I remember when word got around how much of a play­boy my brother was (he was about 18). My parents were not upset, but rather seemed kind of proud. But when my sisters and I were ready to go out, our parents became suspicious. I can always remember how I felt and how if I ever became a parent I wouldn’t allow such an inequality and emphasis on female virginity. (Authors’ files)

Many girls face a dilemma. They may learn to appear sexy to attract males, yet they often experience ambivalence about overt sexual behavior. If a young woman refuses to have sex, she may worry that boyfriends will lose interest and stop dating her. But if she engages in sex, she may fear that she has gained a reputation for being “easy.”