A new study from Binghamton University suggests that peer victimization in middle and high schools may be an important indicator of an individual's sexual behavior later in life.
Published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the study report says that peer aggression and victimization during adolescence is a form of competition for reproductive opportunities.
Andrew C. Gallup, a member of the research team, said that female college students who were frequently victimized during middle and high school reported having sex at earlier ages and more sexual partners than their peers, while males reported just the opposite.
The researcher revealed that in a sample of over 100 college students, surveys showed that over 85 percent of all victimization occurred between members of the same sex, and that indirect victimization-such as teasing, demeaning, and isolating-predicted sexual behavior, while physical aggression did not.
He said that the relevance of victimization and sexual behavior may be embedded in our evolutionary past.
"Aggression may resolve intrasexual competition for the same resources, often including members of the opposite sex. Adolescence serves as a premier age in which to study competition for reproductive access. As the life span of our ancestors was greatly diminished, those who began having children at younger ages would have been selected over those who postponed their sexual behavior," he said.
Gallup said that competition among peers for a boyfriend or girlfriend might be influenced by such socially aggressive behaviors, and that the study's results indicated different effects for males and females.Nearly inverse outcomes were observed between the sexes in terms of victimization and sexual behaviors," he said.
"And according to evolutionary theory, these types of aggressive and socially dominant strategies operate by different means between males and females. For instance, females preferentially seek status when choosing mates, while males place a larger emphasis on physical attractiveness," he added.
The researchers believe that victimization acts to lower social status in males, and thus females find these males less attractive.
They also propose that limited physical prowess or physical immaturity may be contributing to this effect, by promoting both an increased likelihood of being victimized and reduced sexual opportunity.
On the other hand, females who are highly victimized by other girls may have lower self-esteem and could be more susceptible to male sexual pressure, and thus the heightened sexual activity of female victims could be an artifact of male coercion.
Another possibility is that attractive girls may simply be the target of aggression by other girls out of envy and resentment over male attention.