CONSENT FOR SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN A COLLEGE STUDENT
David S. Hall, Ph.D.
My thanks go first to all the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality for their efforts in providing me an opportunity to learn. Dr. Ted McIlvenna and Dr. Janice Epp supported me as committee members and I wish to especially thank them. Dr. Laird Sutton has been a model and mentor, as well as friend, and I give him my love and wishes for a long and healthy life.
This study could not have been accomplished without the help of two students in the Psychology Department of the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California. Both Todd Kuntz and Jennifer (Zoe) Williams assisted in the design of the questionaire and in collecting the data. They are both now finishing Ph.D. programs and I trust they will get similar help from their friends when they need it.
I was also immeasurably assisted by Roseann Hannon, Ph.D., Chair of the Psychology Department at UOP, who guided the data collection and analysis, and critiqued the writing at every stage, as well as providing motivational assistance at critical times. I owe her more than words can tell.
There is a lack of data on the specifics of consent for sexual behaviors during dating of heterosexual college students. Is consent given for individual acts or steps in the interaction? How is it given? In what order do these events take place? Do people sometimes say no when they mean yes?
This is an important subject, in part, because of the issues of date rape where the definition of the act itself often hinges on disagreement about whether or not consent occurred. Consent is also important in more typical sexual behavior which is wanted by both participants. There is a need to understand permission giving and its relationship to positive sexuality.
The purpose of this study was to examine the form that consent takes in the sexual interactions of college students in encounters when they said "yes" and meant "yes" to sexual behavior with a partner of the other sex. An additional purpose was to obtain data on the subject of token resistance. This is a situation that occurs when a person says "no" to a sexual situation when that person really means "yes". This form of non-consent appears in movies and novels, such as "Gone With the Wind" and has been studied for several years to determine if the stereotype actually occurs in real life. The data reveal that the common stereotype of this behavior is not accurate.
In addition to the data on consent, this study obtained descriptive data for college students in 1994 on the order in which specific sexual behaviors occurred during a specific encounter. Prior studies have asked what behaviors the subject had experienced up to the time of the study, and tabulated the frequency of occurrence of reported behaviors, and usually assumed a hierarchy of behaviors. This study is the first that I am aware of that investigated the specific order of behaviors in a single encounter. While not directly comparable with earlier studies, this gives a glimpse of what today's college students are doing sexually.
This study is limited to only those subjects who described encounters
when they said "yes" and meant "yes". Participants who indicated they had
not had a consensual sexual encounter were not included in the analysis.
The questionnaire asked the subjects to indicate for a list of sexual behaviors
typical of heterosexual interactions (based on the prior studies) if consent
to continue was given for each act, and how it was given. Within this group
of participants, it also asked if they ever were in a situation where they
said "no" to a partner when they meant "yes" (called token resistance),
and obtained identical data elements for this encounter. (Definitions)
1. The specific pattern of individual behaviors will be highly
2. There will be a similar general pattern for men and women.
3. The participant's feelings after the encounter will become more positive with increasing experience with the partner.
4. Subjects will not give specific permission for all individual
sexual behaviors in a sequence of behaviors.
5. Subjects will give permission for some behaviors on some occasions. These behaviors most often will be the initial activity, and sexual intercourse.
6. More permission giving will occur on dates early in a relationship, compared to dates later in the relationship.
7. Most permission giving will be non-verbal.
8. Females will report more permission giving than males.
9. Token resistance will occur in established relationships more
often than in newer relationships.
10. There will be less sexual behavior in token resistance situations, where no is said even if it is not meant as no.
11. There will be sex differences in the reasons for token resistance.
12. There will be sex differences in how no is said in token resistance.
13. Women will report using token resistance more than men.
This study was limited by the available participants. They all were students in a junior college or university in Northern California. Since participation was optional, they do not represent a random sample of this population, but were self-selected on the basis of willingness to participate in a sexual interaction study. Religious and ethnic minorities sometimes selected out (based on investigator observations).
In addition, the initial description of the situation called for
one in which the subject "wanted to engage in sexual intercourse or another
very intimate sexual activity". Those subjects who considered that their
behavior with a partner did not fall within these parameters were omitted
from the analysis, and therefore these data cannot be directly compared
with prior studies of sexual behavior which asked all subjects to report
on all behaviors.
In order to study consent for sexual behavior, it is necessary to study the behavior itself before asking if or how permission was granted for that behavior. In the review of the literature, I searched for data on specifics of college student sexual behavior. What, when and how do they do it. I searched for studies of consent and found very little except in the area of rape. I then searched for that area where consent is confused by what has been called token resistance, or saying no when you really mean yes. I will address each area separately.
