Who Punishes Promiscuous Women? Both Women and
Men are Prejudiced Towards Sexually-Accessible
Women, but Only Women Inﬂict Costly Punishment.
Naomi K. Muggletona,b, Sarah R. Tarranb, Corey L. Fincherb,∗
aWarwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
bDepartment of Psychology, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
Across human societies, female sexuality is suppressed by gendered double stan-
dards, slut shaming, sexist rape laws, and honour killings. The question of what
motivates societies to punish promiscuous women, however, has been contested.
Although some have argued that men suppress female sexuality to increase
paternity certainty, others maintain that this is an example of intrasexual com-
petition. Here we show that both sexes are averse to overt displays of female
sexuality, but that motivation is sex-speciﬁc. In all studies, participants played
an economic game with a female partner whose photograph either signalled
that she was sexually-accessible or sexually-restricted. In study 1, we found
that men and women are less altruistic in a Dictator Game (DG) when part-
nered with a woman signalling sexual-accessibility. Both sexes were less trusting
of sexually-accessible women in a Trust Game (TG) (study 2); women (but not
men), however, inﬂicted costly punishment on a sexually-accessible woman in
an Ultimatum Game (UG) (study 3). Our results demonstrate that both sexes
are averse to overt sexuality in women, whilst highlighting potential diﬀerences
Keywords: Sexual suppression, Sexist attitudes, Intrasexual competition,
Evolutionary psychology, Economic games
Amongst human freedoms, how often one has sex and with whom is basal
and level with the freedom to think any thoughts, speak any words, and worship
any object or being. But, in fact, not every one is allowed these freedoms. Across
human cultures there exists a sexual double standard. Whereas young men are
encouraged to “sow wild oats” (Crawford & Popp, 2003; Hadﬁeld, 2011), young
women and girls are at risk of slut shaming, female genital cutting, and honour
killings (Do˘gan, 2016; Gruenbaum, 2005; Tate, 2016) for the same behaviours.
Preprint submitted to Evolution and Human Behavior December 20, 2018
Due to the importance of sexual freedom and the commonality across human
societies of sexual double standards, several economic, sociological, and political
models have been proposed to explain this gender imbalance. The present report
seeks to inform the discovery of the ultimate causes of human sexual double
standards by asking: who suppresses female sexuality, and why? In answering
this we propose a more nuanced version of sexual control theory than existed
1.1. Evidence for Male-Driven Suppression
Given that men have historically dominated women politically and econom-
ically, it is logical to suggest that they have also dominated women sexually
(Travis & White, 2000). By enforcing gendered double standards, men can
monopolise sexual access to their mate(s) yet gain further access to additional
females via extra-pair copulation (EPC) and thereby enhance their reproduc-
tive success. Therefore, men suppress female sexuality to maximise paternity
certainty and, in so doing, ensure that property is inherited by legitimate male
heirs (Buss, 2003; Coontz & Henderson, 1986). More recently, Rudman and
colleagues have argued that men are more likely than women to endorse the
sexual double standard, which they attribute to hostile sexism and belief in
male entitlement (Rudman et al., 2013; Rudman & Mescher, 2012).
Yet despite intuitive appeal, this argument has several ﬂaws. Although cou-
pled men should be motivated to choose romantically faithful mates, single men
could beneﬁt from promoting female promiscuity. Empirical evidence supports
this view, showing that men are more open to casual sex than women (Petersen
& Hyde, 2010). What’s more, whereas female peer groups pressure their friends
to not go too far sexually (Crawford & Popp, 2003; Eder et al., 1995; Kreager
& Staﬀ, 2009), adolescent males don’t mind if a female peer is sexually expe-
rienced (Crawford & Popp, 2003; Coleman, 1961) and will actively encourage
girlfriends to become more sexually experienced (e.g., Miller & Benson 1999;
see also G´amez-Guadix et al. 2011). Counter to patriarchal models, none of the
aforementioned studies found evidence to suggest that men stiﬂe their partners’
1.2. Evidence for Female-Driven Suppression
At ﬁrst glance the suggestion that women should self-regulate their be-
haviour in such a way that limits their choices and freedoms seems irrational.
Yet on closer inspection, there is overwhelming evidence that women judge
promiscuity harshly among their peers. Consider malicious gossip and slut
shaming. A cursory glance at women’s magazines and tabloids will demon-
strate prejudice towards women deemed too sexy or showing too much skin.
This trend is reﬂected in women’s perceptions of sexual double standards. When
asked which sex judges sexually-accessible women more harshly, 46% of women
1Although men do not stiﬂe their female partners’ sexuality, both men and women use
mate guarding tactics to prevent EPC (see Chapais, 2009; Gavrilets, 2012).
reported that other women were harsher, but just 12% identiﬁed men as the
harsher sex (Milhausen & Herold, 1999). From the view of male control theory,
this is a strange and unnecessary behaviour. If men suppress female promis-
cuity, we should expect high levels of disapproval among men but indiﬀerence
But consider this: more than 200 million girls and women alive today have
been the victims of female genital cutting, with 3 million at risk each year
(United Nations Children’s Fund, 2013). Genital cutting is carried out to pre-
vent women from enjoying sexual intercourse, thus restricting victims from en-
gaging in pre-marital sex or EPC. Nevertheless, these practices are carried out
by mothers and grandmothers (Hicks, 1996; Lightfoot-Klein, 1989), with fathers
typically excluded from the process (Boddy, 1989). Do potential husbands de-
mand cutting of their brides? On the contrary, Sudanese men prefer uncut wives
(Abdalla et al., 2012; Shandall, 1979). What’s more, uncut, Western wives are
often favoured in regions with high female genital cutting prevalence, with men
stating that they want a wife who enjoys sex (Lightfoot-Klein, 1989).
