Has she ever told you no, and you are not sure if she meant it?

The stereotypical picture of men as the perpetrators and women as the victims of acquaintance rape and other forms of unwanted sexual contact appears to be slightly out of focus.

Men are almost as likely as women to report unwanted sexual contact and coercion, according to a new study of college students conducted by researchers from the University of Washington’s Addictive Behaviors Research Center. The study, involving nearly 300 students, appears in the current issue of the journal Sex Roles.

Overall, 34 men (21 percent of the male participants) and 36 women (28 percent) reported being recipients of one or more of five types of unwanted sexual contact listed on a gender-neutral questionnaire used by the researchers. The study also showed that men who experienced unwanted sexual contact reported more symptoms of depression than the other males in the study, although none met the criteria for clinical depression. There was no difference in the level of depression symptoms for women who said they were sexually coerced and those who weren’t. Women, however, were more likely to be the victims of having physical force used against them.

The research, funded by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, grew out of a larger study looking at alcohol abuse prevention among fraternity and sorority members. One of the surveys used in the larger study by the UW researchers was a standardized sexual experiences questionnaire that solely pictured women as the recipients of coercion and men as the perpetrators.

“Our participants told us we were missing the boat when it came to sexual coercion,” said Mary Larimer, research assistant professor of psychology and principal investigator on the new study, “so we revised the questionnaire to make it gender neutral.”

The revised survey asked the students – 165 men and 131 women – about their sexual experiences over the previous year. The students were primarily freshmen and sophomores and were largely white (82 percent) or Asian (13 percent).

Men were more likely than women to report that they had unwanted sex or were pressured into having sex. The survey defined unwanted sex as a situation in which an individual’s partner became so sexually aroused that the individual felt it was useless to stop even though he or she did not want to have intercourse. Fourteen percent of the men and 8 percent of the women said they had unwanted sex. Being pressured into having sex was described as having intercourse with someone even though you really didn’t want to because the other person pressured you with continual arguments. Eight percent of the men and 6 percent of the women said they had been pressured into having sex.

Physical force was used infrequently. Just 5 percent of the women and less than 1 percent of the men said some sort of physical force, such as having an arm twisted or being held down, was used on them when they didn’t want to have sex, whether or not intercourse actually occurred.

Alcohol and drugs played a significant role in sexual victimization. Seventeen percent of the women and 9 percent of the men said someone had attempted to have intercourse with them when they didn’t want to after giving them alcohol or drugs. And 6 percent of the women and 4 percent of the men said they had sex when they didn’t want to after being given alcohol and drugs.

Overall, nearly half of the students – 48 percent of the women and 47 percent of the men – reported that drinking had gotten them into sexual situations that they later regretted. In addition, both men and women who reported being sexually coerced in some way listed higher alcohol use and more alcohol related problems than did students who were not coerced.

“Alcohol is clearly a major factor, but not the only one,” said Larimer. “Alcohol not only impairs the awareness of warning signals about a sexual situation but it also impairs a person’s ability to resist an unwanted sexual advance. Both men and women reported intentionally using alcohol and drugs to obtain sex.”

She added that the male participants (and observing researchers) described attending parties and seeing women waiting around until “guys became drunk and then hitting on them when they were unable to make rational decisions about having sex.

“All of this activity is unacceptable behavior and it is clearly not consensual sex,” Larimer said. “Both men and women are experiencing unwanted sexual advances and our preliminary indications are that men are suffering from those experiences just as women are. I was surprised at how guilty and ashamed some of the men were and that we, as researchers, were buying into a cultural myth and didn’t think such experiences were the same for men as for women.”

Co-authors of the study are Britt Anderson and Aaron Turner, UW psychology doctoral students, and Amy Lydum, research coordinator.


New research from the University of Guelph concludes that the role of sexual predator is no longer the domain of men

Donna Laframboise
National Post

The Associated Press / Misplaced Hollywood stereotypes? Michael Douglas resists boss Demi Moore (or tries to) in the film Disclosure.

The Associated Press / Misplaced Hollywood stereotypes? While Duston Hoffman is seduced by Mrs. Robinson in a famous scene from The Graduate.

Gone are the days when only men were sexual predators and only women found themselves on the receiving end of unwanted advances. According to a new study by University of Guelph researchers, women want sex and can be rather forceful about getting it.

When confronted with an unwilling partner, women will undo a man’s pants, push him onto a bed, excite him with oral sex, and get him drunk in order to have their way with him, say psychology researchers Michele Clements-Schreiber, John Rempel, and Serge Desmarais.

“Women are more than passive recipients of men’s sexual attention,” says PhD candidate Clements-Schreiber. “My data says that, in the event that women are faced with a reluctant or uninterested partner, they’re willing to use pressure tactics to gain his compliance.”

