This Week in Sex: Turns Out Men and Women May Define Sexual Assault Differently

Are we surprised?

Seventy-nine percent of women would consider “sexual intercourse where one of the partners is pressured to give consent” to be assault compared to just 57 percent of men.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

High Awareness of Sexual Assault, But Still a Way to Go

In case anyone missed the irony of President Donald Trump’s proclamation, April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. To see how well U.S. adults understand this issue, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) teamed up with YouGov and surveyed a nationally representative sample of about 1,200 people.

The results suggest that we do get the basics. Eighty-four percent of respondents recognized sexual intercourse without a partner’s consent as sexual assault, while 83 percent recognized unwanted touching, groping, or fondling as sexual assault. More than two-thirds said incest and sex trafficking counted as sexual assault.

Other categories were less likely to be seen as a sexual assault by some adults. Only 64 percent felt that “watching someone in a private act without their knowledge or permission” should be considered sexual assault. Slightly more than half (54 percent) thought that “unwanted verbal remarks that are provocative and unsolicited” would qualify as sexual assault.

There were some gender and age differences in responses. Women were more likely to see certain behaviors as sexual assault. For example, 72 percent of women called “watching someone in private without their knowledge or permission” assault, compared with just 56 percent of men. Similarly, 79 percent of women would consider “sexual intercourse where one of the partners is pressured to give consent” to be assault compared to just 67 percent of men. And awareness of verbal harassment was low among men (48 percent) and particularly among young men ages 18 to 34 (46 percent).

Delilah Rumburg, NSVRC’s chief executive officer, called the results heartening, saying in a statement that the survey “reveals high levels of awareness around the serious and widespread problem of sexual assault.” She added, “However, the survey also pinpoints where our efforts must expand, namely among young adults and men, to foster an inclusive and productive conversation on sexual violence that will lead to better education, prevention efforts and outcomes.”

New England Legislators Take on Sex Ed

A new law in New Hampshire requires schools to inform parents two weeks before they teach sex education or anything about human sexuality. The bill was introduced by Rep. Victoria Sullivan (R-Manchester), who claims she simply wanted to get parents more involved in the conversations about what is going on at their child’s school. Parents do not have to give permission for their children to attend but can decide to “opt out” of any such classroom discussions.

Nonetheless, opponents felt the new rule would be a burden to schools. Former Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan appeared to agree; she vetoed a similar bill last legislative session. But the state’s current governor, Chris Sununu, signed it into law.

In neighboring Massachusetts, a bill working its way through the state house also includes a provision that all schools teaching sexuality education must adopt a parental notification policy that allows parents to view the material before it is presented to students. HB 2053, also titled “An Act Relative to Healthy Youth,” does not require schools provide sexuality education but states that any school that does provide such a course must ensure it is age-appropriate, medically accurate, and appropriate for all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill goes on to list topics that must be included such as: “ways to effectively discuss safer sexual activity”; “developing effective communication negotiation, and refusal skills, including the skills to recognize and report inappropriate or abusive sexual advances”; and “discussion of healthy relationships, including affirmative representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, relationships, and families.”

Despite all of the information the bill wants young people to learn, opponents are referring to it only as “the Saran Wrap Bill,” claiming that the curriculum advocates using transparent kitchen wrap to make oral sex safer. Not surprisingly, the bill’s supporters accused opponents of focusing too narrowly, and possibly inaccurately, on one aspect of what might be taught. State Rep. Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose) argued it was much broader than that. He said, “We’re talking about building healthy relationships and issues about consent.”

If It Was Good for You, It Was Good for Him Too

A new study about orgasms in male-female couples should get our “did we really need a study to tell us that” award of the week. Researchers have essentially confirmed what many women already knew: Male partners like it when we have orgasms. It makes them feel, well, manly (whatever that really means).

For this study, the researchers (two women, by the way) recruited 810 men who were “currently attracted to women.” The men were randomly assigned to read one of four vignettes in which they imagined themselves sleeping with an attractive woman for the third time. In some of the stories, the women achieved orgasm and in others they did not. The stories also differed when discussing the orgasm history of the women—some easily orgasmed with most partners and some had difficulty in the past. After reading the story, the men were asked how they felt.

As the researchers hypothesized, the men felt more masculine after imagining that their partner achieved orgasm than after imagining that their partners did not. There was also a slight (though not statistically significant) uptick in feelings of masculinity when the men knew that this partner who had orgasmed hadn’t done so with past partners.

So, men feel manly if they make a woman come. Not surprising information but not useless as well. Perhaps knowing that their own pleasure will ultimately be their partner’s pleasure will give some women the permission they need to take a little longer, concentrate on themselves a little more, and wait for a really, really good orgasm.