This is diﬃcult to reconcile with models of male-driven suppression; why
should women maintain a practice that restricts their collective sexuality, and
is actively disliked by men? The notion of ‘biological markets’ was ﬁrst outlined
by No¨e & Hammerstein (1994, 1995) to describe interactions between organ-
isms (or ‘traders’) that involve the exchange of goods, such as food, shelter,
and gametes, or services, such as protection, pollination, and warning calls. As
goods and services become scarce (demand outstripping supply), organisms be-
come increasingly competitive and will oﬀer a higher sum for a given utility.
More recently, Baumeister and colleagues have developed the concept of bio-
logical markets as a possible explanation for female sexual suppression. Sexual
economics theory (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004) starts from the assumption that
sex is a valuable ‘product’ that women supply and men demand (Baumeister
et al., 2001). In societies where men dominate economically and socially, sexual
access represents one of the few commodities that women control. In this view,
to access sex men must oﬀer beneﬁts such as commitment, money, or status (Lu
et al., 2015). Where sexual access can be bartered for beneﬁts, women are at
an advantage when the cost of sex is high. Crucially, this position of power is
diminished when other women grant sexual access at a lower cost (Baumeister
et al., 2002). As such, women are incentivised to maintain a price ﬂoor, through
the control of women’s sexuality, to keep the price of sexual access high.
Nonetheless, there are several issues with sexual economics theory. First,
Baumeister and colleagues’ (Baumeister & Twenge, 2002; Baumeister & Vohs,
2004) theory is based largely on a literature review and non-current meta-
analyses (Oliver & Hyde, 1993; for more recent reviews, see Petersen & Hyde,
2011, 2010) rather than direct empirical tests. Second, given that men (vs.
women) hold more negative attitudes about other women (Swim et al., 2010), it
seems unlikely that they are champions of women’s sexual liberation. For exam-
ple, men are more likely to objectify sexualised women (Vaes et al., 2011), which
is associated with sexual aggression (Rudman & Mescher, 2012). Finally, some
aspects of sexual economics theory seem paradoxical. Baumeister & Vohs (2004)
claim that when a woman wears sexy clothing she is signalling that the cost of
sex with her would be high. But given that women who wear sexually revealing
clothes are perceived as more promiscuous (Goetz et al., 2016), we argue that
provocative clothing should be interpreted as signalling a lower cost of sexual
access. This conforms with the conventional wisdom that young women should
refrain from “showing oﬀ the goods”, that is, by wearing revealing clothing.
1.3. Uncovering Motives for Sexual Suppression
Conﬂicting models oﬀer diﬀerent accounts of female sexual suppression.
Male control theories propose that men suppress women’s sexuality to achieve
status (Travis & White, 2000), increase paternity certainty (Buss, 2003), or
maintain property rights for male heirs (Coontz & Henderson, 1986). Female
control theories suggest that women suppress their own sexuality to maintain a
price ﬂoor (Baumeister et al., 2002; Baumeister & Vohs, 2004), or as a form of
intrasexual competition (Keys & Bhogal, 2016; Vaillancourt & Sharma, 2011).
Although useful, it is unlikely that either theoretical approach captures the com-
plexity of female sexual suppression. Instead, a review of the literature suggests
that both men and women are prejudiced toward sexualised women, but in dif-
ferent contexts (e.g., Rudman & Mescher, 2012; Blake et al., 2018b; Keys &
Bhogal, 2016; Vaes et al., 2011).
In the present report we provide further evidence that female sexual sup-
pression cannot be attributed to one sex exclusively. Instead, we show that both
sexes demonstrate prejudice, albeit via diﬀerent mechanisms and for diﬀerent
reasons. We present ﬁndings from three studies designed to disentangle the role
of each sex in suppressing women’s sexuality.
1.4. The Present Report
We argue that male-driven suppression is associated with a need to secure a
sexually-faithful mate. That is, men are motivated to suppress female sexuality
as a form of mate guarding and to raise paternity certainty. Owing to concealed
ovulation and internal fertilisation, paternity is always less than certain. Men
can, however, increase the likelihood of paternity via mate guarding, sexual
jealousy, and choosing women who are sexually faithful (Bendixen et al., 2015;
French et al., 2017; Haselton & Gangestad, 2006; Leivers et al., 2014; Prokop &
Pazda, 2016). From this perspective, men should demonstrate prejudice towards
sexually-accessible women (prediction 1a). If men’s prejudice is motivated by
a desire to raise paternity certainty, then men should view sexually-accessible
women as being less trustworthy (prediction 2a). Finally, men’s prejudiced be-
haviour should be speciﬁc to mates or potential mates. That is, although men
may seek to punish promiscuous behaviour in their partner(s), they are not in-
centivised to punish sexual-accessibility in women that they are not romantically
involved with (prediction 3a). To summarise, men should favour non-sexualised
women, but do not beneﬁt from punishing sexually-accessible women.
