National Post

Tuesday, December 08, 1998

Unwanted advances
New research from the University of Guelph concludes that the role of sexual predator is no longer the domain of men

Donna Laframboise
National Post


The Associated Press / Misplaced Hollywood stereotypes? Michael Douglas resists boss Demi Moore (or tries to) in the film Disclosure.


The Associated Press / Misplaced Hollywood stereotypes? While Duston Hoffman is seduced by Mrs. Robinson in a famous scene from The Graduate.

Gone are the days when only men were sexual predators and only women found themselves on the receiving end of unwanted advances. According to a new study by University of Guelph researchers, women want sex and can be rather forceful about getting it.

When confronted with an unwilling partner, women will undo a man's pants, push him onto a bed, excite him with oral sex, and get him drunk in order to have their way with him, say psychology researchers Michele Clements-Schreiber, John Rempel, and Serge Desmarais.

"Women are more than passive recipients of men's sexual attention," says PhD candidate Clements-Schreiber. "My data says that, in the event that women are faced with a reluctant or uninterested partner, they're willing to use pressure tactics to gain his compliance."

The notion of the woman as sexual instigator has been around since Eve and the Garden of Eden, and in recent years has taken a particularly frightening turn. In such Hollywood offerings as Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, and Disclosure, sexually agressive women are portrayed as psychopaths who boil bunnies and murder their lovers with ice picks.

But if the reality is less terrifying, it's also true that ordinary women are more aggessive in the sexual arena than they are usually given credit for. "Women are sexual beings," says social psychology professor Desmarais, even though "there seems to be an effort, somewhere, to avoid talking about that topic."

Published earlier this year in The Journal of Sex Research, the Guelph study is not the first to find that women are prepared to be aggessive on their way to the bedroom. But it's the only one based on interviews with a wide range of women, rather than just college students.

Ms. Clements-Schreiber talked to 234 women, aged 20-60, employed in "banks, legal and insurance offices, a telephone service, and a telecommunications company." She asked how likely they'd be to use overt and covert pressure tactics in order to get their man.

The list reads like a litany of everything for which men have been condemned in recent years.

More than half the women said they'd unbutton his shirt, undo his belt, let their "hands wander around his body a little," tell him they were turned on and wanted sex, give him a massage, and kiss him passionately. One in three said they'd place his hand on their stomach and "move it upwards," while one in four agreed they'd "get him a little bit drunk." There was no difference in the women's response according to their age. Women in their 50s were as willing as women in their 20s to resort to such tactics.

"I thought a surprising number of women said they'd get him drunk," says Ms. Clements-Schreiber. "I was kind of shocked, actually. Interestingly, it started out as 'Get him drunk.' And then several of my various participants said, 'Well, that would defeat the entire purpose; you could only get him a little bit drunk.' So I went, 'Uhhuh, OK, we'll change that'. "

The researchers go to great lengths to stress that pressuring people into sex is unacceptable, no matter which sex is doing the pressuring. "Either way, it's not OK," says Ms. Clements-Schreiber. "You want a willing partner in bed, not one that you've had to manipulate to get there."

Prof. Desmarais, who specializes in pay equity research and has studied male sexual violence, says he's "about as pro-feminist as you can get." Just because some women resort to sexual pressure tactics doesn't change the fact, he says, that "male coercion has far more impact and is felt with tremendous pain in women's lives."

Ms. Clements-Schreiber says her interest in the area was first sparked when, as a stepmother to two teenage boys, she attempted to advise them on appropriate dating behaviour. "You try to caution your children about things like that," she says, but one day one of her sons said to her: " 'You're always telling me all of these things, but why is it that everyone seems to think it's OK for a woman to do whatever she wants?' And I said to him, 'No, of course that's not OK. Pressure is pressure, whether it comes from a woman or a man."

Alarmed at the apparent double-standard, she says one of the goals of her study was to explore female attitudes toward men and sex. Many women, she says, still subscribe to the stereotypical view that men are interested in sex any time, any place, with anyone.

Indeed, 77% of women in her study agreed that, "It's easy for a woman to sexually arouse a man if she really wants to." And more than six in 10 believed that, even when men don't respond positively, the "truth is that men enjoy getting sexual advances from women."

The paradox, says Prof. Desmarais, is that although the women in the study didn't have difficulty remembering occasions in which men were not sexually responsive, they still believed that men were "sexually available" all the time.

The study, he says, confirms what he knows from his own circle of acquaintances. "I've certainly had friends who've rejected or told a woman they were not particularly interested in her. The basic notion that men will not, necessarily, accept all sexual options is probably a good thing to know."

And the University of Guelph researchers offer a warning. Men who feel they've been pressured into sex themselves, they say, are more likely to regard coercion as normal in relationships. "[T]rivializing men's experiences may invite men also to dismiss women's non-violent coercive experiences."

"I think it's in human nature to pursue the things that we want," says Ms. Clements-Schreiber.

"And to fail to recognize that women are willing to use some pressure to persuade a sexually reluctant partner is to infer that sex is one of those things that women just don't want. And I don't buy that."

PRESSURE TACTICS

Percentage of women rating usage with a reluctant or unwilling partner as likely

Breaking sexual stereotypes

Percentage of women who agree

Related Site

Journal of Sex Research
Not particularly up to date, but contains contact information and a list of articles through 1997.

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