Specific studies of sexual behavior go back beyond Kinsey, but he is credited with opening the door to meaningful sex research. In an attempt to measure the extent of an individual's sexual behavior, Bentler (1968a, 1968b) developed a sexual behavior scale for males and females which consisted of an ordinal scale (of the Guttman form) of specific behaviors. In a Guttman scale, the behaviors make up a hierarchy based on the assumption that someone who has performed an item higher on the scale is presumed to have also performed all items lower on the scale. Bentler began with 56 items and, after evaluation, the list was reduced to 21 key items of behavior for males:
21 Mutual oral manipulation of genitals to mutual orgasm
20 Oral manipulation of male genitals to ejaculation, by female
19 Sexual intercourse, ventral-dorsal
18 Mutual oral-genital manipulation
17 Oral manipulation of female genitals
16 Oral manipulation of male genitals, by female
15 Mutual manipulation of genitals to mutual orgasm
14 Oral contact with male genitals, by female
13 Oral contact with female genitals
12 Manual manipulation of male genitals to ejaculation, by female
11 Sexual intercourse, ventral-ventral
10 Mutual manipulation of female genitals to massive secretions
9 Manual manipulation of male genitals, under clothes, by female
8 Mutual manipulation of genitals
7 Manual manipulation of male genitals, over clothes, by female
6 Manual manipulation of female genitals, under clothes
5 Kissing nipples of female breast
4 Manual manipulation of female genitals, over clothes
3 Manual manipulation of female breasts, under clothes
2 Manual manipulation of female breasts, over clothes
1 one minute continuous lip kissing
The list for females was similar, but in a slightly different order:
21 Mutual oral manipulation of genitals to mutual orgasm
20 Oral manipulation of male genitals to ejaculation
19 Sexual intercourse, ventral-dorsal
18 Mutual manual manipulation of genitals to mutual orgasm
17 Mutual oral-genital manipulation
16 Oral manipulation of male genitals
15 Oral manipulation of female genitals, by male
14 Sexual intercourse, ventral-ventral
13 Oral contact with male genitals
12 Oral contact with female genitals, by male
11 Manual manipulation of male genitals to ejaculation
10 Manual manipulation of female genitals to massive secretions, by male
9 Manual manipulation of male genitals, under clothes
8 Mutual manipulation of genitals
7 Manual manipulation of male genitals, over clothes
6 Manual manipulation of female genitals, under clothes, by male
5 Kissing nipples of female breast, by male
4 Manual manipulation of female genitals, over clothes, by male
3 Manual manipulation of female breasts, under clothes, by male
2 Manual manipulation of female breasts, over clothes, by male
1 one minute continuous lip kissing
No data were provided on the percentage of subjects reporting each activity, only on the statistical reliability of the scales. The scales are based on lifetime experience (of 175 male and 175 female college students), and not on a specific dating experience.
Zuckerman (1973) produced a similar
but shorter list from a college population (single, sophomore and junior)
of 83 males and 101 females, as part of a larger study. He reported the
percentage of subjects having experience with 12 behaviors for males as:
|12 Coitus, enter vagina from rear||29|
|11 Coitus, face to face, side||36|
|10 Coitus, female superior position||42|
|9 Mouth contact with vagina||43|
|8 Female mouth contact with penis||52|
|7 Coitus, male superior position;||53|
|6 Manual manipulation of vagina||71|
|5 Manual manipulation of penis||72|
|4 Mouth contact with breast||73|
|3 Lying prone on female without penetration||77|
|2 Feeling nude breast||80|
|1 Feeling covered breast||92|
For females the list is similar:
|12 Coitus, face to face, side||19|
|11 Coitus, enter vagina from rear||22|
|10 Coitus, female superior position||30|
|9 Coitus, male superior position||40|
|8 Mouth contact with penis||40|
|7 Male mouth contact with vagina||48|
|6 Manipulation of penis||60|
|5 Male manipulation of vagina||71|
|4 Mouth contact with breast||74|
|3 Nude breast felt||75|
|2 Male prone on female no penetration||77|
|1 Covered breast felt||85|
This work was updated by Cowart and
Pollack in 1979 and Cowart-Steckler
in 1983, using a more specific list of 31 items. Subjects in each year
were approximately 200 male and 200 female undergraduate psychology
students, ages ranging from 18-21. Significant increases occurred in the
number of males and females having engaged in most of the types of sexual
activities on the list between 1979 and 1983 (Cowart-Steckler, 1983). There
was also a slight change in the ordering of the lists. Consent was not
studied, but the percentage of subjects reporting experiencing a particular
behavior was indicated. This list with percent reporting for each year,
in 1983 order for males is:
|30 Use of mild pain||8||16|
|29 Finger penetration of partner's anus||22||39|
|28 Sexual intercourse, sitting||42||48|
|27 Sexual intercourse, standing||37||48|
|26 Hand contact with partner's anal area||54||61|
|25 Sexual intercourse, from rear||44||63|
|24 Male tongue manip. of F. genital to orgasm||49||66|
|23 Shower/bathing with partner||47||68|
|22 Sexual intercourse, female superior||53||71|
|21 Exposure to hard-core erotic materials||58||72|
|20 Sexual intercourse, face-face, side||65||73|
