College students judge men and women's sexual behavior by a much more equal standard than in the past, but they still frown upon anyone who gets busy "too much," new research finds.
A survey of more than 19,000 college students finds that about half lose respect for people who have sex with "lots of people." Only a minority of students judged the genders differently based on the amount of sex they had.
"Men and women are increasingly judging each other on the same level playing field," study researcher Rachel Alison, a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a statement. "But gender equality and sexual liberation are not synonymous."
The data came from the 2011 Online College Social Life Survey, which pools survey responses from 22 colleges. Respondents were asked whether they agreed with the statement, "If women hook up or have sex with lots of people, I respect them less." They were also asked the same question about men. [10 Surprising Sex Statistics]
While 48 percent of students judged men and women's sexual exploits equally, 12 percent held a double standard, judging women more harshly than men. Another 13 percent held a backward double standard, judging men more harshly than women. Finally, 27 percent said they didn't judge people for hooking up at all, no matter how frequently.
Women were more likely than men to judge but to do so equally, an attitude the researchers called "egalitarian conservative." About 54 percent of women surveyed were egalitarian conservatives compared with 35 percent of men. Only 6 percent of women judged women more harshly for hooking up, compared with 25 percent of men who reported the same.
Male athletes and members of fraternities were more likely than other men to hold a double standard, judging women for their sexual encounters and letting men off the hook. Sorority sisters living in Greek housing were more likely to hold a reverse double standard than other women, judging men harshly for hooking up.
It's possible that the Greek culture of judgment from men foments this gender war, the researchers suggest.
"Women who hold to this reverse double standard are invoking a kind of gender justice," study researcher Barbara Risman, a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a statement. "They are critical of men who treat women badly, and they do not accept a 'boys will be boys' view of male sexuality."
Rounding out the demographic data, the researchers found that Buddhists, Jewish and non-religious students were less likely than Catholics to judge people negatively for their sexual hook-ups. Evangelical or fundamentalists Christian women were 76 percent more likely than Catholic women to judge others' hook-ups.
Non-heterosexual students were less likely than heterosexual students to judge people negatively for having casual sex, as were students on the West Coast. Midwestern students were the most judgmental, with East Coasters falling in between.
The researchers will report their findings Monday, Aug. 20 at the American Sociological Associations annual meeting in Denver.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.