Many men mistake innocent sexual interest for something more, study finds

BINGHAMTON, N. Y. — Many men mistake a woman’s display of romantic interest in him for wanting to sleep together or engage in other forms of sexual behavior, a new study finds.

Researchers at Binghamton University and Rush University in Chicago visited a large college in the southeastern United States, enlisting 145 straight male students to participate in a study on what could influence a man to engage in sexual misconduct.

Man and woman flirting with one another
A new study finds that most men tend to confuse romantic interest or attraction from a woman as a desire for sexual behavior.

Participants, who were presented with and asked to evaluate a series of hypothetical sexual scenarios, had the tendency to most often confuse sexual attraction with the giving of consent, the researchers found.

This misguided perception, however, was more attributable to the scenarios offered than any inherent characteristics of the male gender.

“We found that the way in which the woman communicated her sexual intentions, that is verbal refusal versus passive responding, had the largest effect on men’s perceptions,” explains researcher Richard Mattson in a news release. “However, there was also evidence of a precedence effect.”

In this context, a precedence effect would apply to a man who believes his prior sexual exploits warrant future misconduct — even when the current woman in question has expressed vehement denial.

Whenever a potential female suitor left her intentions ambiguous, rape myths (such as when a woman says “no” she really means “yes”) and the adoption of hypermasculine attitudes became much more prevalent in the participants’ minds.

“However, our findings also suggest that some men were earnestly attempting to determine whether consent was given, but were nevertheless relying on questionable sexual scripts to disambiguate the situation,” Mattson says.

While the allures of college life, such as alcohol and independence, may enable many young men to mistreat women, a university setting can also help warn male students about the risks of sexual misconduct, the researchers argue.

Ultimately, the researchers recommend that both employers and educational institutions provide general guidelines on proper conduct for men (e.g., making only unequivocal “yeses” the standard for consent) and women (e.g., making sure that any sexual desires are clearly expressed).

The researchers published their findings last month in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.


      1. “Innocent sexual interest” means someone is sexually attracted to you but doesn’t necessarily want to do the nasty with you right then and there. It can be perfectly innocent, like say when a virgin is looking for a potential husband. Innocent in mind, someone who literally has no idea she has just met a perverted scumbag who doesn’t let a little thing like consent get in the way of a good time.

        1. Hate to break it to you, but ‘innocent sexual interest’ is still ‘sexual interest’. I’m rather certain that you didn’t read the article, or the paper in question, these are all based upon HYPOTHETICAL situations depicted in vignettes, not actual events. If you don’t understand how that is a loaded basis for any conclusion, then I would congratulate you on reminding the world why those in ‘soft sciences’ routinely discredit themselves.

          1. Does an absurd straw man equal a valid response to you? I’m thinking the answer is ‘yes’.

          2. It was an honest question. If there is no distinction between “innocent sexual interest” and “sexual interest” then how do you determine implied consent?

          3. It is a stupid question that has nothing at all to do with what I said. Since you clearly didn’t get the message, I’ll give you the message without the subtlety and subtext.
            These studies provide no information about those in them, nor the society in which the subjects reside, but clearly suggests those conducting the studies are engaging in unacceptable practices ranging from confirmation bias to rigged studies.

            If you want to talk about ‘consent’, then I suggest you go find the crap load of studies detailing how women say ‘no’ when they know full well they plan to say ‘yes’ in five minutes but don’t want to be seen as easy.

          4. So if you were with a woman who says no, would you rather:

            A. assume no means no and potentially piss off a drama queen, or

            B. assume no means yes and potentially sexually assault someone?

          5. You still don’t understand. But I get it, you’re angry. That’s fine. But I have no interest in discussions that are irrational.

      2. The sad thing is that boys on average start watching hardcore porn at age 11. So they literally never experienced “innocent sexual interest.” But for most young women “innocent sexual interest” is they way they experience their interactions with the opposite sex.

          1. So do you assume sexual interest = sexual availability? Or do you allow for the fact that someone could find someone sexually attractive and not actually want to have sex with them for various reasons besides being sadistic “dick teasers,” like maybe they don’t like one-night-stands, or maybe they are looking for an emotional connection, a committed monogamous relationship, or marriage.

          2. Don’t take your anger out on total strangers. You can’t know what I mean or why. It doesn’t help you and nobody’s impressed.

          3. I tried to answer your question, to offer you a different perspective. Then I asked you what you meant by your response. I ask now, what do you mean and why?

  1. Yeah the difference between consent and implied consent? What the hell is happening to passion and romance these days?

    1. Firstly, consent means an actual verbal “yes” or at least an affirmative head shake before performing a sexual act on someone. Secondly, passion and romance are what’s supposed to happen before a sexual relationship. So I would second your lament.

      1. I’ve been with lots of women and never once did one ever check me to see if I consented. So I assume this is all a one way street. My consent means nothing, it’s simply assumed by my gender, I consent automatically to sex with any and all women, whoever is available, because men are not individuals, just slaves to our hormones. And then it’s the women who choose, it’s totally up to them. Because they own all the sex and we want it but don’t have any of our own, we have to get it from them.

        Future scientists will assume we were all crazy.

        1. I agree with you that it should be a two-way street. I’m sorry if you ever felt violated. All parties should do better at communicating.

          I disagree that men are not individuals and I disagree that they are slaves to their hormones. We are each unique creations of God our Father. God did not create us to disrespect each other. God created men and women to enjoy a mutual companionship. But even that joy cannot compare to the ultimate purpose of our creation, to know God after our brief visit here.

          Men and women have both been handed down lies about female sexuality as well as male sexuality. Men are told they are animals who’s only purpose is to sow their seed, and women are told that most women can’t even orgasm (why would they be all excited about it if they don’t even know that they’re able and supposed to feel pleasure?) So of course believing and internalizing these lies about ourselves would lead to great confusion and incompatibility. It leads to some men developing a resentful, hostile approach toward women, and leads to some women’s internalized sexual repression. Men and women are actually very similar. The biggest, however subtle, difference between men and women is that women need to feel safe and respected in order to desire a relationship with a man. This is because intercourse itself can cause physical trauma and/or pregnancy. Although this desire for safety is not a true difference–men also need to feel safe–but just a difference of degree: because of the two vulnerabilities just mentioned (physical trauma and pregnancy) the criteria for women to feel safe is understandably higher than for men.

          In the future when we look back at our lives on Earth, we will mourn the fact that we let our physical situation so cloud our spiritual eyes.

  2. This still rests on the assumption that sex is a thing, something possessed by women, a monopoly, and which all men seek to relieve them of. Which is horse hockey.

    What if men possess sex, as well? Man, that would ruin the whole system, but at least it would explain the women schoolteachers who have sex with boys. Otherwise it makes no sense, that old paradigm.

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