|19 Mutual oral stim. of genitals to orgasm||51||74|
|18 Male tongue manipulation of clitoris||62||75|
|17 Male tongue penetration of vagina||58||76|
|16 Sexual intercourse, partly clothed||65||77|
|15 Male mouth contact with vulva||64||77|
|14 Clitoral manipulation to orgasm by male||60||78|
|12 Sexual intercourse, male superior||71||83|
|11 Male manipulation of vulva||74||84|
|10 Female mouth contact with penis||73||86|
|9 Male lying prone on female, no penetration||79||87|
|8 Manipulation of penis by female||85||90|
|7 Clitoral manipulation by male||77||90|
|6 Partner's observation of your nude body||81||92|
|5 Your observation of nude partner||85||91|
|4 Male finger penetration of vagina||84||92|
|3 Esp. to erotic materials sold openly||88||93|
|2 Male mouth contact with female breast||89||94|
|1 Feeling female's nude breast||94||98|
The table for females is similar but in slightly different order:
|30 Anal intercourse||16||13|
|29 Finger penetration of partner's anus||21||19|
|28 Exposure to hard-core erotic materials||12||24|
|27 Sexual intercourse, standing||24||28|
|26 Sexual intercourse, sitting||39||37|
|25 Hand contact with partner's anal area||45||40|
|24 Male tongue manip. of F. genital to orgasm||34||45|
|23 Mutual oral stim. of genitals to orgasm||38||45|
|22 Sexual intercourse, from rear||38||46|
|20 Sexual intercourse, female superior||41||55|
|19 Clitoral manipulation to orgasm by male||44||55|
|18 Sexual intercourse, partly clothed||46||56|
|17 Esp. to erotic materials sold openly||46||58|
|16 Shower/bathing with partner||49||58|
|15 Sexual intercourse, face-face, side||50||60|
|14 Male tongue penetration of vagina||67||66|
|13 Male tongue manipulation of clitoris||54||66|
|12 Male mouth contact with vulva||56||66|
|11 Female mouth contact with penis||58||67|
|10 Sexual intercourse, male superior||53||67|
|9 Manipulation of penis by female||70||76|
|8 Male manipulation of vulva||71||77|
|7 Your observation of nude partner||70||78|
|6 Clitoral manipulation by male||69||79|
|5 Partner's observation of your nude body||72||80|
|4 Male lying prone on female, no penetration||77||83|
|3 Male finger penetration of vagina||78||83|
|2 Male mouth contact with female breast||85||91|
|1 Feeling female's nude breast||86||91|
These data show an increase over the 1973 data, as well as a reordering of some activities.
The latest in depth study on what people actually do sexually is the National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS), conducted during 1992, and reported in The Social Organization of Sexuality by Laumann, Gagnon, Michael and Michaels (1994). This was a survey, using both face to face interviews and questionnaires, of 3,432 respondents from a probability sample of the US population between the ages of 18 and 59. While NHSLS examined many items of behavior, it asked questions in a very different format from the present study, and few direct comparisons can be made. Comparative results will be referred to in the discussion where appropriate. A major conclusion of the study, however, that is applicable here is that the authors believe it was possible to get truthful data about sexual behavior from their subjects (p. 70). While the present study could not replicate NHSLS methodology, it did provide the level of privacy and confidentiality necessary to reassure the subjects and permit honest responses.
Laumann et al also noted (p. 79) that they were unable to obtain data (due to study constraints) on significant non-genital practices that are often sources of human physical and emotional pleasure, and subjective responses to these activities. The present study provides a brief glimpse at a part of these missing data.
The primary subject of this study, giving consent for sexual behavior, has been discussed and studied for many years. Muehlenhard (1988a) discussed the communication problems faced in our society, where we communicate indirectly about sex instead of openly discussing our sexual desires. Men and women interpret behavior differently, and come to differing conclusions about the same behaviors. She summarizes studies that show men are more likely than women to interpret specific behaviors as indicators of interest in sex.
Much of the consent discussion has centered around the issue of
rape, in particular date/acquaintance rape, and how consent is defined.
Powch, Phelps and Giusti (1992) discussed the various definitions of
lack of consent in rape, such as those using the victim's state of mind,
the victim's behavior, or in other more general, but non-operationalized,
terms. They point out the two polar opposites to this discussion. One position
is that the victim, most often the female, must say no or consent is assumed.
This shows up in studies (Shotland and Goodstein,
1983; Hannon, Kuntz, Van Laar, Williams
& Hall, 1996) wherein the decision on whether a woman has been
raped considers how emphatically she has said no. This position is usually
attributed to a patriarchal mind set or belief system. The other pole,
held by many feminist writers (of both sexes), is that consent is always
assumed not to be given unless a specific yes is stated. In most of these
discussions, the major activity that is given attention is sexual intercourse
(Byers, 1980). Other forms of sexual behavior
are not considered rape and not studied for consent. I have found no studies
in the research literature that address the issue of consent for activities
such as kissing, hugging, etc.
