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Students lie about their sex lives to match gender expectations.

Students tend to misrepresent their sexual behavior to match the cultural expectations of men and women, according to a study led by Ohio State University psychologist Terri Fisher, PhD (Sex Roles, April).

She asked nearly 300 undergraduates taking a course in general psychology to complete a questionnaire asking how often they engaged in 124 different "typically male" or "typically female" behaviors, such as telling obscene jokes (male) and lying about weight (female). About half of the participants filled out the questionnaire while they were attached to a polygraph machine that they were told would indicate lies. In reality, the machine did nothing.

Fisher found that the men who weren't hooked up to the machine reported having more sexual partners than those who were hooked up and that the women who were not hooked up to the machine reported fewer partners than those who were hooked up, indicating the participants may have fibbed about their actual behaviors.

When it came to non-sexual behaviors, participants didn't seem to feel any added pressure to respond in a gender stereotypical way and answered more honestly. Men reported more typically male behaviors and women reported more typically female behaviors, regardless of whether they were attached to the faux lie detector or not, Fisher found. For example, women who were hooked up to the lie detector and those who weren't were equally likely to admit to behaviors that other college students considered to be stereotypically male such as bench pressing weights or wearing dirty clothes.

"There is something unique about sexuality that leads people to care more about matching the stereotypes for their gender," Fisher says.

— Amy Novotney