Research - 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
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.
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
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.
Men's strong negative reactions to sexual coercion by another
man have been well documented (Myers, 1989; Scarce, 1997).
Several researchers have described men's reactions to sexual
assault by perpetrators who included both men and women (King
and Woollett, 1997; Sorenson and Siegel, 1992).
Only a few studies have exclusively examined the effects of
female sexual coercion of adult men. The classic work is that
of Sarrel and Masters (1982) who discussed the emotional impact
on 11 men who had been sexually molested by females. In the
course of counseling for sexual problems, the men revealed
recent and past incidents of forcible rape, abuse by a baby-sitter,
incest and assault by a dominant woman. The authors documented
a posttraumatic reaction involving depression and sexual aversion
Most of the information about male reactions to female sexual
coercion comes from surveys of college men. Larimer et al.
(1999) discovered that fraternity men who had experienced
sexual coercion had more depressive symptoms, more alcohol
use and more alcohol-related problems than fraternity men
who had not been sexually coerced. It was not known whether
these states were caused by the coercion experience. O'Sullivan
et al. (1998) found that male victims had a range of positive
to negative reactions to unwanted sexual contact at the time
it happened. Nearly 40% of male victims reported being not
at all upset, whereas 17% were extremely upset at the time
of the incident. One-fifth of the men indicated that the incident
decreased their involvement in social activities, and 19%
had impairment of academic functioning.
Our research also revealed that college men have mixed reactions
to female sexual coercion. In the 1988 study, 21 male victims
were asked to categorize how they felt about being forced
to have sexual intercourse at the time it happened (Struckman-Johnson,
1988). Twenty-five percent said they felt good, 50% felt neutral
and 25% felt bad. One-fifth of the victims reported that long-term
effects had occurred. In our 1994 study, almost half of the
male victims rated the incident as having no negative impact,
whereas 23% rated the negative impact in the moderate to severe
range (Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson, 1994). We
found no differences in sexual self-esteem between men with
and without coercion experience. In a similar survey in 1998,
we determined that 33% of male victims rated the incident
as having no effect, 30% were mildly to moderately upset,
and 14% had a severe negative effect (Anderson and Struckman-Johnson,
1998). Our general conclusion is that at least one out of
five men has a strong negative reaction to sexual coercion
from a woman.
We speculate that many men are not upset by female sexual
coercion because the event is "sex-role congruent."
According to cultural scripts, men are expected to initiate
and to pursue ever-increasing levels of sexual intimacy with
female partners. Therefore, when a man is confronted with
a sexually aggressive woman, he is likely to view it as a
positive opportunity to have sex, not a violation of will
(Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson, 1996). O'Sullivan
et al. (1998) suggested that female sexual coercion may even
enhance a man's reputation and thus prevent negative effects.
Zweig et al. (1997) added that a man's sexual script may protect
him from feeling negatively about himself because he had sex.
Another protective factor is men's size and physical strength-they
may feel that they have little to fear from a smaller, weaker
female perpetrator. It is also possible that men deny or minimize
their victimization because of masculine standards to be self-reliant
In what situations, then, are men distressed by female sexual
coercion? Foremost, we have found that a man is likely to
be greatly upset when a woman uses physical restraint against
him. Even if the man knows that he can escape, he is still
likely to feel shocked, confused and possibly frightened by
a woman's use of force. Men are also likely to have a strong
negative reaction when they are exploited by a woman while
they are intoxicated, especially if the woman is unattractive.
Dozens of men in this situation have told us how upsetting
it was to be unable to physically stop the sexual interaction.
Others resented the woman for taking away their right to choose
who they would have sex with.
A third distressing circumstance is when a young man with
conservative sexual standards loses his virginity to a sexually
coercive woman, who is usually older. Numerous young men in
our surveys have reported that this type of incident prevented
them from having their "first time" with a partner
who was specially chosen and well-loved. Another upsetting
circumstance is one in which a sexually aggressive woman causes
a man to betray another woman in his life.
