A New Study Suggests Sexual Compliance Is More Common Among Men Than You Might Think

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A new study published in Psychology & Sexuality uncovers an unexplored truth about gender and sexuality — heterosexual men who strongly endorse male sexuality stereotypes and traditional gender role beliefs may be inclined to indulge in sexual compliance, i.e., consensual yet undesired sexual activity.

“Men are stereotypically painted as hyper-sexual beings with insatiable sex drives; always ready to initiate and engage in sexual activity — whenever, wherever,” says psychologist Cory Pederson of Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Canada. “However, research has suggested similar prevalence rates of sexual compliance in both men and women.”

Pedersen states that rebutting male sexual stereotypes and strengthening sexual agency by normalizing a lack of sexual desire in heterosexual men were a few of the motivators behind this research.

Approximately 61% of men in the study admitted to engaging in mild sexual compliance (e.g., consenting to unwanted kissing) at least once over the past 12 months.

“Results suggest that sexual compliance in heterosexual men may be predicted by their endorsement of traditional gender-role beliefs and male sexuality stereotypes,” confirms Pedersen. “Moreover, men may be motivated to be sexually compliant due to motivations related to altruism, intoxication, sexual inexperience, peer pressure, popularity, and sex-role concerns.”

Pedersen refers to this endorsement of gender socialization as the ‘western hegemonic masculinity standard,’ which shares most of its features with what we know today as toxic masculinity. These features include:

  1. Hyper-masculinity
  2. Sexual assertiveness
  3. Hyper-sexuality

To distinguish sexual compliance from other similar concepts, Pedersen defines three important concepts in sexuality research:

  1. Sexual wanting refers to an emotional (i.e., psychological and/or physiological) feeling of desire for a sexual experience or activity.
  2. Sexual consent is a cognitive decision-making process that communicates agreement or willingness.
  3. Sexual compliance occurs when an individual engages in (and consents to) sexual activity without desiring it. For instance, someone may consent to unwanted sexual activity for altruistic reasons (e.g., to satisfy their partner’s needs) or out of respect for established relationship norms.

While more research is required to investigate the long-term effects of sexual compliance in couples, Pedersen warns that repetitive sexual compliance could have a negative impact on relationships, especially in the areas of relationship quality, sexual satisfaction, and possibly even individuals’ mental health.

Pedersen does, however, mention ‘maintenance sex’ — sessions of scheduled sexual activity in a relationship – as an instance where sexual compliance may be beneficial.

“Maintenence sex often involves sexual compliance on the behalf of one or even both partners. That is, one or both partners may not desire the sexual activity they are participating in due to various reasons including a lack of sex drive,” explains Pedersen.

According to Pedersen, maintenance sex is associated with greater relationship satisfaction as partners begin to develop a deeper understanding of each other’s needs. Thus, in some instances, sexual compliance may benefit a relationship as physical intimacy facilitates bonding and relationship maintenance.

For heterosexual men trying to unlearn the negative standards and norms of male sexuality that prompt sexual compliance, Pedersen has the following advice:

“Research shows that men (and women) who take courses in gender and sexuality studies reject the endorsement of traditional views more readily — and they understand the power and influence gender role norms and scripts have on our decisions,” explains Pedersen. “Ultimately, we have less authenticity in our choices when we are less educated.”

A full interview with psychologist Cory Pedersen discussing his research can be found here: Does your partner really want to have sex or are they complying to keep you happy?


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