At the same time, we argue that female-driven suppression is associated with
intrasexual competition. In species where males invest in oﬀspring, females may
compete for high-quality mates (Stewart-Williams & Thomas, 2013). In our own
species, intrasexual competition among women can take the form of competitor
derogation (Fisher et al., 2003; Keys & Bhogal, 2016), malicious gossip about
a rival’s promiscuity (Buss et al., 1990; Laidler & Hunt, 2001), and aggres-
sion (Vaillancourt & Sharma, 2011). Consequently, women should demonstrate
prejudice towards sexually-accessible women (prediction 1b). Previous research
has found that women perceive rivals as more likely to poach a potential mate
(Fink et al., 2014) or sabotage their sexual strategies by providing deliberately
misleading romantic advice (Fisher & Cox, 2011; Russell et al., 2017). Given
this, we predict that women will be less trusting of rivals who signal sexual-
accessibility (prediction 2b). Finally, we predict that women will regulate their
competitors’ sexual behaviour by inﬂicting costly punishment on those signalling
sexual accessibility (prediction 3b).2
To test our predictions, we conducted three experiments based on three stan-
dard economic games. In all games, although the participants were told that
they were playing the opponent in real time, they were playing against a com-
puterised opponent, who was either wearing a provocative or conservative outﬁt.
In study 1, we recruited 400 participants to interact in the Dictator Game (DG).
Unknown to the participant, all individuals were assigned to the role of Dicta-
tor. In study 2, 314 participants chose a ﬁnancial sum to invest in a sexually-
accessible or -restrictive woman. In study 3, 318 participants were assigned the
role of ‘Responder’ in an Ultimatum Game (UG), choosing whether to accept
(co¨operate) or reject (inﬂict costly punishment on their game partner). All three
experiments used a 2 (male vs. female participant) x 2 (sexually-accessible vs.
sexually-restricted partner) between-subjects design, with four conditions: (a)
male participant paired with accessible woman; (b) female participant paired
with accessible woman; (c) male participant paired with restrictive woman, and;
(d) female participant paired with restrictive woman.
2. Methods and Materials
2.1. Stimuli production
We conducted a pilot study to develop and validate photographic stimuli
that signalled whether a confederate was either sexually accessible or sexually
restrictive. Participants rated six photographs for promiscuity, sociosexuality,
and attractiveness. Three female models were recruited to produce experimental
stimuli. For the sexually-accessible condition, all women wore bold, red outﬁts
(Prokop & Pazda, 2016; Keys & Bhogal, 2016), copious make-up (Coutinho
et al., 2007), tight-ﬁtting clothes (Goetz et al., 2016), and - in one photograph -
bore a tattoo (Swami & Furnham, 2007). In the sexually-restrictive condition,
women wore neutral colours, natural make-up, did not have a visible tattoo,
2The argument that moral judgements are best described in terms of strategic interests,
and not from abstract moral ideology, is supported by work exploring the evolution of morality
(Weeden et al., 2016; Weeden & Kurzban, 2013; Kurzban et al., 2010; Weeden et al., 2008).
and wore loose clothing.3To avoid issues surrounding intrasexual competition
among female participants (Vaillancourt & Sharma, 2011) or attraction eﬀects
among male participants (Miller et al., 2007; Solnick & Schweitzer, 1999) we
sought to ensure that women in the sexually-accessible and sexually-restrictive
conditions were matched for attractiveness. Finally, to control for racial preju-
dice (Stanley et al., 2011) we recruited models from three ethnic backgrounds:
British-Caribbean, British-Caucasian, and British-Lebanese.
To enhance the believability of the cover story, all photographs resembled
an informal, online proﬁle picture. Photographs were taken in a kitchen en-
vironment that matched those found in a University’s halls of residence or a
bedsit. Photographs were taken using an iPhone 6S camera that was mounted
on 100.4cm tripod stand. For each photograph, the model was instructed to
stand on a marked spot that was 250cm from the camera. This distance al-
lowed for a full body shot of the model.
Thirty-one participants (men = 23; women = 8) were recruited in an online
study using Proliﬁc Academic. Each participant viewed all six photographs.
That is, participants saw each of the three models twice: once in the sexually-
accessible context, and again in the sexually-restricted context. Presentation of
all photographs was counterbalanced.
For each photograph, participants were asked to rate the following question
on a Likert-scale from 1 (not at all) to 7 (extremely): “How promiscuous do you
think this woman is? Promiscuous means that a person engages in frequent,
non-committed sexual activity”. Photographs were also rated from 1 to 7 for
attractiveness (“How attractive is this woman?”). Finally, we administered
an adapted version of the revised Sociosexual Orientation Inventory (SOI-R)
questionnaire (Penke & Asendorpf, 2008). Items were changed from a ﬁrst-
person perspective (e.g., “With how many diﬀerent partners have you had sex
within the past 12 months?”) to a third-person perspective (“With how many
diﬀerent partners do you think this woman has had sex within the past 12
months?”). The modiﬁed SOI-R questionnaire is outlined in the supplementary
materials. The to-be-rated photographic stimuli remained present on the screen
Overall, participants reported that the models in the sexually-accessible con-
text had a higher SOI-R score, F(1,29) = 33.56, p=.002, η2
explicitly asked to rate the models’ level of promiscuity, scores were greater
in the sexually-accessible context, F(1,29) = 18.14, p < .001, η2
But participants’ ratings of attractiveness were matched in both conditions,
F(1,29) = 0.00, p=.95, η2
G=.001. For all dependent variables sex and the
Sex x Context interaction were not signiﬁcant (all Fs<1, ps> .30), indi-
cating that both sexes perceived the sexually-accessible and sexually-restrictive
photographs in a comparable manner. For all measures the Model x Context
interaction was not signiﬁcant (all Fs<1.68, ps> .19), suggesting that the
eﬀect of provocative clothing was consistent across each model.
