Do women not want to be friends with sluts? A review of a study.

Is there a word for studies which confirm existing prejudices so are trumpeted everywhere as there now being scientific backing for such prejudices? If not, there should be.

The latest that has come to my attention is a study which is being reported as showing that women don’t want to be friends with women who have had a lot of sexual partners, while men don’t mind as much if their male friends are getting a lot of sex. Entitled “Birds of a Feather? Not When it Comes to Sexual Permissiveness“, the study claims to provide some support for a sexual double standard and suggests these findings might have an evolutionary basis. Male and female participants were provided with a profile of a fictional person, and asked questions pertaining to friendship with them. The only difference between the profiles was how many sexual partners the fictional person had had: two, or twenty.

As with most of these prejudice-confirming studies, though, there are a few problems with how the authors reached their conclusions. As with so many studies of this ilk, there is a huge issue with sampling, and the generalisability of this study. Participants were US college students, the overwhelming majority of whom were economically privileged–only 11% rated themselves as working class or lower middle class. But most importantly of all, gay and bisexual participants were excluded from the study to ensure that none of the results reflected any sort of sexual attraction (because, apparently, queer folk are unable to just be friends with heterosexuals). The findings, therefore, can only ever be generalised to heterosexuals and be applied to heterosexual culture. This is something which has not been reported in any media discussions of the study, probably due to a combination of the fact that journalists tend to regurgitate press releases rather than read studies, and a hefty dose of good old-fashioned heterosexism.

There is also a major problem with the stats used in this study. When conducting statistical tests, we use a probability that the finding was down to chance. The conventionally-accepted figure for a statistically significant finding is that there is only a 5% possibility that this finding is due to chance, and it’s important to report the values of this probability as a p-value, where we convert the percentage into a decimal. For example, p=.04 is statistically significant, meaning the result is unlikely to be due to chance. Meanwhile, p=.09 is not significant as it’s more likely that the findings were just chance. In this study, several findings were reported as being “marginally significant”. The threshold for this was p<.08. “Marginal significance” is a phrase which pisses me the fuck off, as it means it actually isn’t significant by any conventions which are used, it’s just kind of close and the authors wanted something else to talk about.

Then we run into another problem. When multiple tests are run, the possibility of a false positive increases. At a significance threshold of p=.05, if a researcher were to run 100 statistical tests, five would come up as significant just by chance. So it’s important, when you’re doing a lot of statistical tests, to adjust for this. The authors of this paper didn’t. The good news is, there’s enough data there for me to undertake a quick and dirty* adjustment called a Bonferroni Correction. As I said above, the generally-accepted significance threshold if p<.05. A Bonferroni Correction takes this significance threshold and divides it by the number tests run. Charitably discounting the 64 descriptive stats tests run, I count 160 tests undertaken (though I may have missed a few). p<.05 divided by 160 gives us the significance threshold of p<.0003, and from the data tables, it looks like there isn’t much that’s significant by this measure. Some findings are reported as p=<.001, although we cannot conclude from the information available whether they manage to reach the revised threshold.

For those of you whose eyes glazed over during that dry statistical excursion, take the findings of this study with a hefty pinch of salt.

If you did read the stats paragraph, you’ll notice I’m feeling charitable today, so now it’s time to talk about something I found really interesting in this paper, and I’m a little sad the authors didn’t examine more. Along with filling in questionnaires which largely formed the basis of the analysis, participants were also invited to write down things they liked and disliked about the fictional person. Almost everyone, men and women, had something negative to say about sexuality, even when it was the fictional person who had only had two sexual partners. These negative things included negative statements about extramarital sex and stigmatising phrases like “whore-like tendencies”.


We cannot draw the conclusions the authors and overexcited journalists have drawn–that women don’t want to be friends with slutty women. What we can see, though, is that among heterosexual US college students, there is still a pretty dodgy attitude towards sexuality, with people holding views which are generally quite negative even when a fictional person has had relatively few sexual partners. This is something we need to work on as a society: sex is a thing a lot of people do, and it’s much nicer to do it without judgment from peers. We need to support others in having safe sex rather than think unpleasant things about them, accepting people. We’ve all internalised a lot of shit, living as we do in a society with a decidedly wack view of sexuality. And that needs to change.


*Why do I find Bonferroni Corrections quick and dirty? Because I’m a Monte Carlo Simulation gal. Far more fun, you just get to leave a computer running while you go out for lunch and it feels like you’re working. Also, it’s more robust, or something, but mostly it’s the fact you get to pop out for lunch.

Why I don’t want a woman Doctor right now

The guessing game cycle of working out who the next lead in Doctor Who is upon us again. You know, the one where we shout out names of actors we like and then when the character is finally cast look baffled and go, “Who? Who even is he? My show is RUINED FOREVER!”

I use he/him pronouns here, because despite much of the wishlist of dream castings being women, the role will almost certainly go to a man. Which, at the moment, is probably a good thing.