The second position, requiring a specific consent, is operationalized in the highly publicized Antioch University policy on sexual behavior (Appendix A) which states that "'consent' shall be defined as follows: the act of willingly and verbally agreeing to engage in specific sexual contact or conduct." This policy was issued in 1990, written by the student government, and received national attention. Alan Guskin (1994), the President of Antioch College, wrote a response to the public in which he pointed out that the students are telling us that sexual freedom and sexual consent are directly related to each other. The policy is designed to get partners talking to each other about sex, and sexual safety, instead of assuming feelings or intent that may not be true. My contact with Antioch University Psychology Department revealed no studies on which the policy was based, and no studies of its effectiveness.
In her Presidential address to the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex in 1993, Pepper Schwartz discussed "The Politics of Desire". She pointed out that the Antioch policy does not seem to fit the data (but she did not specify what data she referred to) and that it represents a social construction. Schwartz reminded us that our role as scientists is to study what people really do.
Muehlenhard and Linton (1987)
studied dating activity on recent dates and dates where unwanted sexual
activity occurred. Subjects were 342 women and 294 men in a large public
university. They provided a list of 17 specific sexual behaviors, ranging
from kissing without tongue contact to sexual intercourse. Every item on
their list was reported as unwanted by the woman by some percentage of
both men and women during their "worst experience" with sexual aggression.
They did not provide data from recent dates on the frequency of these behaviors.
Hannon, Hall, Kuntz, Van Laar and Williams (1995) replicated this study, adding questions about a date where wanted sex occurred. The same list of specific behaviors (from Muehlenhard and Linton) was offered and the subjects indicated which behaviors were willingly and unwillingly engaged in. The result was a table of the percent of subjects participating in a specific act on a specific date. Table 1 is from that study, and is based on reports from 267 female and 148 male community college students. Although the method of consent was not studied, the data indicated that consensual sexual behavior occurred on dates where unwanted behavior also occurred, that is, that consent was given for some acts and denied for others on a given date. Of interest is the fact that every specific behavior listed was checked, in either the willingly or unwillingly engaged in column, by some of the subjects.
In no study found was there any attempt to assess the specific form of consent for any given sexual behavior except rape. While consent or non-consent is an issue in the case of rape, it seems that no one has studied routine consent in day to day sexual interactions, or in activities other than intercourse.
There is a stereotype that exists that indicates that women say "no" to sex when they really mean "yes", i.e., women engage in token resistance. It appears in movies (Gone With the Wind), soap operas, and romance novels. Muehlenhard (1988b) discussed the double standard of sexual behavior that says that, "Nice women don't say yes", and pointed out several disadvantages of this belief. However, she was clear that if a woman says no, the man should stop, even if he thinks she is not serious. If he does not, the result is rape.
In an attempt to investigate whether token resistance behavior actually happens, Muehlenhard and Hollabaugh (1988) studied college women. Of 610 participants, 39.3% reported they had said no to sexual intercourse when they meant yes, at least once. Most of these women had done this five times or less. In a follow up study, Muehlenhard and Rodgers (1992) asked 64 male and 65 female college students to respond to three different situations describing token resistance, and answer how often, if ever, they had been involved in each situation. They were then asked to write a narrative about a token resistance situation. More men than women reported being in such a situation, but only a small percentage of the narratives actually described situations where the respondent really meant yes when they said no. In most cases, respondents indicated that they meant no when they said it, even though in some ways they wanted to have sex. This study cast doubt on the prior work in this area, and pointed out how difficult it was to get this concept clear in a study. It also showed that the stereotypes, (1) that only women use token resistance, (2) that it is used only in situations involving new partners, or (3) that it is done for manipulative reasons, are false.
In a later study, Muehlenhard, Giusti and Rodgers (1993) again studied the problem of definition of token resistance. They assessed both experience with, and stereotypes about, token resistance and asked why it was done. The stereotypes again included (1) that it occurs at the beginning of a relationship, before intercourse has occurred, (2) is done because it was too early to have intercourse, (3) they did not want to appear eager, or (4) they had inhibitions about intercourse. Those respondents who had experienced token resistance reported that it most often occurred later in a relationship, and the reasons both men and women gave were to increase sexual arousal, and in addition, women did not want to be taken for granted.
The present study is an attempt to increase our knowledge of token
resistance behavior, as it is an integral part of the process of coming
to agreement about sexual behavior for some individuals.
Participants were 264 women and 158 men (M age 20.9) enrolled in undergraduate social/behavioral science and humanities courses at a 4-year private university and a 2-year public college in Northern California during the Spring term of 1994. Most of these students were single and had never been married (89.3%). The majority of the ethnic backgrounds were European American (63%), Latin American (10.9%) and Asian American (7.3%), with no other group over 5%. Sexual attraction was reported as opposite sex by 96.4%, same sex by 1.9%, and both sexes by 1.4% of this group.
Dating behaviors and permission giving were measured using a questionnaire developed from the study by Hannon et al (1995) on risk factors for sexual behavior, and the studies on token resistance. (For a copy of the questionnaire, please contact the author.) After completing the first part of the questionnaire on demographic characteristics, participants were asked if they had ever been in a situation where their partner wanted to engage in sexual intercourse (or another very intimate sexual activity), and they fully intended to engage in this activity as soon as they realized what their partner wanted, and they indicated "yes", either verbally or non-verbally.