3For photographic stimuli, please contact the corresponding author.
2.2. Experimental set-up
For each experiment participants were told that they were taking part in
an “Economic Decision-Making Game”. They were asked to log in at a speciﬁc
time, as they were to play an online opponent in real time. But rather than
competing against a human opponent, participants were unknowingly interact-
ing with computerised responses. Participants were told: “You are now being
matched with a partner, who could be located anywhere in the world. This
could take 2-5 minutes”. The instructions stated that, if a match could not be
made within ﬁve minutes, the study would be terminated and the participant
would receive their participation fee. In fact, the waiting time was standard-
ised at 30 seconds for all participants. During this time, a loading wheel was
presented and participants were asked to wait while a partner was identiﬁed.
Participants were required to pass a comprehension task before proceeding to
the task, to ensure that they understood the rules of the economic game. This
task was repeated until they successfully completed the comprehension task.
Next, participants chose an online screen-name and were given the opportunity
to upload a proﬁle picture of themselves. Participants then viewed a ‘proﬁle
picture’ of their opponent, whose screen-name was ‘Emily’. The pre-coded pic-
ture was randomly selected from the six photographs outlined in section 2.1,
and indicated that their opponent was sexually-accessible or sexually-restrictive
(counterbalanced between participants).
Participants then continued onto one of the three economic games that are
outlined below. Finally, to ensure that answers were incentive-compatible, par-
ticipants were told that they would be entered into a prize draw to earn the
sums determined by the game. In fact, a randomly selected participant received
the full £20 sum, independent of their actions during the game.
3. Study 1
The aim of study 1 was to test whether men and women were less altruistic
towards sexually-accessible, relative to sexually-restrictive, women. To test this,
we presented participants with a DG. In DGs, two players are randomly paired
and assigned the roles of Dictator and Receiver. The Dictator is initially given
a sum of money (σ), but the Receiver is given nothing. Next, the Dictator can
choose to give a share (δ) of her portion to the Receiver, such that 0 ≤δ≤σ.
This results in:
Dictator’s payoﬀ = σ−δ
Receiver’s payoﬀ = δ(1)
From an economic perspective, the Dictator should always give the sum
δ= 0, so as to maximise her payoﬀ. But empirical evidence suggests that
the majority of Dictators choose to oﬀer the Recipient a non-zero sum (Edele
et al., 2013). This sum is determined by the Dictator’s liking of their partner
(Wu et al., 2011; Bra˜nas-Garza et al., 2011; Whitt & Wilson, 2007). As such,
participants who judge their partner favourably should give a higher sum than
to those they dislike.
The aim of study 1 was to establish whether men and women oﬀer smaller
monetary sums to sexually-accessible women. In an online study, participants
engaged in a DG with a female player. Unknown to participants, they were
matched with a computerised player whose responses were pre-coded. The
computerised player had a proﬁle picture to signal that she was either sexually-
accessible or sexually-restrictive. We predicted that both men and women would
oﬀer lower sums to women in the sexually-accessible outﬁt (Predictions 1a and
Based on eﬀect sizes observed in the pilot study (η2
p=.02), an a priori
power analysis indicated that a sample of 401 participants was needed to detect
a signiﬁcant Sex x Context interaction with suﬃcient power, 1 −β=.9, α =
.05 (easypower; McGarvey, 2015). Four hundred British participants (men =
203; women = 197) were recruited in a Proliﬁc Academic study. Participants
were diverse with respect to age, (18−44; M= 30.45; SD = 6.94), relationship
status (single = 29.4%, in a relationship = 23.5%, married / engaged = 44.4%,
divorced or widowed = 2.7%), and education (high school or less = 9.3%, college
or higher education = 75.8%, masters or professional degree = 15.0%). Most
participants were heterosexual (90.9%), homosexual (4.2%), or bisexual (3.2%);
1.7% answered “other” or “prefer not to say”. All participants were ﬁnancially
reimbursed for their time.
In a between-subjects design, Participant Sex (male, female) and Context
(sexually-accessible, sexually-restrictive) were the independent variables. The
dependent variable was the sum oﬀered to the partner.
Following the experimental set-up (section 2.2), participants received in-
structions about the DG. Participants were told that they would be randomly
assigned to the role of Giver (i.e., Dictator) or Receiver.4However, all partici-
pants were assigned to the Giver role. The participant was given a sum of £20
and asked to decide how much (if anything) he or she would like to share with
4The label Giver was favoured over Dictator, as a means of avoiding loaded language that
might prime authoritarian behaviour (Gomes & McCullough, 2015; Shariﬀ & Norenzayan,
Figure 1: Mean oﬀer in the Dictator Game (DG) as a function of Context and Participant
Sex. Note. Error bars denote standard error.
Do sexually-accessible women receive a smaller payout in a Dictator Game?
To analyse the eﬀect of female promiscuity on participants’ DG oﬀers, we per-
formed a 2 (context) x 2 (sex) factorial ANOVA.
Figure 1 plots the sum given to Recipients as a function of context (sexually-
accessible, sexually-restrictive) and participant sex. The main eﬀect of context
was signiﬁcant, F(1,396) = 9.01, p=.003, η2
p=.02, BF01 = 0.12, providing
“substantial evidence” that sexually-accessible women receive lower oﬀers than
sexually-restrictive women (cf. Wagenmakers et al., 2011). Speciﬁcally, the mean
oﬀer fell from £8.44 95% CIs [7.79, 9.08] in the sexually-restrictive condition,
to £7.09 95% CIs [6.48, 7.69] in the sexually-accessible condition.
