According to a new study, a large portion of teen boys and young men have been forced or coerced into sexual activity by a peer. The study, published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 43% of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience, and 95% reported that a female acquaintance was the aggressor.
"Sexual victimization continues to be a pervasive problem in the United States, but the victimization of men is rarely explored," said the lead author, Dr. Breanna French. "Our findings can help lead to better prevention by identifying the various types of coercion that men face and by acknowledging women as perpetrators against men." While participants reported relatively low rates of being victimized by other men, French cautions against concluding that rates of male-on-male victimization are actually that low, as participants may have been uncomfortable reporting being victimized by another boy or man due to internalized homophobia and fears of emasculation.
Of the 284 males from ages 14-26, 18 percent reported sexual coercion by physical force; 31 percent said they were verbally coerced; 26 percent described unwanted seduction by sexual behaviors; and 7 percent said they were compelled after being given alcohol or drugs. Half ended up having some form of sexual intercourse, 10% reported an attempt at intercourse, and 40% said the result was fondling or kissing. The high rate of sexual coercion by seduction, especially by older women, led Dr. French to call for greater research into the line between seduction and coercion.
While participants who had been coerced verbally or with substances had higher rates of psychological distress (including depression, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety) compared to those who had not been sexually coerced, they did not have lower rates of self-esteem. "It may be the case that sexual coercion by women doesn't affect males' self-perceptions in the same way that it does when women are coerced. Instead it may inadvertently be consistent with expectations of masculinity and sexual desire, though more research is needed to better understand this relationship," said Dr. French.
Interestingly, rates of sexual coercion varied largely by ethnicity. Asian-American male participants reported lower rates of sexual coercion overall and especially of verbal coercion, similar to results of sexual coercion for Asian-American females. Latino males were more likely to have been coerced by verbal pressure, while white males were more likely to report an unwanted seduction. French called for youth prevention methods that accounted for racial and ethnic differences in coercion tactics, including the stereotype of Black men as hypermasculine and hypersexual.