Gender role beliefs and sexuality stereotypes predict that men will engage in consensual but unwanted sexual activity

Gender role beliefs and sexuality stereotypes predict that men will engage in consensual but unwanted sexual activity

A new study finds that men who are more supportive of male sexual stereotypes and traditional gender role beliefs are more likely to consent to unwanted sexual activity. The results were published in the journal Psychology & Sexuality.

Previous research has shown that engaging in unwanted but consensual sexual activity is relatively common. But most research has focused on women’s experiences. The authors of the new study sought to better understand the predictors of sexually compliant behavior in heterosexual men.

“This project grew out of a bachelor’s thesis with honors by Devinder Khera at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Dave was fascinated by research that examined different aspects of masculinity (e.g. gender roles, male sexual stereotypes and the precarious masculinity) and how these ideologies and beliefs influence sexual behavior,” said Khera and his co-author Cory Pedersen.

“Men are stereotyped as hypersexual beings with insatiable sex drives; always willing to initiate and engage in sexual activity – whenever and wherever. However, research has suggested similar prevalence rates of sexual compliance (i.e., consensual but unwanted sexual activity) in men and women, providing conflicting research findings for these hypersexual stereotypes.”

In the study, 426 straight men (aged 16 to 80) completed an anonymous and confidential online survey in which they indicated their motives for engaging in consensual but unwanted sexual activity. For example, participants indicated whether they engaged in unwanted kissing, touching, or sexual intercourse to satisfy the other person’s needs.

“The reported incidence of sexual compliance in men over the past 12 months was 61% – a surprising majority,” the researchers told PsyPost. “Our results suggest that sexual compliance in heterosexual men is predicted by their support of both traditional gender role beliefs (hegemonic masculinity) and male sexuality stereotypes (voracity).”

Men who were more supportive of traditional beliefs about gender roles (e.g., the belief that women should attend primarily to their childbirth and housekeeping duties) were more likely to report sexually conforming behavior based on motives from altruism (didn’t want them to feel rejected) intoxication (other person encouraged alcohol/drug use to change your feelings) inexperience (wanted an experience I can talk to friends about), peer pressure (Friends implied they would think less of you if you didn’t), popularity (thought it would make you more popular) and Gender role concerns (Fear of appearing gay).

Men who were more supportive of male sexuality stereotypes were more likely to report sexually conforming behavior related to inexperience and popularity, while younger men were more likely to report sexually conforming behavior related to inexperience and peer pressure.

However, the study authors believe their study may have underestimated how often men consent to unwanted sexual activity.

“A very perceptive reviewer alerted us to an unexpected limitation that arose from our research. Men in the present sample were not asked if they had been sexually active in the last year; Therefore, some of our participants may not have had an opportunity to be sexually compliant (ie, were single or not sexually active) during our data collection,” explained Khera and Pedersen.

“Additionally, our study did not include a basic measurement of sexual compliance that is not associated with a motive (e.g., intoxication, inexperience, altruism, etc.). The omission of these considerations may have led to this under reporting the sexual compliance of our participants – which means that straight men can be even more sexually compliant than our results suggest. These limitations are important considerations that need to be addressed in future research to determine accurate prevalence rates.”

“Our results suggest that men are bound by particularly strict standards to appear ‘masculine’ in our Western culture, which in turn may contribute to their commitment to sexual compliance,” the researchers added. “This is unfortunate, and of course, education efforts must be directed at men to help them position their sexual health and well-being within our culturally restrictive norms.” We also believe it is important to continue to examine sexual compliance from diverse perspectives and experiences, including those of men, women, and sexual and gender minorities.”

The study “Why men don’t say no: sexual compliance and gender socialization in heterosexual men” was authored by Devinder Khera, Amanda Champion, Kari Walton and Cory Pedersen.

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