Earlier in this chapter, we examined the relationship between sexual coercion and cul­tural expectations for males in our society. The socializing process that encourages men to be aggressive to get what they want is undoubtedly an important factor in rape and sexual coercion. As many have pointed out, in our society many males and females learn sexual scripts that encourage men to be aggressive and women to be passive (Dworkin & O’Sullivan, 2005). Yet some experts argue that in at least some cases of acquaintance rape, the picture is more complicated.

Consider the issue of men’s misinterpretation of women’s signals. Men often con­sider women’s actions such as cuddling or kissing as indicating a desire to engage in
intercourse (Muehlenhard, 1988; Muehlenhard & Linton, 1987). However, a woman who feels like cuddling does not necessarily want to have sex, and she may express this to her date. Even if a woman clearly expresses her desire not to have sex, her date may read her actions as "token resistance," concluding that she really wants to have sex but does not want to appear "too easy" (Krahe et al., 2000; Osman, 2003).

In some cases this "reading" is entirely motivated by exploitative self-interest. But some women do say no when they mean yes. One study of 610 female undergraduates revealed that 39.3% had engaged in token resistance to sex at least once. Reasons for saying no when they really meant yes included not wanting to appear promiscuous, uncertainty about a partner’s feelings, undesirable surroundings, game playing (wanting a partner to be more physically aggressive, to persuade her to have sex, etc.), and desiring to be in control (Muehlenhard & Hollabaugh, 1989). This kind of double message may actually promote rape by providing men with a rationale for ignoring sincere refusals. The researchers in this study concluded that if a man has had the experience of ignoring a woman’s protests only to find that she actually did want to have sex, then "his belief that women’s refusals are not to be taken seriously will be strengthened" (Muehlenhard & Hollabaugh, 1989, p. 878). He may thus proceed with his sexual advances despite further protests and genuine resistance from his date. Such a man may not even define his actions as rape.

The concept of token resistance underscores the fact that many sexual interactions are beset with problems of poor communication. The ambiguity and miscommunica – tion that often characterize sexual encounters underscore the importance of building a foundation of clear communication, a topic addressed in Chapter 7.

Even men who believe their female partner when she says no may think that it is defensible to use force to obtain sex if they feel that they have been "led on." A number of studies have found that many men regard rape as justifiable, or at least hold the woman more responsible than themselves, if she leads a man on by such actions as dressing "suggestively" or going to his apartment (Muehlenhard et al., 1991; Workman & Free – burg, 1999). The implications of these findings for acquaintance rape prevention are discussed in the Your Sexual Health box, "Dealing With Rape and Attempted Rape."