Participants who answered "yes" to this question were included in the study. (Those who answered "no" were asked to answer the questions which followed based on what they imagined would happen, and these responses were dropped from the analysis).
Participants were then asked to describe their most recent sexual experience wherein they indicated "yes", how they indicated this (verbally or nonverbally), and, if non-verbally, how the non-verbal response was given. This question was followed by a table of sexual activities that commonly occur in sexual interactions. Participants were instructed to indicate numerically, in the first column, in what order the activities occurred. If they did not engage in an activity, they were to leave the space blank. They were then asked, for each numbered item in column one, to write "yes" in column two if they "specifically indicated" it was okay to continue. In column three, they were asked to follow each "yes" answer in column two with "verbal" or "non-verbal" to show how they indicated their "yes".
Additional demographic questions were then asked about the partner's age and gender, and about prior sexual intercourse (or intimate activity) experience with this partner. Participants were then asked to indicate, on a 7-point Likert scale, how they felt about this experience, from "Terrible" to "OK" to "Wonderful", and to write a verbal description of how they felt.
Participants were next asked if they had ever been in a situation where their partner wanted to engage in sexual intercourse or another very intimate sexual activity, and they fully intended to do so, but indicated "no", either verbally or non-verbally, while meaning "yes". Additional questions were asked on how this "no" was indicated. Prior research on token resistance indicates that this concept is a difficult one to communicate, so a confirming question was then asked, "What did you actually mean at the time you said 'no' to your partner?" The two possible answers were, "I really meant 'no' at the time, but later changed my mind", and, "I really meant 'yes', but said 'no' even though I knew I wanted to engage in sexual activity". Only those who chose the latter response met the definition of token resistance and were included in the analysis of this part of the study.
This was followed by a repeat of the previous table on activities, order and permission giving, and partner demographics and experience. Identical questions on how participants felt were provided, and then they were asked to think back to the beginning of this situation where they indicated "no" but meant "yes". A list of reasons for this action was provided, and they were asked to indicate, using a 3-point scale, how important each reason was in their decision to do this.
Questionnaires were administered in classroom settings during regular class meetings. Participants were treated in accordance with American Psychological Association guidelines for research with human participants, and were given no special inducement to participate in the study (except for 10 points extra credit in one class) and no penalty for refusing to participate. They were told that the purpose of the survey was to obtain information about sexual interactions and told not to put their name on the questionnaire. They were assured anonymity and asked to answer the questionnaire honestly and seriously, and asked not to discuss it with fellow students for the next week. An informed consent form and a sample of the table in the questionnaire was passed out, and the instructions for the table were explained. Those participants who then signed the consent form (about 98% of those solicited) were given a questionnaire.
After participants had completed the questionnaires, they were asked to fold them and place them in a box on the instructor's desk. They were handed a debriefing form on the purpose of the study.
Completed forms were assigned a subject number and source code, and the consent forms were destroyed to maintain confidentiality of participants.
Access to the completed handwritten questionnaires is restricted
to the investigators only. The data were converted to a computer file and
analyzed using SPSS. This data file is available for further analysis if
additional questions arise.
The data reported herein are based on 73.5% of the original subjects.
These were the 118 males (74.7% of the original subjects) and 192 females
(72.7% of the original subjects) who answered "yes" to the questions that
indicated they and their partner had wanted to engage in intimate sexual
activity, and they had indicated this either verbally or non-verbally to
their partner. (Subjects who reported that their partner's gender was the
same as their own were removed from the data set). The mean age for females
was 21.5 and for males was 20.8, and only 10% of the male subjects and
16% of the female subjects were 25 or older. Marital status was "single,
never married" for 82.8% of the females and 92.4% of the males. Females
were 72.9% European American, 6.8% Latin American, and 5.7% African American.
Males were 60.2% European American, 15.3% Latin American, and 5.1% Asian
American. All other ethnic groups were less than 5% of each gender. The
sexual orientation was reported as heterosexual for 97.5% of the males
and 97.9% of the females. See Table 2 for the
There were 12 items of sexual behavior (plus an "other" category) listed in the survey questionnaire, and the subjects were asked if they performed each action in a recent sexual situation, and in what order. Table 3 presents the data on the percentage of subjects reporting each activity, and Table 4 and Table 5 (for female and male) show the percentage of subjects reporting the activity in each ordinal position, and the mean of these ordinal values. The final column in Tables 4 and 5 is the percent of subjects not reporting doing each activity.
Men reported the following activities significantly more often than women: She touched his chest, 2 (1, N = 310) = 3.92, p < .05; He did oral sex on her, 2 (1, N = 310) = 8.02, p < .01; and She did oral sex on him, 2 (1, N = 310) = 7.42, p < .01.
