A new study challenges some widely held assumptions about coercion, sexual assault and gender. According to a paper published in the American Psychological Association journal, Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 43% of high school and college-aged men say they’ve had “unwanted sexual contact,” and 95% of those say a female acquaintance was the aggressor.
Researchers surveyed 284 young men and found that 18% reported sexual coercion by force, 31% said they were verbally coerced sex, and 26% said they’d experienced “unwanted seduction by sexual behaviors.” Half of those surveyed said they ended up having sex against their will, 10% said sex was attempted, and 40% said the coercion resulted in fondling or kissing.
Dr. Bryana French, who teaches counseling psychology and black studies at University of Missouri and co-authored the study, says that male victims are often less willing to describe sexual coercion in detail, “but when asked if it happened, they say it happened.”
But what about the, urm, erectile aspect of sex? French says that the study defined “sex” as oral, vaginal, or anal, so it’s possible that the sex didn’t involve an erection. But she also said that it’s not impossible for men to have an erection even if they don’t want to have sex. “Sometimes when women are experiencing sexual violence, their bodies respond in ways that don’t correspond to how they feel,” she said. “They can not want the experience to happen, even if their bodies said otherwise.”
French’s survey sample was small, nonetheless, she hopes her research helps upend our assumptions about sexual violence and gender. “That’s an unfortunate myth, that men can’t be raped by women,” she said. “This is not to deny the gendered impact of sexual violence, but it’s important not to ignore that men are victimized too.”