Factors Related to Coercive Sexual Behavior in a Nonclinical Sample of Males

By Murphy, William D.; Coleman, Emily M. et al. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1986 | Go to article overview

Factors Related to Coercive Sexual Behavior in a Nonclinical Sample of Males


Murphy, William D., Coleman, Emily M., Haynes, Mary R., Violence and Victims


The sexual coercion literature has suggested numerous factors related to aggressive sexual behavior. The present investigation explores a number of these factors in a community sample. Data collected from 189 volunteers from the community included measures of sexual arousal, social perception, personality variables, attitudes toward women, and self-reported likelihood to rape. Multiple-regression analyses were used to determine the relative association of these factors to coercive sexual behavior. The present findings suggested that social perception, Extraversion and Neuroticism from the Eysenck Personality Inventory, sexual arousal, and self-reported likelihood to rape all contributed to the multiple regression. Rape Myth Acceptance, although not contributing significantly to the multiple regression, did show a significant zero-order correlation with coercive sexual behavior.

Additional analyses were performed in an attempt to replicate an earlier predictive study by Malamuth and Check (1983) that found self-reported sexual arousal to be predicted by a combination of self-reported likelihood to rape, Psychoticism and Neuroticism from the Eysenck Personality Inventory, power motivation, and sexual experience. In the present study, both self-reported sexual arousal and penile tumescence measures were significantly related to attitudinal measures, social perception measures, and self-reported likelihood to rape. Limitations of the present study and suggestions for future research are discussed.

There have been several attempts in the literature to delineate factors related to male aggressive sexual behavior. The rationale for such research has risen from two somewhat separate, although not necessarily mutually exclusive, theoretical models. The first, which will be labeled the psychopathology or individual difference model, has clinically focused on individuals who have been convicted of rape. This model is reflected in various state sexual psychopath laws (Rada, 1978) that view rape not only as a crime but also as a symptom of a psychiatric disorder. This model has led to numerous studies comparing rapists to nonrapists on a variety of psychological tests (see Rada, 1978, for review), behavioral models focusing on deviant sexual arousal of rapists (Abel, Blanchard, &: Becker, 1978), and clinical classification systems based on psychodynamic formulations (Groth, 1979).

Much of this literature, however, has been criticized by feminist writers (Albin, 1977; Brownmiller, 1975), who view rape as an aggressive rather than a sexual crime and a natural extension of the male socialization process. Such socialization leads males to feel dominant to submissive females, with females perceived as sexual objects for men's pleasure. In this model, male sexual aggression is not the result of any individual psychopathology but is due to attitudes toward females and aggression learned as part of enculturation. Such a model would also include variables such as male dominance, perpetuation of traditional sex roles, and power differential between males and females. From this perspective, rape as legally defined represents only one small part of the sexual aggression experienced by women.

This perspective has led to numerous studies, mainly with college students, on the association between various attitudes (Sex Role Stereotyping, Rape Myth Acceptance, and Acceptance of Violence) to various measures of male sexual aggression (see Malamuth 8c Donnerstein, 1984, for an excellent review of much of this work). Incidence studies indicate that sexual coercion and rape occur much more frequently than official statistics indicate. Malamuth (1984) found, across a number of studies by his research group, that 35% of the males reported at least some (2 or greater on a 5-point scale) likelihood to rape if they thought they would not get caught. Although this self-report does not mean that such individuals would rape, other data suggest that a number of males do admit to at least some level of sexual aggression against women. …

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