Does Knowledge about Sexuality Prevent Adolescents from Developing Rape-Supportive Beliefs?

By Manet, Pascal; Herbe, Dominique | The Journal of Sex Research, July-August 2011 | Go to article overview
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Does Knowledge about Sexuality Prevent Adolescents from Developing Rape-Supportive Beliefs?


Manet, Pascal, Herbe, Dominique, The Journal of Sex Research


Adolescent Boys' Forced Sex on Girls

Over the last two decades, numerous studies have highlighted the prevalence of forced sex on women. For example, Brener, McMahon, Warren, and Douglas (1999) found that 20% of U.S. female college students reported having experienced forced sexual intercourse, generally during adolescence. Adolescence is a particularly interesting time for the development of mutual respect in dating situations because most people have their first sexual experiences during adolescence. Several factors such as substance abuse (e.g., Ullman, Karabatsos, & Koss, 1999), pornography consumption (Vega & Malamuth, 2007), masculinity norms (Locke & Mahalik, 2005), and childhood exposure to violence against females (Hunter, Figueredo, Malamuth, & Becker, 2004) enable a better understanding of juvenile males' forced sexual behavior toward juvenile females. For decades, research has shown that low intelligence (especially verbal intelligence), as well as low school attainment, predicted juvenile offending independently of sociological variables, such as family income and family size (for a review, see Farrington, 1996). Specific cognitive deficits, such as in abstract reasoning and concept formation, predict juvenile offending (for a review, see Moffitt, 1990). In the research on forced sex among adolescents, intelligence and academic achievement have generally been neglected, either as independent variables or as covariates, although some studies found male adolescent sexual offenders to be characterized by low intelligence and low school attainment (e.g., Fehrenbach, Smith, Monastersky, & Deisher, 1986). Few studies have tried to identify specific cognitive factors that influence adolescents' forced sexual behavior. The main goal of this study was to test the hypothesis that knowledge about sexuality predicts adolescents' rape-supportive beliefs, independently of general academic level.

Adolescents' Rape-Supportive Beliefs

One of the reasons some boys force sex on girls might lie in boys' and girls' beliefs regarding the extent to which it is acceptable for boys to force sex on girls in certain situations. For example, by focusing on a given aspect of the situation, an individual may see his or her transgression as acceptable. Such rape-supportive beliefs can be seen as a tendency to think that a well-known prohibition can be ignored in certain circumstances. In an exploratory self-report study, Kershner (1996) observed that 14- to 19-year-old boys and girls adhere to adult-like rape myths (e.g., "Some girls encourage rape just by the way they dress"). These misconceptions may account for the high level of adolescents' beliefs that a boy can force sex on a girl. Indeed, Davis, Peck, and Storment (1993) reported that 60% of U.S. middle adolescent males found it acceptable in one or more situations to force sex on a girl; fewer girls thought it was acceptable. Situations in which it was relatively acceptable were, for example, "She has had sex with some of his friends" and "She is wearing revealing/sexy clothing" (for more details on the results of Davis et al.'s, 1993, study, see Table 1). Accordingly, in this study, we expected adolescents' beliefs that boys can force sex on girls in some situations to be more frequent in boys than in girls because boys are the usual perpetrators, and girls are typically the victims.

Gender-Stereotyped Biases about Sexuality and Adolescent Sexual Knowledge

Adolescents in the early 21st century in Western societies are exposed to a pervasive flow of explicit sexual information, especially conveyed by television, magazines, and the Internet (Sutton, Brown, Wilson, & Klein, 2002). This flow of information is likely to reinforce adolescents' beliefs that boys can force sex on girls in certain circumstances because it is strongly biased by gender stereotypes. This was demonstrated by Kim et al. (2007), who analyzed the sexual content of television programs viewed most frequently by adolescents, and found that men are portrayed as being consumed by sexual urges, sometimes using forceful means to engage women in sexual activity.

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