Men sometimes confuse sexual interest and consent, study finds

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A new study has found that some men confuse sexual interest with consent, and some assume that previously having sex with a woman implies consent ever after. 

Published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, researchers at Binghamton University and Rush University in Chicago, conducted a study to determine factors that could predict the likelihood of college men engaging in sexual misconduct.

The research team created hypothetical sexual scenarios for 145 heterosexual male participants, all of whom were students at the university.

Researchers found that most men tended to confuse sexual interest with consent to sex and that their perceptions of consent were largely dependent on “the way in which the woman communicated her sexual intentions.”

“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,” researcher Richard Mattson said in a statement from Binghamton University.

Mattson also he said there was evidence of a “precedence effect”, whereby men falsely believe past sexual encounters mean future consent “in some cases even in the face of direct refusal by the woman”.

According to the research, a lack of parental supervision and an environment full of people of a similar age group both contributed to an increased risk in ‘sexually coercive situations’ at university.

They said that their findings highlight the need for programmes that “empower women to assertively communicate their sexual desires, educate men on the inferential limits of perceived sexual desire, and reinforce unambiguous affirmative behaviour as the standard for consent”.

The team is now working on extending its research to include more variables that might have a role to play in the perceptions of consent and desire.

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