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Why men need to understand sexual consent

Did you know that the crime of sexual violence is the most common amongst college students than any other crime?

With the growing societal concern of sexual victimization of women in many environments of everyday life, a New York university has decided to investigate the factors that are contributing to men’s likelihood to engage in sexual misconduct.

Binghamton University, State University of New York, invited 145 heterosexual male students from a large university in the south east of the USA and exposed them to a series of hypothetical sexual scenarios.

Some men tend to confuse sexual interest with consent, regardless of the situation, according to a new paper co-written by faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Researchers found that most men tended to confuse sexual interest with consent to sex, but that perceptions of consent varied due to situational factors as opposed to personal characteristics of the men.

"We found that the way in which the woman communicated her sexual intentions, that is verbal refusal versus passive responding, had the largest effect of men's perceptions," said Binghamton University Associate Professor of Psychology Richard Mattson.

"However, there was also evidence of a precedence effect."

A precedence effect is when men equate the occurrence of some past sexual behaviour with future consent to high levels of intimacy - in some cases even in the face of direct refusal by the woman.

Similarly, the acceptance of rape myths (i.e. ‘When a woman says no, she really means yes’) and adherence to hyper-masculine beliefs only became stronger when the woman's sexual intentions were ambiguously communicated.

"However, our findings also suggest that some men were earnestly attempting to determine whether consent was given, but were nevertheless relying on questionable sexual scripts to disambiguate the situation," said Mattson.

Aspects of the college experience undeniably influence students, said Mattson. For example, a sudden decrease in parental supervision and the consumption of alcohol, underscores an increased risk of sexually coercive situations among the university setting.

The study highlights the need for risk-reduction programs that empower women to assertively communicate their sexual desires, educate men on the inferential limits of perceived sexual desire, and reinforce unambiguous affirmative behavior as the standard for consent, he said.

Graduate student Allison McKinnon and undergraduate research assistant Gonzalo Quinones are currently developing an extension of this project that expands the range of variables that might be influencing perceptions of sexual desire and consent.

The paper, "Situational and Dispositional Determinants of College Men's Perception of Women's Sexual Desire and Consent to Sex: A Factorial Vignette Analysis," was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.



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