Finally, men tend to be negatively affected when the female
perpetrator is a powerful authority figure. For example, in
a recent study, we found that some men in prison were profoundly
upset when female staff coerced them into sexual activity
(Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson, 2000).
In our research, we have not systematically assessed the nature
of psychological trauma experienced by male victims. Through
written survey comments and interviews, however, we have found
that men who are very upset by an incident of female sexual
coercion are likely to experience subsequent distrust and
wariness around women and to have relationship difficulties.
Much research suggests that men who are sexually coerced by
either a woman or a man are unlikely to report the incident
to the police, tend not to reveal the sexual incident if they
seek medical treatment, and are unlikely to seek psychological
support or therapy for subsequent emotional problems (Pino
and Meier, 1999; Sorenson and Siegel, 1992.) Psychiatric and
medical professionals are encouraged to address this hidden
victimization by asking their male clients if sexual assault
has occurred in their past and, if so, to provide or refer
them to appropriate treatment.
Dr. Cindy Struckman-Johnson is professor of psychology specializing
in social psychology and sexuality at the University of South
Dr. David Struckman-Johnson is professor of psychology and
computer science specializing in statistics and evaluation
at the University of South Dakota.
Anderson PB, Struckman-Johnson C (1998),
Sexually Aggressive Women: Current Perspectives and Controversies,
Anderson PB, Struckman-Johnson C, eds. New York: Guilford.
Fiebert MS, Tucci LM (1998), Sexual coercion: men victimized
by women. Journal of Men's Studies 6(2):127-133.
Isely PJ, Gehrenbeck-Shim D (1997), Sexual assault of men
in the community. Journal of Community Psychology 25(2):159-166.
King M, Woollett E (1997), Sexual-assaulted males: 115 men
consulting a counseling service. Arch Sex Behav 26(6):579-588.
Larimer ME, Lydum AR, Anderson BK, Turner AP (1999), Male
and female recipients of unwanted sexual contact in a college
students sample: prevalence rates, alcohol use, and depression
symptoms. Sex Roles 40(3-4):295-308.
Lottes IL (1991), The relationship between nontraditional
gender roles and sexual coercion. Journal of Psychology and
Human Sexuality 4(4)89-109.
Myers MF (1989), Men sexually assaulted as adults and sexually
abused as boys. Arch Sex Behav 18(3):203-215.
O'Sullivan LF, Byers ES, Finkelman L (1998), A comparison
of male and female college students' experiences of sexual
coercion. Psychology of Women Quarterly 22:177-195.
Pino NW, Meier RF (1999), Gender differences in rape reporting.
Sex Roles 40(11-12):970-990.
Sarrel PM, Masters WH (1982), Sexual molestation of men by
women. Arch Sex Behav 11(2):117-131.
Scarce M (1997), Male on Male Rape: The Hidden Toll of Stigma
and Shame. New York: Plenum Press.
Sorenson SB, Siegel JM (1992), Gender, ethnicity, and sexual
assault: findings from a Los Angeles study. Journal of Social
Struckman-Johnson CJ (1991), Male victims of acquaintance
rape. In: Acquaintance Rape: The Hidden Crime, Parrot AL,
Bechhofer L, eds. New York: Wiley, pp192-214.
Struckman-Johnson CJ (1988), Forced sex on dates: it happens
to men, too. Journal of Sex Research 24:234-240.
Struckman-Johnson C, Struckman-Johnson D (2000), Sexual coercion
rates in seven Midwestern prison facilities for men. Prison
Struckman-Johnson D, Struckman-Johnson C (1996), College men's
reactions to hypothetical forceful sexual advances from women.
In: Sexual Coercion in Dating Relationships, Byers ES, O'Sullivan
LF, eds. New York: Haworth Press, pp93-105.
Struckman-Johnson C, Struckman-Johnson D (1994), Men pressured
and forced into sexual experience. Arch Sex Behav 23(1):93-114.
Zweig JM, Barber BL, Eccles JS (1997), Sexual coercion and
well-being in young adulthood: comparisons by gender and college
status. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 12(2)291-308.