Beliefs about gender roles and sex stereotypes predict men’s engagement in consensual but unwanted sexual activity

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A new study provides evidence that men who more strongly endorse stereotypes of male sexuality 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 indicated 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 engaging in sexually compliant behaviors among heterosexual men.

“This project grew out of an Honors BA thesis by Devinder Khera at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. male sexuality and precarious manhood status) and how these ideologies and beliefs influence sexual behaviors,” said Khera and co-author Cory Pedersen.

“Men are stereotypically portrayed as hypersexual beings with insatiable sex drives; always ready to initiate and engage in sexual activity – anytime and anywhere. However, research has suggested similar prevalence rates of sexual conformity (i.e. consensual but unwanted sexual activity) in men and women, providing conflicting research evidence for these hypersexual stereotypes.

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

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

Men who more strongly endorsed traditional beliefs about gender roles (such as the belief that women should be primarily concerned with their childbearing and household duties) were more likely to report sexually-conforming behaviors due to biased motives. altruism (I didn’t want them to feel rejected), poisoning (the other person encouraged the use of alcohol/drugs to change your feelings), inexperience (wanted an experience to share with friends), peer pressure (friends hinted that 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 more strongly endorsed stereotypes of male sexuality were more likely to report sexually compliant behaviors related to inexperience and popularity, while younger men were more likely to report sexually compliant behaviors related to inexperience and peer pressure.

But the authors of the research believe their study may have underestimated how often men consent to unwanted sexual activity.

“An unexpected limitation that emerged from our research was pointed out to us by a very astute reviewer. Men in the current sample were not asked if they had been sexually active in the past year; thus, some of our participants may not have had the opportunity to be sexually compliant during our data collection (i.e. were single or not sexually active),” explained Khera and Pedersen.

“Furthermore, our study did not include a baseline measure of sexual conformity unrelated to motive (e.g., intoxication, inexperience, altruism, etc.). Omitting these considerations may have resulted in underreporting of sexual conformity by our participants – which means heterosexual men can be even more sexually compliant than our results suggest. These limitations are important considerations that should be taken into account in future research to determine accurate prevalence rates.

“Our findings suggest that men are held to particularly high standards in order to appear ‘masculine’ in our Western culture, which in turn may contribute to their engagement in sexual conformity,” the researchers added. “It’s unfortunate, and it’s clear that educational efforts need to be directed at men to help them situate their sexual health and wellbeing within our culturally restrictive norms. We also believe it’s important to continue to investigate sexual conformity from diverse perspectives and experiences, including those of men, women, and sexual and gender minorities.

The study, “Why Men Don’t Say No: Sexual Conformity and Gender Socialization Among Heterosexual Men“, was written by Devinder Khera, Amanda Champion, Kari Walton and Cory Pedersen.

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