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J Sex Res. 2014;51(7):765-76. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2013.792327. Epub 2013 Aug 7.

Navigating ambivalence: how heterosexual young adults make sense of desire differences.

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a Department of Sociology , Gender, and Social Work, University of Otago.


The miscommunication hypothesis is the assumption that many incidents of acquaintance rape and coercive sex follow from miscommunication between men and women. This hypothesis is entrenched in popular, academic, and judicial understandings of sexual relationships. Recently some evidence has suggested that there is little miscommunication between sexual partners and that the hypothesis does not explain acquaintance rape or other forms of sexual violence. The present study used qualitative methodology in which men and women were asked to imagine themselves in a particular heterosexual dating situation and write what they think happened between the beginning (when sex was refused by one partner) and the end (when sex happened). Thematic analysis of the data found no evidence for miscommunication between partners under conditions of differences in desire. Instead, ambivalence about sexual activity was commonly described by women and men and was most often resolved to both parties' satisfaction. Coercion by men was present in a minority of narratives under conditions of clear understanding of women's refusals. The study thus provides a rich, experience-based representation of heterosexual sexual activity, with considerable potential for the development of effective education campaigns.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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