Using Tables 4 and 5 it is possible to visualize the general flow of behaviors and see a nominal pattern, but the actual reported sequences are highly variable. The data were separately coded using the alphabet to indicate the order of activities. This gave a group of letters that indicated each behavioral sequence. The items were coded so that male and female responses indicated the same kind of behavior. These scripts were then sorted alphabetically. In over 300 sets of data there is only one subset of 4 women who report an identical activity sequence: kissing, hugging, her breasts and genitals touched, his genitals touched, intercourse, her orgasm and his orgasm. There are 5 cases of three identical sequences, and 18 cases of two identical sequences. All the rest are unique sequences of events. Three subjects report only kissing and hugging, and only 6 report going directly to intercourse from kissing and hugging.
More than 90% of the subjects reported kissing as the first or second activity. Those that did not begin with a kiss mostly began with hugging. A few began with other bodily contact. Only six subject began at the genitals, and one female reported only fellatio and his orgasm. After kissing and hugging, the order varies. Females more often reported he touched her breasts and genitals before she touched his, while males often report she touched his chest and genitals before he touched hers. Females were more likely to report he did oral sex first, males more often said she did it first. The mean order of the final three items are in the same sequence for men and women (if "other" is disregarded), "she had orgasm", "he had orgasm" and "anal intercourse".
Over 80% of the male and female subjects reported that penile-vaginal intercourse occurred, and about three-quarters reported the male as having orgasm. Female orgasm was reported less often (59.4% by males and 66.1% by females). Males reported fellatio and cunnilingus about 50% of the time. Anal intercourse occurred in less than 10% of the cases.
Females reported both giving and receiving less oral sex than
males, and that female orgasm occurred less often, while male orgasm occurred
slightly more often.
Items reported under "other" include repeating, disrobing, talking sexy, more touching, massage, three-way, pushing away, and getting sick. Table 6 presents the experience level reported by the subjects for sexual intercourse with this partner. The women were significantly more experienced with their partner than the men 2 (2, N = 307) = 7.83, p < .02. Table 6 also indicates the median number of prior experiences with this partner (7.5 experiences for males and 10 for females), and the mean of the reported feeling about this experience on a Likert scale where 1 = Terrible, 4 = OK and 7 = Wonderful. Males averaged 5.66, females averaged 5.80, and this difference was not significant. When sorted by the level of prior sexual experience with this partner [intercourse (or very intimate sexual activity) had not yet occurred, intercourse (etc.) had occurred but was still new, and having intercourse (etc.) with this partner for a long time] (Table 7), those with no prior experience report feeling means of 5.12 for males and 5.23 for females. When the relationship had involved intercourse but was still new (median number of prior experiences was 5 for both genders), the values were 5.71 for males and 5.42 for females, and those with a high level of prior experience with this partner (median number of prior experiences was 60 for females and 75 for males) reported feeling levels of 6.08 for males and 6.24 for females. A 2 x 3 ANOVA was run on feeling with levels of prior experience as one variable and gender as the other. There was a significant effect for prior experience level, F (2, N = 297) = 20.37, p < .001. There was no significant effect for gender and no significant interaction.
When the data were sorted by prior experience with this partner
most of the married subjects were in the high experience group, and the
mean age of this group was higher as well. The high experience group also
contained most of the African American subjects. The percentage reporting
the following behaviors during the sexual encounter increased with experience
level: he did oral sex, she did oral sex, he had an orgasm, she had an
orgasm, male reports of anal intercourse, and touching in general. The
order of specific behaviors was essentially unchanged across the groups.
The only noticeable change was that males with no prior experience placed
intercourse ahead of oral sex. See Tables C1 to C12
for the data sorted by level of prior experience.
Table 8 is the response to a question regarding how the subjects initially indicated to the partners that they really wanted to engage in a sexual experience. Of the females, 62.5% indicated that they did this both verbally and nonverbally, while 59.3% of the males did both. Only 29.7% of the males and 26.6% of the females used exclusively nonverbal permission. The methods of nonverbal permission are also listed, and the most commonly endorsed are those that are proactive, such as kissing and touching. There was a significant difference with females more likely than men to respond with "Did not move away", 2 (1, N = 276) = 5.12, p < .05, and "Hugged and caressed", 2 (1, N = 276) = 4.54, p < .05.
Table 9 indicates the frequency of reported
consent to continue (verbal and nonverbal) given during the sexual activity.
With the exception of "other", intercourse was most likely to be associated
with permission granted. Over 75% of the time, permission to continue was
granted for penile-vaginal or anal intercourse, and the rates are about
the same for men and women. Oral sex followed closely behind, in the 60-70%
range. Orgasms were associated with the lowest reported level of permission
granting, but were still in the range of one-third. Men reported giving
significantly more permission to continue for the following activities
than women: She touched his chest, 2 (1, N = 167) = 7.22, p < .01 and
She touched his genitals, 2 (1, N = 215) = 10.85, p < .001.
When given, most permission was granted non-verbally. Table 10 shows that for all activities except intercourse and oral sex (and "other" which was quite rare), the rates of giving verbal consent were less than 20 percent of all who performed that activity. Only in the case of females reporting intercourse did the giving of verbal permission exceed 40% of the events, and it was the only activity where the ratio of verbal to non-verbal exceeded one-half. In general, men reported giving permission verbally more often than women, but the difference was not significant.
