The views of women, men, and sexuality discussed above are reflected in various cultural myths. They converge to support the conclusion that sexual assault is seduction and submission is consent (Pineau, 1989). Indeed, a review of the literature finds that acceptance of rape myths is higher among men, particularly men who report having engaged in sexually aggressive behavior (Lonsway &. Fitzgerald, 1994). These myths underlie the theme that a woman must accept the consequences of her sexuality.
A commonly held myth states that men’s sexual drives are greater than women’s and can reach a point at which they cannot be controlled (Burt & Estep, 1981). If a woman’s provocativeness arouses a man to this point, she must accept the consequences. Despite research evidence, popular culture has endorsed the idea that sex is a biological need for men, but not for women (Peplau, Rubin, & Hill, 1977). In Better Than the Birds, Smarter Than the Bees, a question-and-answer book about sexuality written for adolescents in 1969, Burn discusses a man’s greater sexual drive and a
woman’s responsibility for helping him control his sexual urges. A male adolescent “has the most powerful sex drive he will ever have at a time when he has the least experience in learning to control it” (Bum, 1969, p. 51). Bum recommends that boys stay involved in vigorous physical competition with other boys, such as sports, in order to channel their overwhelming sexual energy for constructive purposes. Girls, however, are not mentioned as needing to go to such extremes to control their sexuality. Rather, girls are instructed on the importance of assisting boys in regulating their sexuality by being careful not to arouse their date’s sexuality as boys who are aroused sexually are unable to think clearly (Bum, 1969).
In comparison, teenage girls may be taught that the goal of physical attractiveness is to be sexy. Media images, particularly images of women in music videos, promote the message that being a woman means being sexual. However, a woman is confronted with an irresolvable paradox—how to be attractive (i. e., appealing to the opposite sex) and at the same time avoid being provocative, lest she arouse a man to the point of no return. Once again, she must accept the consequences of her sexuality.
Myths regarding the passive nature of female sexuality are exemplified in the term consent itself, which carries a passive tone. A woman is not to express freely her own sexuality; her proper duty is to respond to the needs of her partner. In excluding the concept of female sexual agency, consent is relegated to a decision of whether or not to limit or control male agency, rather than acknowledge female desire (Gavey, 1992). Indeed, women may be reluctant to acknowledge their desire for sex because of the sexual double standard that prescribes unlimited sexual activity for men and limited sexual activity in women (Muehlenhard & McCoy, 1991). Any woman’s behavior perceived by a man to be sexual is interpreted as consent to intercourse. Therefore, a woman dare not express herself as a sexual being lest a man determine for her the extent of her expression. This pattern of male disregard and sexual control has been supported by researchers who have found that men are less compliant to refusals of intercourse when sexually aroused (Byers, 1988). Muehlenhard and Linton (1987) found that the most common method men used to have sexual intercourse with unwilling women was to ignore their resistance.
In addition, heterosexist norms suggest that women are to be dominated by men and that male overpowerment is both desirable and pleasurable (Jackson, 1978). Researchers have suggested that power and sex may become automatically associated for some men (Bargh, Raymond, Pryor, & Strack, 1995). This association may result in sexually aggressive men exercising their need to feel powerful through sexual means (i. e., rape). Such images of male dominance and female submission are displayed repeatedly in the media. Power in intimate relationships is eroticized; dominance becomes seduction and is viewed as normative (Berger, Searles, Salem, &. Pierce, 1986). Researchers have found that men who report engaging in sexually aggressive behavior are more likely to endorse dominance as a motive for engaging in sexual activity (Groth, 1979; Malamuth, 1986; Ma – lamuth et al., 1995; Scully, 1990).
These societal myths may be magnified for women of color. Pornographic images exploit the history of racism in this country by depicting sexualized, stereotypic images of ethnic minority women (Mayall &. Russell, 1993). These images communicate to viewers that ethnic minority women’s claims of nonconsent are improbable and can be ignored.