, Volume 29, Issue 1-2, pp 13-36

Inferring sexual interest from behavioral cues: Effects of gender and sexually relevant attitudes

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Abstract

Research has found that men impute more sexual meaning to others' behavior than do women. However, little research has examined the possibility that men and women share perceptions of the sexual connotativeness of certain behaviors but diverge in their perceptions of other behaviors. In Study 1, 162 male and 186 female undergraduates, predominantly Caucasian, rated the degree to which each of 27 behaviors of male and female targets connoted a desire for sexual intercourse. Multivariate analyses of variance revealed that, whereas men perceived all but two of the female target behaviors more sexually than women, men and women differed in their perceptions of the sexual connotativeness of only about half of the male target behaviors. A factor analysis revealed three factors for both male and female target behaviors, reflecting mundane dating behaviors, romantic behaviors, and sexual behaviors. Relative to women, men perceived only the mundane dating behaviors more sexually, although regression analyses showed these effects to be moderated by subjects' attitudes toward women. Study 2 examined the extent to which sexually relevant attitudes (e.g., sex role stereotyping, adversarial sexual beliefs, and rape myth acceptance) moderate subjects' perceptions of the sexual connotativeness of the behaviors. Men, particularly those who endorsed traditional, sexually relevant attitudes, were more likely than women to impute sexual meaning to the behaviors. The implications of this for dating situations are discussed.

The author wishes to thank Mark Leary and two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this article.