Monday, October 7, 2019

Female perpetrators and the Postrefusal Sexual Persistence Scale: nonverbal sexual arousal, emotional manipulation and deception, exploitation of the intoxicated, and use of physical force or threats

Sexual Coercion by Women: The Influence of Pornography and Narcissistic and Histrionic Personality Disorder Traits. Abigail Hughes, Gayle Brewer, Roxanne Khan. Archives of Sexual Behavior, October 7 2019.

Abstract: Largely overlooked in the literature, this study investigated factors influencing women’s use of sexual coercion. Specifically, pornography use and personality disorder traits linked with poor impulse control, emotional regulation, and superior sense of sexual desirability were considered. Women (N = 142) aged 16–53 years (M = 24.23, SD = 7.06) were recruited from community and student populations. Participants completed the Narcissistic and Histrionic subscales of the Personality Diagnostic Questionnaire-4, in addition to the Cyber-Pornography Use Inventory to explore the influence of their pornography use (interest, efforts to engage with pornography, and compulsivity) on their use of sexual coercion. This was measured using four subscales of the Postrefusal Sexual Persistence Scale: nonverbal sexual arousal, emotional manipulation and deception, exploitation of the intoxicated, and use of physical force or threats. Multiple regression analyses revealed that pornography use, narcissistic traits, and histrionic traits significantly predicted the use of nonverbal sexual arousal, emotional manipulation and deception, and exploitation of the intoxicated. Effort to engage with pornography was a significant individual predictor of nonverbal sexual arousal and emotional manipulation and deception, while histrionic traits were a significant individual predictor of exploitation of the intoxicated. Findings were discussed in relation to existing sexual coercion literature and potential future research.

Keywords: Female perpetration Histrionic personality traits Narcissistic personality traits Sexually explicit material


Sexual aggression research has historically focused on male perpetration and female victimization. This approach most likely reflects the global pervasiveness of men’s sexual violence and perceptions of women as sexually passive (Denov, 2017; Krahé & Berger, 2013). However, females also sexually aggress against unwilling partners (Erulkar, 2004; Hines, 2007) and researchers have increasingly acknowledged nuances in how this might be expressed (e.g., by harassment, abuse, and coercion) (Grayston & De Luca, 1999; Ménard, Hall, Phung, Ghebrial, & Martin, 2003). Despite this, and the negative physical and psychological consequences experienced by male victims (Visser, Smith, Rissel, Richters, & Grulich, 2003), a dominant gendered perspective has resulted in a relative paucity of information on factors that may explain female sexual aggression (Campbell & Kohut, 2017; Denov, 2017). This area is worthy of investigation as pathways to sexual aggression differ for men and women (Krahé & Berger, 2017), and factors associated with sexual coercion by men may not be generalizable to female perpetrators. Indeed, Schatzel-Murphy, Harris, Knight, and Milburn (2009) found that while men and women’s sexually coercive behavior may be similar, factors symptomatic of its use might be different, with sexual compulsivity (i.e., difficulty controlling sexual urges) shown to be a dynamic influence for females. Our study, therefore, aimed to investigate factors associated with sexual compulsivity in women that might explain their use of sexually coercive behavior. Specifically, the influence of three elements of pornography use (interest, efforts to engage with pornography, and compulsivity) and narcissistic and histrionic personality traits was explored due to associations in the literature with coercive sexual tactics to obtain intimate relations.

Sexual coercion lies on the sexual aggression continuum and is defined as “the act of using pressure, alcohol or drugs, or force to have sexual contact with someone against his or her will” (Struckman-Johnson, Struckman-Johnson, & Anderson, 2003, p.76). Sexual coercion may include a range of behaviors that can be separated into four categories of increasing exploitation: (1) sexual arousal (e.g., persistent kissing and touching), (2) emotional manipulation (e.g., blackmail, questioning, or using authority), (3) alcohol and drug intoxication (e.g., purposefully getting a person drunk or taking advantage while intoxicated), and (4) physical force or threats (e.g., using physical harm). As a large body of research has established that men are more likely than women to perpetrate sexual coercion (see Krahé et al., 2015), this has overshadowed evidence that a proportion of women also report using a range of sexually coercive behavior (e.g., Hoffmann & Verona, 2018; Krahé, Waizenhöfer, & Möller, 2003; Ménard et al., 2003; Muñoz, Khan, & Cordwell, 2011; Russell & Oswald, 2001, 2002; Struckman-Johnson et al., 2003). While single studies have found female perpetration rates as high as 26% (compared to 43% for males) (see Struckman-Johnson et al., 2003), in an overview of the literature, Hines (2007) estimated rates between 10 and 20% for verbal sexual coercion, and 1 and 3% for physically forced sexual intercourse.

