The Relationship Between Heteronormative Beliefs and Verbal Sexual Coercion in College Students

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Abstract

Heteronormative standards for sex and romance situate men and women in a hierarchical relationship that characterizes masculinity as active and persistent and femininity as passive and responsive to male sexuality. Individuals who endorse heteronormative beliefs, such as the belief that men should dominate women sexually or that men are always ready for sex, may therefore be more approving of and experienced with behaviors that involve one partner exerting sexual pressure on the other. In the present study, we investigated the relationship between the endorsement of heteronormative beliefs and men’s and women’s approval of and experience with verbal sexual coercion (both as a perpetrator and as a victim). We first established a gender-neutral higher-order construct representing heteronormative beliefs consisting of multiple measures of gender norms for sexuality and relationships in a sample of 555 heterosexual college students (292 women, 263 men) primarily of Hispanic origin. We next found that endorsement of heteronormative beliefs was positively correlated with personal acceptance of verbal sexual coercion strategies and personal experience as the victim and perpetrator of verbal sexual coercion for both men and women. While men reported more overall support for heteronormative beliefs and more experience as a victim and perpetrator of verbal sexual coercion, there were minimal gender differences in how heteronormative beliefs related to verbal sexual coercion variables. The positive association found between heteronormative beliefs and sexual coercion in young men’s and women’s relationships represents an important step towards better understanding the antecedents and consequences of intimate partner violence.