From the Journals

Refusal number fuels sexual hostility in men



The more sexual refusals men received in a virtual dating simulation, the more hostile the verbal comments men made to the women – regardless of the amount of alcohol the men had consumed, according to a study published in Aggressive Behavior.

“Contrary to our predictions [the relationship between sexual refusals and hostile comments] was not moderated by alcohol condition,” reported Jacqueline Woerner, PhD, and her colleagues. “Because participants had multiple opportunities to escalate their aggression or desist, this paradigm provides new insights into the mechanisms through which intoxication enhances the likelihood of sexual aggression in dating situations.”Dr. Woerner and her colleagues used a virtual dating simulation to compare the sexual aggression of 31 intoxicated men with that of an equal number sober controls. The men, aged 21-29 years and largely white, received either a mixed alcoholic drink adjusted to achieve a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or an alcohol-free beverage.

The men went on four computer-mediated dates with a virtual woman; the simulated dates covered a span of a couple of months during the session. The woman was programmed to always consent to some lower-level sexual activities (such as kissing), to consent to some medium-level activities (such as touching breasts) only during later dates, but to always refuse higher-level sexual activities (such as vaginal or oral sex).

As hypothesized, the number of consensual sexual activities correlated with the number of refusals, which suggested that, per expectancy confirmation theory, these men tended to focus on earlier cues that confirmed mutual sexual desire and to ignore those that suggested that the woman was no longer interested, according to the researchers. This correlation and the behaviors it suggests were significantly stronger among intoxicated men than they were among sober controls, reported Dr. Woerner, now affiliated with Yale University, New Haven, Conn., and her colleagues.

However, when the researchers examined the impact of alcohol on the relationship between sexual refusals and the number of hostile verbal comments, they got surprising results. The connection between sexual refusals and alcohol condition was not significant. Among the possible explanations for this unexpected finding were the “extremely high levels of hostility” of some men toward women and the sense of entitlement of some men toward women – whether the men are intoxicated or sober. “Perpetrators’ motives and situational triggers differ, thus multiple explanations need to be evaluated in further research,” Dr. Woerner and her colleagues wrote.

Dr. Woerner and her colleagues also recorded audio of participants as they interacted with the simulation. The intensity of the commentary – with comments like “You prude, we’ve been hanging out for months now” – suggested the participants took the simulation seriously, the researchers noted.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

SOURCE: Woerner J et al. Aggress Behav. 2018. doi: 10.1002/ab.21773.

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