“It’s not just a few men that you have to be wary of; it’s within certain situations, a good many men may be prone to this kind of behavior,” said one study co-author
Study up, fellas.
Consent is “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity,” the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network says. But some men conflate that with a woman’s mere expression of sexual desire, a new study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence shows.
The researchers exposed 145 male university students aged 19 to 34, who identified as heterosexual, to a series of vignettes describing sexual situations; after each one, participants filled out a questionnaire gauging their perceptions of the woman’s sexual desire, consent to continue the interaction, and consent to sex. They also completed questionnaires on demographics, sexual history, social desirability, psychopathy, empathy, hostile sexism, rape-myth acceptance and hypermasculinity.
“Men tended to confuse their perception that the woman was sexually interested with her consent to sexual intercourse,” Binghamton University professor of psychology Richard Mattson, a co-author of the study, told Moneyish.
The factors influencing men’s perceptions were mostly situational, Mattson said, “meaning any guy, regardless of perhaps where they stand on some of these characterological variables, may be prone to sexual misconduct in certain situations … Men are relying on sort of questionable sexual scripts to guide their decision-making or to decode the woman’s sexual intentions.”
The depressing takeaway: “It’s not just a few men that you have to be wary of; it’s within certain situations, a good many men may be prone to this kind of behavior.” In other words, on average “any man — selected at random, put in a certain situation — may pose a risk.”
Other situational factors, like a past sexual history with the woman or achievement of a higher level of intimacy in the current interaction, seemed to influence perception of the woman’s desire. What’s more, Mattson added, “certain personality and attitude characteristics such as the acceptance of ‘rape myths’ — (like) ‘When a woman says no, she really means yes’ — as well as adherence to hypermasculine ideals — like ‘Real men don’t cry’ — tended to influence perceptions of a woman’s sexual desire and consent, somewhat irrespective of what was happening in the situation.”
There are, however, some small silver linings: For one, “the strongest predictor of men’s perceptions of desire and consent was whether and how the woman communicated her sexual intentions” — and “a verbal ‘no’ did not appear necessary in communicating refusal.” With refusal, body language sufficed.
Predictors of men’s perceptions also tended to be belief systems like rape-supportive attitudes and hypermasculine ideology, rather than rigid personality traits — meaning “there’s some ray of hope that the types of attitudes that may be influential may the ones that are more amenable to being changed through education,” Mattson said.
“I think there’s a good chunk of reachable men who have misconceptions about sex and sexual interaction, and really need concrete advice as to how to navigate these things appropriately,” the professor said. “I think having them understand the inferential limits of their perception of a woman’s sexual desire and disentangling that from their inferences about consent would go a long way.”
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