However, neither the main eﬀect of participant sex, F(1,396) = 0.90, p=
p< .01, BF01 = 7.88, nor the interaction term, F(1,396) = 0.52, p=
p< .01, BF01 = 3.66 reached signiﬁcance. Given that 3 <BF01 <10
provides “substantial evidence” for the null prediction (Wagenmakers et al.,
2011), we concluded that participant sex does not moderate oﬀers made to
(sexually-accessible) opponents in the DG.
One possibility is that the observed ﬁndings of lower altruism towards sexually-
accessible women is moderated by relationship status. That is, women in rela-
tionships might be more hostile than single women, as they stand to lose more
(i.e., a romantic partner) to a sexually-accessible woman. We found, however,
that neither participants’ relationship status (Fs<1.93, ps> .12). Addition-
ally, the eﬀect of sexual orientation did not reach signiﬁcance (Fs<1.08, ps>
In study 1, participants assumed the role of Dictator and chose how much of
their budget - if anything - they’d like to share with a recipient. As predicted,
both men and women oﬀered lower sums when their partner signalled sexual-
accessibility (predictions 1a and 1b). Given the anonymous nature of the game,
participants’ behaviour could not have been driven by perceptions about socially
desirable behaviour. Further, participants were told that this was a ‘one-shot
game’, meaning the Recipient could not deliver punishment. Hence, we can
conclude that the observed eﬀect was caused by prejudicial behaviour towards
women wearing an outﬁt that signalled sexual-accessibility.
4. Study 2
The purpose of study 2 was to test whether men and women are less trusting
of sexually-accessible, relative to sexually-restrictive, women. To test this we
presented participants with a Trust Game (TG). In this task participants are
paired and each player is randomly assigned the role of Investor or Trustee. The
Investor is initially given a sum of money (σ), but the Trustee is given nothing.
The Investor can choose to invest a share (δ) of her portion with the Trustee,
such that 0 ≤δ≤σ. This results in:
Investor’s sum = σ−δ
Trustee’s sum = δ(2)
The Experimenter subsequently triples the amount that the Investor gives to
the Trustee, such that the Trustee’s sum is 3×δ. The Trustee then decides how
much - if anything - to return to the Investor. Investing in the Trustee is a high
risk strategy. If the Trustee is honest, the Investor can increase their earnings
by maximising their investment; if the Trustee is dishonest, the Investor could
stand to lose their invested sum. The sum invested is therefore a proxy for
measuring the extent to which an individual trusts their game partner. The
TG is a useful tool when experimenters wish to examine the “give-and-take”
pattern of social relationships (Cronk, 2007). Levels of investing in the TG has
variously predicted investment among resettled (vs. non-resettled) villagers in
Zimbabwe (Barr, 2004), gift-giving obligations among the Maasai community
(Cronk, 2007), and self-reported general trust (Gobin & Freyd, 2014). In the
domain of sexual behaviour, Stirrat & Perrett (2010) found that men higher
in testosterone were more likely to cheat their opponent and received lower
investment sums than men lower in testosterone. In sum, the literature suggests
that one’s trust in an agent’s propensity to ‘play fair’ and adhere to social norms
of reciprocity is captured by one’s willingness to risk a ﬁnancial sum, in the hope
of fair play, in the TG.
Based on the previous ﬁnding that performance in the TG is associated with
real-world trust, we predicted that men and women would be less trusting of
women signalling sexual accessibility (predictions 2a and 2b).
Based on the eﬀect sizes observed in study 1 (η2
p=.02), an a priori power
analysis indicated that a sample of 81 participants per condition would be suﬃ-
cient to detect a medium-sized Sex x Context interaction with suﬃcient power,
1−β=.8, α =.05 (easyp ower; McGarvey, 2015). Owing to six participants fail-
ing to complete the task, recruitment was marginally lower than our target of 320
participants. One-hundred ﬁfty-eight men and 156 women were recruited in a
Proliﬁc Academic study. Participants were from 25 unique countries and ranged
from 18-73 (M= 31.41, S D = 10.07). Of these, 40% were single, 37% were in a
relationship or engaged, 23% were married, and 1% were divorced. Most partic-
ipants were heterosexual (90.5%). The rest were homosexual (3.8%), bisexual
(2.5%), or selected “other” or “prefer not to say” (1.9%). All participants were
ﬁnancially reimbursed for their time.
In a between-subjects design, participant sex (male, female) and context
(sexually-accessible, sexually-restrictive) were the independent variables. The
dependent variable was the sum oﬀered to the partner.
Following the experimental set-up and exposure to stimuli (section 2.2),
participants were told that they would be randomly assigned to the role of
Investor or Trustee. In fact, all participants were assigned to the role of Investor.
The participant was given a sum of £20 and asked to decide how much (if
anything) he or she would oﬀer to the Trustee.
