I recently came across a Canadian study that explored the characteristics of victims of sexual coercion. Sexual coercion is a broad category often used by contemporary researchers to refer to the spectrum of people (men, women and transgender folks) whose experiences range from being pressured in some way either implicitly or explicitly to engage in sexual contact to people that have experienced overt violence and sexual assault. The University of Guelph researchers, Hartwick et al. (2007), found that both men and women who have experienced sexual coercion are MORE likely to believe the traditional sexual stereotype that ‘men are always wanting sex’. What does this finding mean? Well, for women the researchers hypothesized that this is because in the heterosexual context women may feel they might as well ‘give in’ to sexual contact as men’s desire is seen as ‘inevitable’ based on their belief in this stereotype. We all know the dangers of leaving a man unsatisfied…ranging from ‘blue balls’ to the fear of violence?! For men in the heterosexual context the researchers hypothesized that men’s belief in this stereotype lead them to assume that they SHOULD always want sexual contact and override any reservations they may have. They may also feel compelled to live up to the social expectations of being a ‘real man’.
So why is this important for parents when they talk to their kids about sexuality? This highlights the critical importance of sitting down with our kids to discuss and breakdown common sexual stereotypes. This helps our kids feel empowered to base their decisions on themselves and their values rather than on potentially harmful stereotypes. Talking with adolescents about what to expect in healthy relationships (sexual or otherwise, short term or ongoing) will help them down the road to be in touch with their OWN ‘no’s and ‘yes’es and express them healthily.