The notion of the woman as sexual instigator has been around since Eve and the Garden of Eden, and in recent years has taken a particularly frightening turn. In such Hollywood offerings as Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, and Disclosure, sexually aggressive women are portrayed as psychopaths who boil bunnies and murder their lovers with ice picks.

But if the reality is less terrifying, it’s also true that ordinary women are more aggressive in the sexual arena than they are usually given credit for. “Women are sexual beings,” says social psychology professor Desmarais, even though “there seems to be an effort, somewhere, to avoid talking about that topic.”

Published earlier this year in The Journal of Sex Research, the Guelph study is not the first to find that women are prepared to be aggressive on their way to the bedroom. But it’s the only one based on interviews with a wide range of women, rather than just college students.

Ms. Clements-Schreiber talked to 234 women, aged 20-60, employed in “banks, legal and insurance offices, a telephone service, and a telecommunications company.” She asked how likely they’d be to use overt and covert pressure tactics in order to get their man.

The list reads like a litany of everything for which men have been condemned in recent years.

More than half the women said they’d unbutton his shirt, undo his belt, let their “hands wander around his body a little,” tell him they were turned on and wanted sex, give him a massage, and kiss him passionately. One in three said they’d place his hand on their stomach and “move it upwards,” while one in four agreed they’d “get him a little bit drunk.” There was no difference in the women’s response according to their age. Women in their 50s were as willing as women in their 20s to resort to such tactics.

“I thought a surprising number of women said they’d get him drunk,” says Ms. Clements-Schreiber. “I was kind of shocked, actually. Interestingly, it started out as ‘Get him drunk.’ And then several of my various participants said, ‘Well, that would defeat the entire purpose; you could only get him a little bit drunk.’ So I went, ‘Uhhuh, OK, we’ll change that’. ”

The researchers go to great lengths to stress that pressuring people into sex is unacceptable, no matter which sex is doing the pressuring. “Either way, it’s not OK,” says Ms. Clements-Schreiber. “You want a willing partner in bed, not one that you’ve had to manipulate to get there.”

Prof. Desmarais, who specializes in pay equity research and has studied male sexual violence, says he’s “about as pro-feminist as you can get.” Just because some women resort to sexual pressure tactics doesn’t change the fact, he says, that “male coercion has far more impact and is felt with tremendous pain in women’s lives.”

Ms. Clements-Schreiber says her interest in the area was first sparked when, as a stepmother to two teenage boys, she attempted to advise them on appropriate dating behavior. “You try to caution your children about things like that,” she says, but one day one of her sons said to her: ” ‘You’re always telling me all of these things, but why is it that everyone seems to think it’s OK for a woman to do whatever she wants?’ And I said to him, ‘No, of course that’s not OK. Pressure is pressure, whether it comes from a woman or a man.”

Alarmed at the apparent double-standard, she says one of the goals of her study was to explore female attitudes toward men and sex. Many women, she says, still subscribe to the stereotypical view that men are interested in sex any time, any place, with anyone.

Indeed, 77% of women in her study agreed that, “It’s easy for a woman to sexually arouse a man if she really wants to.” And more than six in 10 believed that, even when men don’t respond positively, the “truth is that men enjoy getting sexual advances from women.”

The paradox, says Prof. Desmarais, is that although the women in the study didn’t have difficulty remembering occasions in which men were not sexually responsive, they still believed that men were “sexually available” all the time.

The study, he says, confirms what he knows from his own circle of acquaintances. “I’ve certainly had friends who’ve rejected or told a woman they were not particularly interested in her. The basic notion that men will not, necessarily, accept all sexual options is probably a good thing to know.”

And the University of Guelph researchers offer a warning. Men who feel they’ve been pressured into sex themselves, they say, are more likely to regard coercion as normal in relationships. “[T]rivializing men’s experiences may invite men also to dismiss women’s non-violent coercive experiences.”

“I think it’s in human nature to pursue the things that we want,” says Ms. Clements-Schreiber.

“And to fail to recognize that women are willing to use some pressure to persuade a sexually reluctant partner is to infer that sex is one of those things that women just don’t want. And I don’t buy that.”


Percentage of women rating usage with a reluctant or unwilling partner as likely

  • Begin to undress him 48
  • Undo his shirt and kiss or nibble on his chest 58
  • Undo his belt or pants 51
  • Push him onto the bed and begin to undress him 40
  • Get him a little bit drunk 26

Breaking sexual stereotypes

Percentage of women who agree

  • It is more difficult for men to tell the difference between love and lust 46
  • Women should be able to have sex when they want it 47
  • The truth is that men enjoy getting sexual advances from women, even when they don’t respond positively 65
  • It’s easy for a woman to sexually arouse a man if she really wants to 77
  • Most women would prefer to have sex less often than men would 35
  • In general, men need sex more than women do 34


Sexual-contact study surprises surveyors

Tuesday, July 27, 1999


It’s a raucous college party, and hormones are running high. When the unwanted sexual advances start flying, it’s not just men hitting on women.