Do men and women diﬀer in their trust of sexually-accessible women? A two-
way ANOVA yielded a main eﬀect for condition, F(1,310) = 5.75, p=.017,
BF01 = 0.58, η2
p=.02, indicating that women signalling sexual-accessibility
were endowed with less money in the TG (M= 10.3, SD = 5.78) than those
signalling sexual-restrictiveness (M= 11.8, SD = 5.94; Figure 2). The main
eﬀect of participant sex was not signiﬁcant, F(1,310) = 0.33, p=.567, BF01 =
p=.001. The interaction eﬀect was not signiﬁcant, F(1,310) = 3.66,
p=.057, BF01 = 3.93, η2
As with study 1, we explored the role of participants’ relationship status and
sexual orientation as potential moderators. Neither participants’ relationship
status (Fs<1.42, ps> .22), nor sexual orientation (Fs<0.83, ps> .51),
however, reached signiﬁcance.
In study 2, participants were assigned the role of Investor and chose how
much, if anything, to invest with a Trustee. Our prediction was conﬁrmed;
participants invested less when their game partner signalled sexual-accessibility
Figure 2: Mean investment in the Trust Game (TG) as a function of Context and Participant
Sex. Note. Error bars denote standard error.
(prediction 2). The design of the task was incentive-compatible, meaning par-
ticipants believed there could be ﬁnancial repercussions for their actions in
the game. As such, it appears that both sexes believe that sexually-accessible
women are less trustworthy than sexually-restrictive women.
More broadly, the ﬁnding that sexually-accessible women are deemed less
trustworthy is consistent with Bourdage et al.’s (2007) ﬁnding that Honesty-
Humility negatively correlates with sociosexuality. This association can be un-
derstood when we view Honesty-Humility as one’s propensity to play fair, or
an aversion to cheat or exploit others. Viewed through this lens, the ﬁndings
in study 2 are consistent with our view that sexually-accessible women are per-
ceived as more likely to cheat on mates or poach the mates of others.
5. Study 3
Study 3 uses an Ultimatum Game (UG) to test whether women (vs. men)
are more willing to inﬂict costly punishment on sexually-accessible women. The
UG bears close resemblance to the DG. A pair is allocated a sum of money (σ),
and the Proposer chooses how much - if anything - to oﬀer to the Responder
(δ), resulting in:
Proposer’s share = σ−δ
Responder’s share = δ(3)
The Responder now has the chance to accept or reject the Proposer’s oﬀer.
If he accepts, the money is split according to equation 3. But if he rejects,
both the Proposer and Receiver receive nothing. Classical economic accounts
argue that the Responder should accept any value of δ > 0, as it increases his net
earnings (Camerer, 2003). Yet previous studies show that Responders will reject
any oﬀer that is deemed unfair (Fehr & Gintis, 2007) and that third-parties will
punish the Proposer when she makes an unfair oﬀer (Fehr et al., 2002; Gintis
et al., 2003). Rejecting an unfair oﬀer can be viewed as costly punishment,
as the Responder is foregoing payment δto ensure that the Proposer receives
The aim of study 3 was to test whether men and women inﬂict costly punish-
ment when their game partner signals that she is a sexually-accessible women.
We predicted that women, but not men, would inﬂict costly punishment on
sexually-accessible women (predictions 3a and 3b).
Based on the small to medium eﬀect sizes observed in studies 1 and 2, an a
priori chi-squared power analysis indicated that a sample of 320 would be needed
to detect a count-based, Sex x Context interaction with suﬃcient power, 1−β=
.8, α =.05. Three hundred and eighteen participants (men = 132; women =
186) were recruited in an online study. Of these, 200 were recruited using
Proliﬁc Academic. The remaining 118 participants were recruited via email and
social media, as part of an undergraduate dissertation. All participants were
aged 18-75 (M= 41.33; SD = 53.86) and varied in educational attainment
(high school or less = 10.38%, college or higher education = 68.87%, masters
or professional degree = 20.75%). Most participants reported that they were
heterosexual (91.5%), homosexual (2.5%), or bisexual (2.5%); the rest answered
“other” or “prefer not to say” (3.5%).
In a between-subjects design, participant sex (male, female) and partner
(sexually-accessible, sexually-restrictive) were the independent variables. The
dependent variable was the participant’s response to the oﬀer (accept, reject).
Following the experimental set-up (section 2.2), participants were allocated
the role of Responder. All participants received an unfair oﬀer of £2 from the
Responder (i.e., 10% of the total sum) and decided whether to accept or reject
Are men or women more likely to inﬂict costly punishment to sexually-
accessible partners? We used chi-squared tests to predict the frequency of re-
sponses. The main eﬀect of sex was signiﬁcant, χ2(1, N = 318) = 6.19, p =
.013, BF01 = 0.24, with women signiﬁcantly more likely than men to reject an
oﬀer. The main eﬀect of condition, however, was not signiﬁcant, χ2(1, N =
Figure 3: Odds for accept-reject rates in the Ultimatum Game (UG), as a function of Context
and Participant Sex. Note. Error bars standard error. Dashed line reﬂects the point of
indiﬀerence between accept and reject, OR = 1.
318) = 0.00, p =.983, BF01 = 7.11, signalling that sexually-accessible and
sexually-restricted women did not diﬀer in levels of punishment received. To
explore the Sex x Condition interaction, we used the Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel
(CMH) test with continuity correction to predict the frequency of responses.