Due to higher rates of male perpetration, it is perhaps not surprising that fewer studies have focused on correlates of women’s sexually coercive behavior. Studies have reported that influential factors for women include peer pressure to have sex (e.g., Krahé et al., 2003), sexual compulsivity (Schatzel-Murphy et al., 2009), antagonistic attitudes toward sexual relationships (e.g., Anderson, 1996; Christopher, Madura, & Weaver, 1998; Yost & Zurbriggen, 2006), and sexual victimization experiences (e.g., Anderson, 1996; Krahé et al., 2003; Russell & Oswald, 2001). Further studies have documented the influence of a hostile personality with a dominant interpersonal style (Ménard et al., 2003) a manipulative, game-playing approach to forming intimate relations (Russell & Oswald, 2001, 2002), and pornography use (e.g., Kernsmith & Kernsmith, 2009a) thereby providing the rationale for this study.

Women’s Use of Pornography

Pornography refers to sexually explicit material developed and consumed to stimulate sexual arousal, available in versatile forms (e.g., photographs and videos) and often accessed online (Campbell & Kohut, 2017). Research has historically focused on the manner in which exposure to pornographic material influences men’s sexual attitudes and conduct. For example, it is argued that men’s use of pornography is related to sexual objectification of partners (Tylka, & Kroon Van Diest, 2015) and sexually coercive behavior (Stanley et al., 2018). Compulsive consumption of pornographic material, in particular, may be closely related to men’s sexually aggressive behavior (Gonsalves, Hodges, & Scalora, 2015). Research indicates that women also engage with pornography, although to a lesser extent than men (Ashton, McDonald, & Kirkman, 2018; Rissel, Richters, de Visser, McKee, Yeung, & Caruana, 2017). Due to disparities in methodology, estimates of women’s pornography use vary significantly across studies, ranging from 1 to 88% depending on the sample and operational definition of pornography (Campbell & Kohut, 2017). In a review of their annual statistics, Pornhub, a large Internet pornography website, reported that just over a quarter of their visitors were women and that their top trending1 search throughout 2017 was “porn for women,” representing a 1400% increase (Pornhub Insights, 2018). While some studies report that females were more likely to use pornography with a partner (e.g., Ševčíková & Daneback, 2014), other studies have found that their pornography use was more likely and more frequent when alone than with a partner (Fisher, Kohut, & Campbell, 2017).

Consistent with studies of men’s pornography consumption, research has found women’s use of pornography to be associated with attitudes toward sex, sexual conduct, and sexual activities (e.g., number of sexual partners) (Wright, Bae, & Funk, 2013). This is supported further by a recent meta-analysis that found, similar to men, women’s pornography use was associated with sexual aggression, both verbally (i.e., “verbally coercive but not physically threatening communication to obtain sex, and sexual harassment”) and physically (i.e., “use or threat of physical force to obtain sex”) (Wright, Tokunaga, & Kraus, 2016, p.191). The small number of studies in this area has meant the extent to which women’s use of pornography influences their sexually aggressive behavior remains unclear. In one such study, it was found that pornography use predicted all forms of sexual aggression in women (i.e., extortion, deceit, obligation, and emotional manipulation) except for physical violence and intimidation (Kernsmith & Kernsmith, 2009a). The dearth of literature available indicates there is scope to investigate this further, thus we consider three elements of women’s pornography use, that is (1) interest in pornography, (2) efforts to engage with pornography, in additional to (3) pornography compulsivity, which is largely overlooked despite its association with men’s sexual aggression (e.g., Gonsalves et al., 2015).

