A few nights ago, unable to wind down, I was searching for something to watch and stumbled across the film “Adore.” It’s about a pair of lifelong friends (grown women) who end up having affairs with each other’s young, hunky, 19- or 20-year-old sons. My first reaction was the same as one Netflix commenter:
“…if this had been two pals and each other’s teen daughter; well, you get the point. The movie would not have been made, or if so, it would have had an entirely different hue-to say the least. DOUBLE STANDARDS.”
Or, as A.O Scott wrote in his New York Times review:
“It is worth noting that the same movie about a couple of dads sleeping with each other’s 20-year-old daughters would need, at a minimum, to confront the ickiness of the situation. Really, such a movie would be unlikely to make it into theaters, in spite of the commonness of real-life relationships between older men and younger women.”
The film isn’t about sexually coercion; but it is about boundary breaking, and I thought of it again reading this new study on the pervasive, but largely unexamined problem of sexual coercion among boys and young men.
The study, published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, found that coerced sex is fairly common for teenage boys and college-age men and can lead to psychological distress and risky behavior, such as sexual risk-taking and alcohol use.
From the American Psychological Association news release:
A total of 43 percent of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience and of those, 95 percent said a female acquaintance was the aggressor…
“Sexual victimization continues to be a pervasive problem in the United States, but the victimization of men is rarely explored,” said lead author Bryana H. French, PhD, of the University of Missouri. “Our findings can help lead to better prevention by identifying the various types of coercion that men face and by acknowledging women as perpetrators against men.”
Of 284 U.S. high school and college students who responded to a survey about unwanted sexual encounters, 18 percent reported sexual coercion by physical force; 31 percent said they were verbally coerced; 26 percent described unwanted seduction by sexual behaviors; and 7 percent said they were compelled after being given alcohol or drugs, according to the study. Half of the students said they ended up having intercourse, 10 percent reported an attempt to have intercourse and 40 percent said the result was kissing or fondling.
Being coerced into having sexual intercourse was related to risky sexual behaviors and more drinking among the victims, and students who were sexually coerced while drunk or drugged showed significant distress, according to the findings. However, having unwanted sex did not appear to affect the victims’ self-esteem. “It may be the case that sexual coercion by women doesn’t affect males’ self-perceptions in the same way that it does when women are coerced. Instead it may inadvertently be consistent with expectations of masculinity and sexual desire, though more research is needed to better understand this relationship,” French said.
And more details from the study abstract:
Sexual coercion is a pervasive problem but rarely examined in men. This study examined sexual coercion and psychosocial correlates among 284 diverse adolescent and emerging adult males in high school and college. Over 4 in 10 participants (43%) experienced sexual coercion: more specifically, the participants reported: verbal coercion (31%, n 86), seduction coercion (26%, n 73), physical coercion (18% n 52), and substance coercion (7%, n 19).
Rates were comparable across high school and college students. Racial differences were found such that Asian participants reported significantly lower rates of sexual coercion than Black, White, and Latino participants.
Ninety-five percent of the respondents reported women as the perpetrators; participants also described internal obligation, seductive, and peer pressure tactics in descriptions of coercion experiences. Sexual coercion tactic (i.e., verbal, substance, seduction, physical) and resulting sexual activity (i.e., fondling/attempted intercourse, completed intercourse) were associated with psychosocial outcomes. Specifically, sexual coercion that resulted in sexual intercourse was associated with greater sexual risk-taking and alcohol use. Verbal and substance coercion were associated with psychological distress, and substance coercion was also associated with sexual risk-taking.