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Men's Reactions to Female Sexual Coercion

Men's Reactions to Female Sexual Coercion

One of the long-standing myths about sexual coercion is that a woman cannot make a man have sex with her. Prevailing stereotypes about women's physical weakness, disinterest in sex, sex-role passiveness and gentle nature lead many people to assume that women are not capable of such an act (Anderson and Struckman-Johnson, 1998). In reality, research has shown that substantial numbers of men are subjected to the sexually aggressive behavior of female strangers, acquaintances and lovers.

Prevalence

Over a decade ago, we found that 16% of a sample of 268 men at a small Midwestern university reported that they had been forced to have sexual intercourse on a date (Struckman-Johnson, 1988.) A few years later, we documented that 30% of a sample of 204 college men had experienced an incident of pressured or forced sexual contact with a female perpetrator. For 20% of the men, the incident resulted in sexual intercourse (Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson, 1994). In a replication of this survey, 43% of 318 men reported having had at least one coercive sexual experience with a woman since the age of 16. The incident culminated in sexual intercourse for 27% of the men (Anderson and Struckman-Johnson, 1998).

Other researchers have reported similar findings. Lottes (1991) reported that 24% of 171 men at an Eastern college had been coerced into sexual intercourse. Fiebert and Tucci (1998) found that 24% of a sample of 182 college men in California had unwanted sex with an insistent woman in the past five years. In a survey of two Canadian universities, O'Sullivan et al. (1998) reported that 24% of 156 men had experienced some type of sexual coercion in heterosexual dating. Larimer et al. (1999) found that 21% of a sample of 165 fraternity men at a Western college experienced unwanted sexual contact. Going beyond the college campus, Isely and Gehrenbeck-Shim (1999) documented that 6% of 3,635 male rape victims requesting assistance at 172 agencies had been assaulted by a woman.

Dynamics

How does a woman accomplish sexual coercion of an adolescent or adult male? Our research suggests that women are most likely to use psychological pressure such as verbal pleading and arguments, emotional blackmail, and deception. Another common approach of sexually aggressive women is to take advantage of a man's intoxicated state. A typical scenario, according to male victims, involves a predatory woman who encounters an inebriated man (or contributes to his drinking) and pursues him until he falls asleep or passes out. The woman then manually or orally stimulates him to erection and mounts him for sexual intercourse.

Sexually aggressive women only occasionally resort to force tactics, which we define as intimidation with size, threats of harm including blackmail, physical restraint, physical harm or use of a weapon. In our surveys, about 12% or less of male victims reported that a woman used force against them, but in most cases, the force was not extreme. Women locked men into cars, blocked their retreat from a room, grabbed at them, threw them down on beds and floors, sat on them, and tied them up. In some instances, women pinched, slapped and hit men who tried to stop their advances. A few men reported that women blackmailed them into having sex by threatening to divulge damaging information to parents, employers or girlfriends.

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