Now, I fervently disagree with the Daily Mails and Louise Mensches of the world, adding their voices to the cavalcade of squawking from the misogynistic fanboys that the Doctor has to be played by a man. These whines about a potential threat to male supremacy, dressed up as false concerns about political correctness and the integrity of canon are nonsense. They’re completely fucking nonsense. A woman Doctor could be really, really fucking cool. Or, indeed, a genderqueer Doctor, a non-binary identified Doctor, or anywhere across the beautiful rainbow of gender. There are so many actors I would love to see in the role: Tilda Swinton as a circumspect Doctor; Sue Perkins as an exuberant Doctor; Judi Dench completely schooling the children in how to get shit done.

However, this all depends on the writer and who’s in charge of deciding the Doctor’s destiny.

And unfortunately that person right now is Stephen fucking Moffat.

As you might gather, I am hardly the Moff’s biggest fan, thinking him something of a colossal sexist. I can see, nightmarishly clearly, just how badly he would fuck up a woman Doctor. She would regenerate, and upon realising she is a woman, announce proudly “I’ve got boobs! Marvellous, exciting boobs!” She would take up with a male companion, because I cannot see Moff allowing women to travel space and time without some male supervision. And she’d fall in love with this male companion, because that’s how women work on Planet Moff. The fact she had regenerated as a woman would become a great, plot-driving mystery, as women are mysterious on Planet Moff.

I cannot see any way that a woman Doctor handled by the Moff would be written and characterised well. All I can see is car crashes.

So not yet, I don’t want a woman Doctor just yet. Not under Moff. He’s got to go before a woman Doctor would stand a chance at being anything other than simultaneously the butt of a joke and the Greatest Mystery In The Universe.

Poly Means Many: What is cheating?

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at

This month’s Poly Means Many topic is on relationship ethics, and why what it is we do is not the same as cheating. To me, the answer to this seems fairly obvious, but then I look back to before I knew that poly was even possible, and I realise that perhaps it isn’t. And I think on my experience, and what I consider cheating and I find myself wondering exactly what cheating is.

My first experience of cheating was the breakdown of the relationship from that-one-time-I-was-in-a-mono-relationship-with-a-man-for-five-years. It ended because he cheated on me: to what extent, I do not know, but I know that it happened and I know that our relationship circled the drain for a few months and then ended and I spent a while moping around in a dressing gown crying and eating sweets. It wasn’t so much whatever had transpired physically or emotionally between my ex and that someone else which had bothered me. It was the dishonesty, the refusal to tell me anything.

I also have experienced the other end of cheating in monogamy. I once had sex with someone who was in a monogamous relationship. I knew. I didn’t care.

Have I experienced cheating in poly relationships? It’s hard to say. I once had a partner who had a rather poor attitude towards condom use. We were fluid-bonded, or so I thought–meaning we did not use condoms with one another, and as I understood it we would use condoms with other partners. He didn’t, not always. That was not OK. I sometimes wonder if perhaps I was not clear enough about what exactly it meant, the fluid-bonding, but at the same time he must have known that he was exposing me to risks without ever bothering to even mention it. It echoes back to that first experience of cheating I had: I might not have minded the behaviour itself had I just been given the information to make these decisions. Yes, I did cry in a dressing gown while stuffing my face with sweets for a while after.

What about my own personal set of relationship ethics? I am honest with my partners about what I do. I am less honest about my feelings, a lot of the time, because scars from bad things that happened sometimes tie my tongue and sometimes stop me from saying “Hey, I’m not OK” unless asked. But I’m honest when I’m asked, and I’m upfront about this particular shortcoming of mine and those who love me know to read the signs and check with me if there’s something up. And that’s why I love them. It takes a lot for me to open up to people, and I need handling with care until I am able to trust someone not to break me.

I suppose, as I reflect, I have come to the conclusion that relationship ethics largely boil down to trust, and cheating is a violation of trust through dishonesty, whether by omission or commission. Cheating is not inherent to any form of relationship, and poly people can cheat just as surely as mono people.

But to me, relationship ethics encompass more than mere honesty: my trust in people has been violated through other routes than cheating. Some people have violated emotional and physical boundaries. The bad bit of my brain always blames myself for not adequately enforcing my own boundaries; the rest of me knows this is a nonsense but still finds itself listening to the bad bit. It is honest to say “Oh, you have this boundary, do you? Well, I’m going to cross it, because that’s how I roll,” but it is not ethical.

Trust is a gift. Be careful what you do with it.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Didn’t read much, because fascists keep showing up and I keep having to oppose them, but here’s some things I read this week that I found interesting, some of it not necessarily written this week. Please drop me more links I may find interesting.

Standing on the shoulders of giants (Reni Eddo-Lodge)- Reni takes us on a journey through the same argument that keeps being had, from Sojourner Truth to Audre Lourde, via bell hooks. Let’s stop this happening now, please.

White privilege? Check (Sam Ambreen)- Sam articulates continuing righteous dismay with white feminists.

Louise Mensch, take a lesson on privilege from the internet (Laurie Penny)- In which Laurie completely schools anti-intersectional commentators, explaining some basics and giving them no excuse to plead ignorance.

The Dictionary and Marginalised People (Womanist Musings)- You know that annoying thing where someone stubbornly rims their dictionary rather than engage in a discussion on social justice? Here’s why that’s bullshit.

And finally, GBC Legal are amazing, and have been doing invaluable work in the last week. They train legal observers and can send them when a protest is happening, provide information about rights and do support for people who have been arrested during political activism. They need money to keep doing the invaluable work they do. Can you help them?