Consent Looks Very Different Without Society’s Judgments

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
There are still plenty of myths out there when it comes to sex — including the one about women just not being up for getting down. But, in not-at-all-surprising news, new research suggests that men and women have very similar levels of interest in sex when we take out societal pressure. The study, published online earlier this month in Archives of Sexual Behavior, looked at the way young men and women respond to sexual invitations in two experiments conducted in Germany. In the first one, eight female and six male experimenters went up to 162 men and 119 women around a college campus, including at a party. First, they always said, "Hi, normally I don't do anything like this, but I find you totally attractive." Then, they either asked their target out for coffee or asked if they wanted to have sex. Results from the first experiment echoed older studies: Men were way more likely than women to say yes to the sexual advance. Only one out of those 119 women consented to casual sex. But, men were more likely to consent to both sex and the coffee date. And, things evened out a bit in the second experiment. Here, 30 male and 30 female participants went into the lab and were presented with pictures of 10 people who were supposedly interested in either dating or having sex with them. The participants were asked how attractive they found the person in the picture and whether they wanted to meet up with the interested parties. Although the experiment never actually made it to in-person meetings, the experimenters reassured the participants they could withdraw their consent at any time.  Results from this experiment showed that, although some gender differences did still exist, men and women consented to the date or sex equally often. Although men still consented more often overall, nearly everyone agreed to have sex with at least one of the presented pictures — and consent rates were much more similar. But, we should point out that the studies were both fairly small and only included heterosexual participants. 

Still, this is a great reminder of the way both social judgments and risks can play into consent, making it way more complicated when giving a yes or no — one major reason why "Yes Means Yes" laws are so important. "Whereas the gender differences are large when
subjects are approached on the street or at a party," the study authors write, "these gender
differences are significantly smaller in a non-threatening environment." Go figure! 

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