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Sexual Interest or Consent? Some College Men Don't See Difference

Sexual Interest or Consent? Some College Men Don’t See Difference

Timely research suggests that some men tend to confuse sexual interest with consent, regardless of the situation.

Instances of sexual violence are higher than any other crimes among college students. In response to this growing epidemic, faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York, and Rush University in Chicago, sought to identify a host of situational and dispositional factors that may predict college men’s likelihood to engage in sexual misconduct.

The study was comprised of 145 heterosexual male students attending a large university in the southeastern region of the United States. The participants were exposed to a series of hypothetical sexual scenarios.

Researchers found that most men tended to confuse sexual interest with consent to sex. Interestingly, the mixed perceptions of consent varied more as a function of 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 Dr. Richard Mattson. “However, there was also evidence of a precedence effect.”

The precedence effect occurs when men equate the occurrence of some past sexual behavior 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 (e.g., “When a woman says no, she really means yes”) and adherence to hypermasculine 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 instance, the sudden decrease in parental supervision and the potential to consume alcohol underscores an increased risk of involvement in sexually coercive situations among the collegiate setting.

Nevertheless, a collegiate setting can also provide an opportunity to educate young men and women at a time when patterns of sexual behavior are developing.

The study’s findings highlight the benefits of 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, explains Mattson.

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 appears in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Source: Binghamton University/EurekAlert

Sexual Interest or Consent? Some College Men Don’t See Difference

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Sexual Interest or Consent? Some College Men Don’t See Difference. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 28 Nov 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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