The CMH test is a variant of the chi-square test and is used for multiple chi-
square tests across multiple groups. In the CMH test, participant sex, condition,
and choice (accept, reject) were our factors. The CMH revealed a signiﬁcant
MH(1) = 6.15 p=.01. The common odds ratio across groups was
not equal to 1, OR = 1.81 95% CIs [1.15, 2.84], indicating that there was a
signiﬁcant association between participant sex and outcome across conditions
5.3.1. Post hoc analysis
A chi-square test of independence was performed to examine the relation-
ship between participant sex and willingness to accept an unfair oﬀer from a
sexually-accessible woman (Table 1). The relation between these variables was
signiﬁcant, χ2(1, N = 169) = 8.15, p =.004, BF01 = 0.10. Women were
2.46 95% CIs [1.32, 4.65] times more likely than men to reject an oﬀer from a
In the sexually-restrictive condition, however, men and women were equally
likely to accept an oﬀer from a sexually-restrictive woman, χ2(1, N = 149) =
0.58 p=.45, BF01 = 3.77 (Figure 3). Women were no more likely than men to
inﬂict costly punishment on a sexually-restrictive woman, OR = 1.29 95% CIs
Table 1: Results from chi-square tests, as a function of Participant Sex and Condition.
Sex Condition Outcome Observed Expected ∆ χ2p
Male Accessible Accept 41 35.0 −6.0 2.06 .151
Restricted Accept 31 31.0 0.0 0.00 1.00
Female Accessible Accept 36 49.5 13.5 7.36 .007
Restricted Accept 38 43.5 5.5 1.39 .238
In study 3, participants assumed the role of Responder and chose whether
to accept or reject an unfair oﬀer. As predicted, women accepted oﬀers from
sexually-restrictive partners at chance (see 95% CIs, Figure 3), but were more
likely to reject oﬀers made by sexually-accessible women (prediction 3b). But
men did not choose to punish sexually-accessible women (prediction 3a), and
accepted oﬀers at chance.
Taken together, these ﬁndings indicate that men are not incentivised to
punish sexually-accessible women, so are not willing to incur a cost to do so.
Women, however, adopt costly punishment, such that they are willing to incur
a£2 ﬁne to ensure that their partner did not receive £18.
6. General Discussion
To date, conﬂicting models have oﬀered diﬀering accounts for the origins
of women’s sexual suppression. In the present report, however, we found that
both men and women are prejudiced towards sexualised women. Independent of
own sex, participants were less altruistic in sharing a ﬁnancial endowment when
paired with a sexually-accessible woman (study 1). Prejudice was also observed
in study 2, where participants were less likely to trust a sexually-accessible
woman with a ﬁnancial investment. In study 3, however, women, but not men,
were willing to inﬂict costly punishment on sexually-accessible women.
6.1. Sex-Speciﬁc Motives for Prejudice
These ﬁndings suggest that, although men are less generous towards sexually-
accessible women (study 1), they do not seek to actively punish them (study 3).
Although more research is needed to understand the exact process, this bias
can be viewed as pragmatic: when women oﬀer low paternity certainty, men
should invest low sums to gain sexual access; when paternity certainty is high,
men should be more willing to invest. But it is non-rational to inﬂict costly
punishment on a woman that he is not romantically involved with, as he is un-
aﬀected by an unknown woman’s sexual behaviour. As such, men’s punishment
behaviour is not aﬀected by a target woman’s sexual-accessibility.5
These ﬁndings are diﬃcult to reconcile with male control theories of female
sexual suppression. Proponents of this view have typically argued that men
suppress women as a class, and are motivated to punish all forms of female
sexuality (Travis & White, 2000; Rudman et al., 2013). Our ﬁndings, however,
suggest a more nuanced approach is needed. As we have seen, men seem disinter-
ested in suppressing women’s sexual autonomy by means of costly punishment.
Although prejudice undoubtedly exists, the evidence suggests that men’s be-
haviour is more ﬂexible than has been previously assumed by male suppression
Our ﬁndings also suggest that women are motivated to punish sexually-
accessible rivals. This conforms with the suggestion that women co¨ordinate to
keep the cost of sex high (Baumeister et al., 2002; Baumeister & Vohs, 2004). To
achieve this, they contend, women must co¨operate by restricting sexual access.
This is undermined if some women lower the cost of sex. For example, if all
women demand marriage as a prerequisite for sex, more men will be willing to
invest early in relationships. But if some women oﬀer access to casual sex, men
can choose either short- or long-term relationships. Consequently, a woman
who oﬀers sexual access, but at a high cost (e.g., after marriage), may ﬁnd her
bargaining power diminished.
It is interesting to note that there was a main eﬀect of participant sex, such
that women were more likely than men to punish their opponent, independent
of the experimental condition. This might reﬂect that intrasexual competition is
present even when female participants are paired with a non-sexualised opponent
(Sutter et al., 2009). Alternatively, this might reﬂect chivalric behaviour among
male participants towards female partners (Eckel & Grossman, 2001).
6.2. Theoretical Implications
Taken together, these ﬁndings undermine the view that prejudice towards
sexualised women are solely attributable to either sex. Instead, both sexes
perpetuate and maintain prejudiced evaluations of sexually-accessible women,
but for diﬀerent reasons. Therefore, we propose a theory of female sexuality
that acknowledges that men and women have diﬀerent routes to reproductive
success, and that both men and women can attempt to control a woman’s
sexuality simultaneously. This complements previous evidence that men and
women are motivated to objectify sexualised women via diﬀerent mechanisms
(Vaes et al., 2011).