In fact, men are victims nearly as often as women are, says a University of Washington survey of 296 fraternity and sorority pledges.

Male students reported unwanted sexual contact and coercion in numbers comparable to the women in the study, which is published in the current issue of the journal Sex Roles, a peer review publication.

“Initially, it was surprising to me,” said Mary Larimer, research assistant professor of psychology and the principle investigator. “I didn’t set out expecting to find this.”

The survey is part of a larger study at the UW’s Addictive Behaviors Research Center. It is based on a questionnaire that asked students if they had experienced five types of unwanted sexual contact, from feeling pressured into sex to physical force.

The survey was designed to be representative of Greek Row, but not necessarily representative of the broader campus population, the study notes. Overall, 21 percent of the men and 28 percent of the women said they’d been on the receiving end of at least one of the five types of unwanted contact.

Men were more likely to use force — or drugs or alcohol — to coerce sex. They were also more likely to feel pressured into having sexual intercourse even though they didn’t want it, the study found.

Women were more likely to insist on sex based on their own arousal, or to argue for sexual intercourse. They also were were more likely to get hit on after they had been drinking and were five times more likely to be victims of physical force.

While less than 1 percent of the men reported physical force, 5 percent of the women said they had been pressured physically, whether or not sex occurred. The survey characterized such force as someone “twisting your arm or holding you down.”

Larimer theorized that because the responses were confidential, men may have been more willing to admit feeling used sexually than they would in casual conversation.

Jay Street, a 25-year-old college graduate from Maine who works at the UW, said he understood why men would feel ashamed if they had engaged in unwanted sex. “It’s the male ego,” said Street, who was lying under the cherry trees in the UW’s quad yesterday. “That a woman had some kind of power (to force unwanted sex) is hard to deal with.”

Around the UW campus yesterday, the study results sometimes had trouble meeting the credulity test.

UW junior Fred Angermeier said he was skeptical of the finding that so many men reported being pressured into unwanted sex. “Maybe girls do do that, but I don’t hear about it,” he said. “I don’t think most guys would need to be that pressured.”

Brian Papenfuss, a sophomore, said that he had never felt pressured by a woman. “But I’m a guy, and guys always want to have sex.”

Other students were less surprised by the study and said that they had witnessed women behaving aggressively with men, especially when alcohol was involved.

Jarrett Glenn, a university freshman, said he has seen women be more of the aggressor.

“It felt uncomfortable for me — I guess from what I’ve seen on the TV or in the movies where the man is always dominant,” Glenn said. “I felt weird. It felt wrong.”

Larimer said she has received comments like “How can men be taken advantage of sexually?” Larimer said she, too, was surprised to find that the initial study questions reflected a bias she had been unaware of.

Study participants were the ones who pointed out that coercion cuts both ways.

“Both men and women are experiencing unwanted sexual advances, and our preliminary indications are that men are suffering from those experiences just as much as women,” Larimer wrote in a news release. “I was surprised at how guilty and ashamed some of the men were and that we, as researchers, were buying into a cultural myth and didn’t think such experiences were the same for men as for women.”

Larimer has since changed her own approach as a clinical psychologist, addressing unsafe and unwanted sex with men clients as well as with women. “They’re ashamed, they feel guilty, they feel sad,” she said. “But, they have been willing to talk to me about it.”

But coming into an office and volunteering the information is a different matter, said Barbara Hammond, director of counseling services at Washington State University. “We do see some heterosexual men who do feel that they have been aggressed upon,” she said. “It’s not common that we have a man come in with that complaint, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.”

Although initially surprised by the study’s findings, Hammond said, harassment of male students by female students is something that universities may need to address.

The UW study is part of a larger research project being undertaken by the UW’s Addictive Behaviors Research Center. Funded by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, the larger study is looking at alcohol abuse prevention among fraternity and sorority members.

Larimer says other studies conducted in the past two decades also found men complaining of unwanted sexual advances in numbers comparable to women. But she sees avenues for further research.

“I think what’s lacking is a more in-depth understanding of what both men and women mean when they respond to these questions and what the short- and long-term impact on them emotionally is,” Larimer said.

Percentage of college students who report having experienced:
Men Women
Unwanted sexual contact 21% 28%
Unwanted sex because partner was aroused 14% 8%
Pressured into unwanted sex by continual arguments 8% 6%
Partner attempted intercourse using physical force <1% 5%
Partner attempted intercourse after giving drugs/alcohol 9% 17%
Unwanted sex after they were given drugs/alcohol 4% 6%
Alcohol led to sexual situation later regretted 47% 48%
Source: University of Washington