How sexual power can be disempowering

October 1, 2012

Gender roles and norms play a key role in sexual behavior between men and women. It is often assumed that men should dominate women sexually. This assumption may lead to loss of both power and the ability to control sexual behavior among women and men, as well as lead to increased sexual risk-taking, such as not using a female condom. The new study, by Dr. Lisa Rosenthal from Yale University in the US, and her colleagues, is published online in Springer's journal Sex Roles.

orientation is a measure of people's level of support for social power inequalities and hierarchy. The belief is linked to greater hostile sexism, more towards women's rights, a greater tolerance of sexual harassment and a greater preference for . Rosenthal and team examined whether the extent to which both women and men endorse social dominance orientation explains gender dominance and dynamics in heterosexual relationships.

A total of 357 undergraduate women and 126 undergraduate men from a Northeastern US university took part in the study. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire on a computer, next to which there was a bowl of female condoms. The researchers assessed the students' social dominance orientation, the extent to which they believed that men should dominate sexually, how confident they felt in sexual situations, as well as the number of female condoms they took away with them.

Overall, women were less likely than men to endorse the view that men should dominate sexually. The more men and women believed that social power inequalities and hierarchy were valid, the more likely they were to endorse the belief that men should dominate sexually, and the less likely they were to feel confident in sexual situations and consider using female condoms.

The authors conclude: "These findings suggest that beliefs about power may play a key role in both women's and men's attitudes to sexual behavior, and potentially their decisions to protect themselves during sexual activity. Results highlight that social dominance orientation and dynamics in do not only hurt women, but also men because they potentially decrease their sexual self-efficacy and interest in female condoms as well."

More information: Rosenthal L et al (2012). Social dominance orientation relates to believing men should dominate sexually, sexual efficacy, and taking free female condoms among undergraduate women and men. Sex Roles; DOI 10.1007/s11199-012-0207-6

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Babies need free tongue movement to decipher speech sounds

October 12, 2015

Inhibiting infants' tongue movements impedes their ability to distinguish between speech sounds, researchers with the University of British Columbia have found. The study is the first to discover a direct link between infants' ...

Women and men react differently to infidelity

October 8, 2015

If your partner has sex with someone else, it is considered infidelity - even if no emotions are involved. But it is also considered infidelity when your significant other develops a close personal relationship with someone ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.