A key implication of these ﬁndings is the need to recognise the foundational
role of the local ecology and circumstances for whether female control or male
control is more dominant or whether they are equivalent for the actual shaping
of a woman’s sexual behaviour at a given point in time. This is not a new
5The ﬁnding that men’s behaviour is not moderated by his relationship status suggests
that men’s aversion to female promiscuity is not limited to his mate: instead, males tended
to show a generalised aversion to overt sexuality in women.
observation, and speaks to a wider ﬁnding that ecological factors shape sexual
suppression (Price et al., 2014; Baumeister & Mendoza, 2011; Schacht & Bell,
2016). Blake et al. (2018b,a) recently highlighted how aspects of the local mating
ecology can shape both men and women’s endorsement of female sexual sup-
pression. In support of female-driven suppression, there is recent evidence that
women are more likely to sexually-objectify themselves under ecological con-
ditions of income inequality (although not gender inequality; see Blake et al.,
2018a). This could indicate that economic volatility induces women to use sex-
ualisation as a form of intrasexual competition.
More broadly, our results ﬁnd that sexual suppression cannot be described as
being either male- or female-driven, and that more nuanced models are needed
to understand society’s propensity to suppress female sexuality. The sex dif-
ference in the derogation of a sexually-accessible women highlights the value of
an evolutionary framework, which seeks to understand variation between male
and female motives. If society is to understand and overcome the sexual double
standard, interventionists should seek to uncover how men and women vary in
their attitudes towards sexualised women.
6.3. Limitations and Future Research
This report has several limitations. First, Studies 1 and 2 recruited partic-
ipants exclusively from the UK. The UK is relatively low in the global gender
gap index (ranked 20 out of 144 countries) (World Economic Forum, 2016), of-
fers statutory maternity and paternity pay, plus welfare support that does not
discriminate between single and married mothers. As such, women’s economic
reliance on men is relatively low in the UK. This might result in weaker prej-
udice among women. Men’s prejudice might also be weaker in the UK. That
is, if women are increasingly independent, it may be less costly to mate and
reproduce. Yet despite this, we still observed that men and women were preju-
diced towards sexually-accessible women. This limitation could be corrected by
collecting data from less gender-equal societies.
A second limitation was the reliance on photographic stimuli, rather than
face-to-face interactions. Photographs were chosen because they allowed for
stimuli validation, and standardised interactions across participants. But it’s
unclear whether participants’ judgements of brief photographic stimuli are com-
parable with their perceptions of physically meeting a woman dressed in provoca-
tive clothing. Related to this is the role of context. Had a confederate worn
the outﬁts presented in the lab, she would likely receive a diﬀerent reaction
than if she had been in a bar. Indeed, some readers might believe that the
photographs displayed are not too dissimilar from many young women’s pro-
ﬁle pictures on Facebook or Instagram. As such, participants in the present
report may not have judged their partners as harshly as, say, in a real-world
context. Nonetheless, despite this limitation, we observed prejudice towards the
sexually-accessible (vs. sexually-restrictive) stimuli.
In the present report, we provided sex-speciﬁc reasons for participants be-
ing less trusting of sexually-accessible women. There are, however, alternative
explanations for this ﬁnding. It is possible that women high in sociosexuality
are viewed as less trustworthy in all exchange relationships. Related to this is
the ﬁnding that sociosexuality is associated with honesty-humility (Bourdage
et al., 2007). de Vries and colleagues similarly argue that those low in honesty-
humility are more likely to seek out opportunities to access both sex and money
(de Vries et al., 2016). Given that those high in sociosexuality are reported as
being more arrogant and phoney (Bourdage et al., 2007), we might see that sex-
ualised women are viewed as less trustworthy exchange partners, independent
of sexual ﬁdelity. Future research is needed to uncover whether the observed
ﬁndings are associated with issues of paternity certainty or fear of exploitation
in exchange relationships.
It is also worth noting that our methodology provides an indirect test of prej-
udice, rather than a direct measurement of participants’ motivations to suppress
female sexuality. Economic games beneﬁt from providing a quantiﬁable mea-
sure of concepts like altruism, trust, and costly punishment. What’s more, these
methods provide participants with a ﬁnancial incentive to ‘tell the truth’, which
has contributed to their popularity among evolutionary psychologists (Fehr &
Fischbacher, 2004; Eisenbruch et al., 2016). Nonetheless, provide a caveat that
economic games provide an indirect observation of participants’ hidden strate-
gies and underlying prejudices.
There is some evidence that sexual suppression is moderated via contextual
factors, such as local levels of gender equality (Baumeister & Mendoza, 2011)
and women’s economic reliance on men (Price et al., 2014; Stanik & Ellsworth,
2010). In a recent paper, Blake et al. (2018b) found plasticity in sexual sup-
pression, such that support of the Islamic veil is higher among men, as well as
women with a higher number of sons relative to daughters. Taken together,
these ﬁndings indicate that, in certain situations, female sexual suppression can
be strategically advantageous for both men and women. Future work should
consider additional moderating factors, such as women’s economic dependence
on men, sex ratio (that is, skewed supply and demand), and ecological factors
that inﬂuence moral norms (e.g. Weeden & Kurzban, 2013; Fincher & Thorn-
hill, 2012; Rand et al., 2013). Nonetheless, we should be cautious of attempting
to infer cognitive motivations for participants’ observed behaviour. Further re-
search is needed to develop our understanding of the speciﬁc mechanisms that
promote female sexual suppression.
The present report develops a novel theory to understand what motivates
individuals to suppress female sexuality. We show that sex-speciﬁc theories
provide a better ﬁt for the data than both male control theory and female
control theory. By providing a more coherent theory for female suppression,
society can begin to address harmful practices, such as slut-shaming, female
genital cutting, and honour killings.
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