Narcissistic and Histrionic Personality Disorder Traits

Personality traits may also influence the likelihood of sexually aggressive behavior in women (Krahé et al., 2003; Russell, Doan, & King, 2017). Characteristics of the dramatic, emotional, and erratic Cluster B personality disorders (associated with poor impulse control, emotional regulation, and anger) may be particularly influential on sexual aggression (Mouilso & Calhoun, 2016). For example, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), found in both men (7.7%) and women (4.8%) and overall in 6.2% of the general population (Stinson et al., 2008), is characterized by a grandiose sense of the self, entitlement, and low empathy for others (Emmons, 1984). In men, narcissistic personality traits are positively associated with rape supportive beliefs and negatively associated with empathy for rape victims (Bushman, Bonacci, van Dijk, & Baumeister, 2003), while NPD is related to perpetration of sexual aggression (Mouilso & Calhoun, 2016). Women with higher levels of narcissism display more negative relationship communication (Lamkin, Lavner, & Shaffer, 2017) and are more likely to engage in sexual harassment (Zeigler-Hill, Besser, Morag, & Campbell, 2016). Pertinently, narcissism is associated with women’s perpetration of sexual coercion (Kjellgren, Priebe, Svedin, Mossige, & Långström, 2011; Logan, 2008), with the entitlement/exploitativeness dimension found to be most influential (Blinkhorn, Lyons, & Almond, 2015; Ryan, Weikel, & Sprechini, 2008). Additionally, females high in narcissism were found to be just as likely as their male counterparts to react with persistence and sexually coercive tactics after being denied during a sexual advance (Blinkhorn et al., 2015). In part, this behavior may reflect the tendency for narcissistic individuals to engage in sex in order to fulfill their need for self-affirmation (Gewirtz-Meydan, 2017).

Found in 1–3% of general population (Torgersen et al., 2000) and reported twice more in women than in men (Torgersen, Kringlen, & Cramer, 2001), traits associated with histrionic personality disorder (HPD) are far less explored than NPD in relation to sexual coercion. This is somewhat surprising as defining characteristics of HPD include excessively emotional, impulsive, attention seeking behavior, and inappropriate or competitive sexual conduct (APA, 2013; Dorfman, 2010; Stone, 2005). Emotionally manipulative and intolerant of delayed gratification (Bornstein & Malka, 2009; Stone, 2005), women with HPD demand confirmation and attention from intimate partners (AlaviHejazi, Fatehizade, Bahrami, & Etemadi, 2016). A study that compared women with HPD to a matched control group without personality disorders found they were more likely to have been sexually unfaithful and report greater sexual preoccupation and sexual boredom with lower levels of sexual assertiveness and relationship satisfaction (Apt & Hurlbert, 1994). Furthermore, Apt and Hurlbert considered that HPD behavioral traits were indicative of sexual narcissism, while Widiger and Trull (2007) noted that HPD and NPD traits were likely to co-occur. The dominant, manipulative, and sexually compulsive behavioral traits found in these studies of women with NPD and HPD are pertinent as they align with extant studies reporting factors underpinning women’s perpetration of sexual coercion (e.g., Russell & Oswald, 2001, 2002; Schatzel-Murphy et al., 2009) and pornography use (e.g., Wright et al., 2013, 2016). Hence, additional research is necessary to examine the influence of both HPD and NPD traits and pornography use on women’s use of sexual aggression.

Check also Tactics of sexual coercion: when men and women won't take no for an answer. Struckman-Johnson C1, Struckman-Johnson D, Anderson PB. J Sex Res. 2003 Feb;40(1):76-86.

Abstract: We investigated women's and men's reports of experiencing and using tactics of postrefusal sexual persistence, defined as persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused. Participants were 275 men and 381 women at Midwestern and Southern universities. More women (78%) than men (58%) reported having been subjected to such tactics since age 16; this difference was significant for the categories of sexual arousal, emotional manipulation and lies, and intoxication, and for two tactics within the physical force category (physical restraint and threats of harm). More men (40%) than women (26%) reported having used such tactics; this difference was significant for the sexual arousal, emotional manipulation and lies, and intoxication categories. We present participants' written descriptions of their experiences.

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