When sorted by prior experience level, the proportion of each
group reporting saying yes only nonverbally did not change consistently
across groups. How initial permission was given nonverbally (Table
C2) showed the highest percentage of intimate behaviors, such as kissing
and touching, usually occurred in the middle (still new) group. The percentage
of female subjects giving permission for each activity (Table
C4), both verbally and nonverbally, generally dropped some with experience,
while the male values were slightly lower in the middle group. Permission
giving was usually highest for P/V intercourse and oral sex (Tables C4-C6).
The demographics of the subset of subjects who 1) answered yes to the question asking if they had ever said no when they meant yes, and 2) answered the later question that they really meant yes but said no even though they knew they wanted to engage in sexual activity, is shown in Table 11. This group, only 18.7% of the total subjects, was generally younger, contained no married subjects who are living together and only one married female living apart. There were no Asian Americans, and the group was all self reported as heterosexual. A larger percentage of men reported token resistance, but the difference was not significant.
Data are reported for this group for both the most recent encounter
they described (called the clear consent encounter), a subset of the data
previously discussed, and the encounter where they said no and meant yes
(called the token resistance encounter). Their experience level as reported
for the clear consent encounter was similar to the whole group (Table
12). When reporting the token resistance encounter, the overall experience
level with their partner dropped but the difference was not significant.
Their reported feelings after the token resistance encounter were also
lower. Paired t-tests were run to compare the mean feeling with this partner
reported by participants following clear consent encounters versus token
resistance encounters. There was a significant difference between the two
types of encounters for both women and men. Feelings were less positive
for the token resistance encounter for both men, t (21) = 2.81, p <.
05, and women t (31) = 6.00, p < .001.
The percent using verbal and nonverbal methods to say no and the method used to say no nonverbally is shown in Table 13. There was no significant difference between genders on these answers.
Comparison of behaviors reported in the clear consent encounter and the token resistance encounter are shown in Tables 14, 15, 16, 17, &18. It is apparent that all activities occur less often in the token resistance encounter, and in looking at the sequence charts, the scripts are shorter. There are 5 cases (8.6% of the total, 3 female and 2 male) where the only reported activity is kissing and hugging. It appears that saying no, even if you don't mean it, has the effect of lessening sexual activity. Permission giving for both encounters is shown in Tables 19-20. Since the N in many cells is quite small, no significance testing was done.
The subjects were asked to rate the reason for giving token resistance,
on a three point Likert scale where 0 = Not a Reason, 1 = A Moderately
Important Reason and 2 = A Very Important Reason. The highest rated answer
for females was "I didn't want my partner to take sex for granted" (mean
rating = 1.15). A one-way ANOVA was run to compare genders, and there was
a significant difference for this answer, F (1, N = 47) = 8.42, p <
.01. The highest rated answer for males was, "I wanted my partner to be
the initiator" (1.05). Other moderately important reasons for women were
"It was too early in the relationship" and "I was afraid of being emotionally
hurt or used", which was also significantly higher than the males F (1,
N = 37) = 6.64, p < .05. "I didn't want to appear too aggressive or
eager" was rated second by males and fourth by females. The mean values
for all the questions are listed in Table 21.
Accuracy of the data
There is always a question in sex research as to whether subjects honestly report on their own sexual behavior. It has often been said that "Everybody lies about sex". In assessing this question for this study, one of the most encouraging results is the almost total lack of reports of identical behavior sequences. This large variation in behavioral patterns indicates that there is no specific script that was followed, and that the probability is great that the individuals are reporting truthfully, rather than reporting some culturally expected pattern of activities. In addition, the many written comments on their feelings after the encounter (in a space provided on the questionnaire) were very personal and seemed heartfelt.
While not directly comparable to NHSLS, the figures in Table 3 for percent of subjects doing oral sex and anal sex are within the ranges reported for the national probability sample 18-24 age group (Table 3.6, Laumann, et al, 1994). The fact that females report both giving and receiving less oral sex than males is also consistent with NHSLS data, as is the lower incidence of anal intercourse. This is apparent, even though the females in this study population are more experienced (with the partner in their encounter) than the males.
1. The specific pattern of individual behaviors will be highly variable. This is apparent from the data in Tables 4 and 5, and a review of the individual sequences which showed almost no duplication of sequences.
2. There will be a similar general pattern for men and women. This is also supported, as is apparent from Tables 4, 5, and C7 through C12.
3. The participant's feelings after the encounter will become more positive with increasing experience with the partner. This was significant at the .001 level as shown in Table 7. The overall feeling reported after a sexual encounter became more positive with experience for both men and women. In contrast, after the token resistance encounter, the feelings were more negative than for the clear consent encounter with the same subjects, as well as more negative than the most inexperienced subjects overall.
4. Subjects will not give specific permission for all individual sexual behaviors in a sequence of behaviors. This is confirmed by examination of the data in Tables 9 and 19. Much of the behavior proceeds without specific permission to continue. This is not unusual, and is consistent with the assumption that a wanted sexual activity, once begun, is a consensual process unless a no is spoken or indicated.
