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Dating Violence Against Men

Men's Reactions to Female Sexual Coercion

Sexually Agressive Women, by Anderson and Struckman-Johnson. Book cover. Order on-line
Order on-line

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University of Washington study: Men almost as likely to be victims of unwanted sexual advances

MenWeb also has a section for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse

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Original article available at:
Psychiatric Times

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One of the long-standing myths about sexual abuse is that men or boys are rarely victims of sexual abuse, especially with women as the sexual aggressors—that a woman cannot make a man have sex with her against his will. This timely article by the Doctors Struckman-Johnson helps to disabuse us of this myth. Prevailing stereotypes about boys and men are that they must "want it." 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, as Dr. Peter B. Anderson (Anderson and Dr. Cindi Struckman-Johnson pointed out in 1998 in the book they edited, Sexually Aggressive Women.

Debunking the myth

In reality, the authors of this article point out, research has long shown that substantial numbers of men are subjected to the sexually aggressive behavior of female strangers, acquaintances and lovers.

Over a decade ago, Dr. Struckman-Johnson 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. A bit later she and Dr. David Struckman-Johnson reported that 30% of another 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. In yet another survey, 43% of 318 men reported having had at least one coercive sexual experience with a woman since the age of 16, culminating in sexual intercourse for 27% of the men (Anderson and Struckman-Johnson, 1998).

Other researchers have found the same thing. One study found that 24% of 171 men at an Eastern college had been coerced into sexual intercourse. Another 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, 24% of 156 men had experienced some type of sexual coercion in heterosexual dating. Among a sample of 165 fraternity men at a Western college, 21% experienced unwanted sexual contact.

How does it happen?

How does a woman accomplish sexual coercion of an adolescent or adult male? The Struckman-Johnsons do an excellent job of laying out the dynamics:

... 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 intercourse.
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.

How do Men React?

The Struckman-Johnsons tell us that only a few studies have exclusively examined the effects of female sexual coercion of adult men. In 1982 Masters and a colleague reported on 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 and dysfunction.

Most of the information about male reactions to female sexual coercion comes from surveys of college men. The survey of college fraternity men mentioned earlier discovered that the 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. Another 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.

The Struckman-Johnsons' own research bears out that college men have mixed reactions to female sexual coercion. In their 1988 study, 25% said they felt good about being forced to have sexual intercourse, 50% felt neutral and 25% felt bad. One-fifth of the victims reported that long-term effects had occurred. In their 1994 study, almost half of the male victims rated the incident as having no negative impact, but 23% reported moderate to severe negative impact. We found no differences in sexual self-esteem between men with and without coercion experience. In a similar survey in 1998, 33% of male victims rated the incident as having no effect, 30% were mildly to moderately upset, and 14% had a severe negative effect. Overall, they say, 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 men are expected to initiate and to pursue ever-increasing levels of sexual intimacy with female partners. 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. One researcher speculated that female sexual coercion may even enhance a man's reputation and thus prevent negative effects. Men may also 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.

The researchers found that men distressed by female sexual coercion particularly 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.
  • A woman exploits him while he is intoxicated, especially if the woman is unattractive. (Dozens of men in this situation told researchers 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 young man with conservative sexual standards loses his virginity to a sexually coercive woman, who is usually older. Numerous young men reported that this type of incident prevented them from having their "first time" with a partner who was specially chosen and well-loved. When a sexually aggressive woman causes a man to betray another woman in his life.
  • When the woman 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.

The Struckman-Johnsons' own research did not systematically assess the nature of psychological trauma experienced by male victims. Written survey comments and interviews, however, revealed 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.

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. The authors suggest that psychiatric and medical professionals should be 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.

It is encouraging that this article, based on research from 1984 to 1998, hit the psychological mainstream with its publication in the Psychiatric Times. It's a comprehensive and well-balanced article. Perhaps it is more suited for counselors and hobbyists in psychology rather than for a broader lay audience. But at least studies like these are finally emerging from the halls of academia and makiing it onto the radar screen of the helping professions. Maybe 50% or more of the guys do feel "lucky". But at least one in five don't. One in four women are victims of childhood sexual abuse. We don't ignore them because of cultural stereotypes and because 74% of the women aren't. Pherhaps we should be offering help to, rather than jokes about, the one in five victims of unwanted ssexual coercion who suffer moderate to severe negative effects.

The article is available on-line at Psychiatric Times.

The article contains the following references

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 Issues 48(1):93-104.

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 Journal 80:379-390.

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.


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