Researcher: Nudity can disrupt the natural inhibition men have toward non-consensual sex

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

Research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior offers some preliminary evidence that nudity influences date rape.

The Canadian psychologists who conducted the study were seeking to examine the sexual inhibition hypothesis. The hypothesis asserts that men tend to be sexually inhibited by “rape cues” like violence and expressions of non-consent, but particular circumstances can disrupt these cues.

In the study, 40 men (aged 18–25) listened to brief evocative stories about consensual sexual encounters, rapes, or non-sexual interactions. These stories were read by a woman from the female point-of-view in a neutral tone. While they listened to each story, the participants were randomly shown either a clothed or nude woman. Meanwhile, their physical genital arousal was assessed with a device that measures changes in penile circumference.

The men were not particularly turned on by the stories about rape. Overall, stories describing consensual sex produced significantly more arousal than the stories describing rape, while the non-sexual stories produced the least arousal.

The researchers found that nudity increased arousal, but the effect was mostly specific to non-consensual and neutral stories. In other words, nudity had little impact on men’s arousal when they were listening to the consensual sex stories. But it did make a difference when they were listening to the stories about non-consensual sex.

Does this mean nudity causes men to rape? No. But the research does suggest that under some circumstances nudity could play a role by disrupting rape cues. As the authors of the study note, “nudity is only one potential situational factor among many.”

To learn more, PsyPost reached out to the study’s corresponding author, Martin L. Lalumiere of the University of Ottawa. Read his explanation of the research below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Lalumiere: I have been doing research on sexual aggression since the mid-nineties. This is a topic that has always interested me. I wrote a book in 2005 called ‘The causes of rape’, published by the American Psychological Association.

Why would people be motivated to force someone else into sex? We know a lot about men who have been convicted of sexual aggression. For instance, we know that these men are more antisocial than men who have never raped (for example, they tend to also engage in non-sexual crimes); we know that they are particularly aroused by rape cues (and some of them can be considered sexually sadistic); we know that they have a lot of sexual partners and a casual approach to sexual relationships. But there are men who are not antisocial or sadistic or promiscuous who still engage in sexual coercion and aggression. Could it be that there are particular circumstances or contexts that facilitate rape for men who are not inclined to rape?

What should the average person take away from your study?

In our study, we wanted to know if depictions of nudity can overwhelm the natural inhibition that men have toward non-consensual sex. We know from many studies that the average man is much more sexually aroused by depictions of consensual sex than by depictions of non-consensual sex. Are there factors that can disrupt inhibition to nonconsensual sex? We know that many rapes start as consensual events. Often these rapes involve some nudity from consensual sexual interactions (before it becomes a rape event). Could it be that nudity makes rape cues less unappealing? In other words, if rape cues (display of non-consent, distress on the part of the victim) make the average man less aroused, could it be that nudity interferes with that process?

In our study, we found exactly that. When regular men listened to stories of rape, their sexual arousal (penile responses) was higher when there was a video of a nude woman with the story, compared to when there was a video of a fully clothed woman. Nudity had less impact on arousal to stories of consensual sex. Nudity made men respond to rape cues more. The natural inhibition that men have to rape cues was disrupted. Could it be that greater arousal in the context of rape cues (e.g., verbalization of non-consent) makes rape more likely to happen? Only future studies will allow us to answer that important question.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Our study was done in the laboratory, where we can control the situation and manipulate variables (e.g., nudity vs non-nudity). We do not know for sure if nudity has the same impact in actual rape situations. We strongly suspect it, but we cannot be sure.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The idea that rape can be motivated by sexual arousal is not a popular idea. The standard narrative is that sexual motivations have nothing to do with rape — rape is caused by anger and desire to control and humiliate. The scientific research, however, tells us that control and power and sexual motivations are all at play. To ignore sexual motivations is to ignore reality. I think that studies investigating the true causes of rape have a better chance to lead to successful preventive and treatment efforts.

The study, “Nudity as a Disinhibiting Cue in a Date Rape Analogue“, was also co-authored by Annabree Fairweather and Drew A. Kingston.

Share.