Exposure to Harsh Parenting and Pornography as Explanations for Males' Sexual Coercion and Females' Sexual Victimization

Article excerpt

Sexual violence against women is a major concern to researchers and policy makers, as well as to the general public. This study uses a sample of more than 2,000 college students to investigate the extent to which exposure to harsh parenting practices and sexually explicit materials contributes to perpetration and victimization. Findings indicate that frequent corporal punishment in the family of origin combined with consumption of pornographic materials increased the probability that males reported engaging in coercive sexual practices. For females, both frequent corporal punishment and exposure to paternal hostility combined with consumption of pornographic materials were associated with higher levels of reported sexual victimization. These results provide increased understanding of the impact of pornography use among a nonclinical sample, as well as the consequences of experiencing harsh corporal punishment in one's family of origin, on the sexual victimization of females.

Keywords: corporal punishment; sexually explicit material; intimate partner violence; sexual violence

Sexual violence toward women has received much attention from scholars and is a matter of concern to clinicians, policy makers, as well as the general population; and there is a continued need to investigate the etiology of such behavior. Past studies indicate that college women are at higher risk than other populations for date rape and other forms of sexual violence (DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 1998; Wolitzky- Taylor et al., 2008). Prevalence studies suggest that roughly half of female college students report having experienced sexual coercion (Forbes & Adams-Curtis, 2001), while 10%-20% have experienced forced intercourse (Brener, McMahon, Warren, & Douglas, 1999; Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000; Resnick, Kilpatrick, Dansky, Saunders, & Best, 1993). In contrast, 15%-25% of college males admit to having engaged in some type of sexual aggression (Forbes & Adams-Curtis, 2001), while 5%-15% of college males acknowledge having engaged in forced intercourse (Ouimette & Riggs, 1998). Studies indicate that sexual coercion committed by dating partners exists on a continuum, whereby perpetrators usually begin with less intimidating strategies and gradually escalate the level of force when these initial tactics fail (Felson, 2002; Simons, Burt, & Simons, 2008). Approximately half of college women report having engaged in unwanted sexual intercourse (O'Sullivan & Allgeier, 1998; Sprecher, Hatfield, Cortese, Potapova, & Levitskaya, 1994). Although these acts are sometimes technically consensual, women often report that they gave in to unwanted sex after having experienced situations where refusal was followed by strong emotional or physical pressures (Katz & Tirone, 2010).

To investigate the factors that are associated with sexual coercion, it is important to understand the context in which such strategies are learned. As reported by Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz (1980) and corroborated in many studies since, aggressive behavior and attitudes that are conducive to it are often learned in the family of origin. Emerging adults are also exposed to other influences such as media. This study investigates the extent to which exposure to harsh parenting practices as well as sexually explicit material contributes to perpetration and victimization. More specifically, we test the hypothesis that frequent corporal punishment in the family of origin combined with consumption of pornographic materials increases the probability that males will engage in coercive sexual practices. For females, we expect that exposure to paternal hostility combined with consumption of pornographic materials will be associated with higher levels of reported sexual victimization. These hypotheses are developed in the following sections.

PARENTAL BEHAVIOR AND SEXUAL COERCION

Several studies have reported an association between exposure to harsh corporal punishment and subsequent commission of dating violence (Simons et al. …