Study provides new insights into sexual coercion by women

New research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior sheds light on the relationship between women’s perpetration of sexually coercive behavior and pornography use. The study suggests that women’s effort to use pornography is associated with some forms of sexual coercion.

“We were interested in this topic due to the lack of knowledge in the area. Both women’s use of sexual coercion and women’s use of pornography are socially taboo topics that are not often discussed or researched,” said study author Roxanne Khan of the University of Central Lancaster.

“This silence reflects a lack of knowledge, which in turn feeds a stereotype that women are without agency, that they are unaffected by the influence of pornography (or not drawn to use it) and that they are not capable of abusive sexual behaviour. This study does not compare men and women, and instead focuses on exploring the personality traits of the proportion of women who use sexual coercion and pornography.”

The researchers anonymously surveyed 142 women (aged 16–53 years) regarding sexual coercion, pornography use, and personality disorder traits.

About 35% of the women admitted to engaging in nonverbal forms of sexual coercion, including persistent kissing and touching, or taking off their own or their target’s clothes despite them refusing sex. Nearly 16% of women also admitted to emotional manipulation and deception, such as repeatedly asking, using lies, questioning the target’s sexuality, or threatening to break up.

About 5 percent of women indicated they had exploited an intoxicated person, while just one participant reported using physical force or threats.

The researchers found that effort to use pornography was associated with women’s use of the nonverbal sexual arousal and emotional manipulation and deception. In other words, women who agreed with statements such as “I have rearranged my schedule so that I would be able to view pornography online without being disturbed” were more likely to report engaging in these forms of sexual coercion.

Participants who scored higher on measure of narcissistic and histrionic personality were also more likely to admit to exploitation of the intoxicated.

“Just as a large body of research has established that men are more likely than women to perpetrate sexual coercion, it is just as important to note that a proportion of women also report using a range of sexually coercive behaviour,” Khan told PsyPost.

“What’s more, there are more sides to sexual coercion than simply using physical force — for example, women in our study reported using nonverbal sexual arousal and emotional manipulation and deception to sexually coerce victims, and both these types of abuse were significantly associated with their effort to use pornography.”

Like all research, the study includes some limitations. No causational inferences can be made because the findings are correlational.

Interest in pornography and compulsive use were not associated with sexually coercive behavior. This somewhat perplexing finding, the researchers said, “merits further exploration.”

“We think it’s critical for future studies to explore differences between amateur and professional pornography, with regard to the level of gender inequality featured. Also, to examine directly the frequency and form of pornography used by women and the impact this has on their sexually coercive behaviour,” Khan said.

The study, “Sexual Coercion by Women: The Influence of Pornography and Narcissistic and Histrionic Personality Disorder Traits“, was authored by Abigail Hughes, Gayle Brewer, and Roxanne Khan.