5. Subjects will give permission for some behaviors on some occasions. These behaviors most often will be the initial activity, and sexual intercourse. The results indicate that intercourse is associated with the most permission giving, with oral sex second. Since the study only investigated a consensual encounter, it is not possible to clearly assess permission giving for the initial activity for the larger population. Reported permission giving for kissing, usually the first activity, was at 59%, but this may be an artifact of the questionnaire construction, since subjects had already answered a question on how they gave permission to begin the encounter.
6. More permission giving will occur on dates early in a relationship,
compared to dates later in the relationship. This hypothesis was not supported.
The data in Table C4 shows a decreasing trend
for females, and a mixed response for males.
Permission giving averages about 50% across most behaviors.
7. Most permission giving will be non-verbal. This is confirmed by inspection of Tables 10 and 20.
8. Females will report more permission giving than males. This hypotheses was not supported. In general, males reported more consent to continue than females, in some cases at high levels of significance.
9. Token resistance will occur in established relationships more often than in newer relationships. This hypothesis was not supported (see Table 12). When comparing the two encounters in the token resistance group, the majority of the token resistance encounters occurred in new relationships, but the differences were not significant. Token resistance appears to occur at various times in a relationship, and for many reasons.
10. There will be less sexual behavior in token resistance situations, where no is said even if it is not meant as no. This hypothesis is supported by the data shown in Table 14 where there is a drop in both male and female reported activities.
11. There will be sex differences in the reasons for token resistance. This is supported, as shown in Table 21. Men and women gave their highest support to different reasons, and the difference across gender for the same reasons was significant for two of the reasons. The importance of various reasons for using token resistance are similar for men in this study and Muehlenhard, Giusti and Rodgers (1993), with the rating levels of the top items almost the same (corrected for different scale factors). For women, the first item on this list (I didn't want my partner to take sex for granted) was second on Muehlenhard et al's (and rated at almost the same value), while Muehlenhard et al's first (Desire to heighten sexual arousal) was quite low in this study.
12. There will be sex differences in how no is said in token resistance. There are differences shown on Table 13, but they are not significant.
13. Women will report using token resistance more than men. This is not supported by the data. More men in this study report using token resistance, but the difference is not significant. The prevalence of token resistance is lower for women in this study than in Muehlenhard, Giusti and Rodgers (1993) where 39.6% of the women and 21.1% of the men reported in engaging in token resistance. Women in their study reported engaging in token resistance most frequently (47.6%) in relationships in which they had been having sexual intercourse a long time, compared with 29.4% in this study.
These results indicate that much of the sexual activity of college
students proceeds without much verbal permission granting, and there is
a higher reliance on nonverbal permission. For the more intimate activities,
such as oral sex and intercourse, both vaginal and anal, verbal permission
occurs more often than it does for other activities, but much of this activity
goes on with nonverbal or no specific permission. It would appear that
the Antioch policy has not been adopted by this sample of college students
in Northern California.
A comparison of the frequency of individual behaviors in my study with past studies is presented in Table 22 for the six behaviors that were measured in all the studies. The first three studies were based on questions regarding lifetime experience with the behaviors, while the last two were about activities on a particular date that the questionnaire was exploring. There is an increasing trend with time for both sets of studies for almost all behaviors.
Overall, this study presents a complex portrait of college student
sexual behavior and permission giving in a format not previously used.
It can be useful in designing future studies of sexual behavior, and looking
at permission for behavior.
SUMMARY AND FUTURE RESEARCH TOPICS
This study has collected and analyzed data on the consensual sexual behavior of college students. The results indicate that individual behavior patterns are diverse, but some general trends can be observed. There is a progression from light touching (kissing and hugging) to more complete body touching to genital contact and penetration, and ending in orgasm and, occasionally, anal activity.
The data on consent is new information on this subject. While verbal permission is sometimes given for each activity, intimate sexual activity most often proceeds on the basis of nonverbal or some form of understood permission. This unstated permission probably comes from the permission to begin the encounter in the first place, the social behavior that precedes the beginning of the encounter and a mind set that assumes yes unless a no is heard. This is the environment that sets the stage for date/acquaintance rape. In the study by Hannon et al. (1995) it was clear that consensual sex occurred on dates where unwanted sex also occurred. Clearly the subject of consent is worthy of further study. Studies which address the issue of how much permission is granted at the beginning of a sexual encounter, and for exactly which activities, would be interesting. Beliefs about what consent means should also be investigated. More clarity on how nonverbal consent is actually given, and possibly is misinterpreted, at various steps in the process would be valuable in the date rape prevention area.
The subject of "Token Resistance" is a difficult one to capture in a questionnaire. It may be necessary to explore this area using interview methods. It is clear from the data in this and prior studies that it occurs, and not only in the stereo-typical first encounter, but at any stage in a relationship. A major finding of this study is that it has the effect of reducing sexual behavior during that encounter. The females first reason was "I didn't want my partner to take sex for granted". Apparently he didn't. This information may help individuals learn that it is not useful to say no when they really do want to have a sexual encounter. Honesty seems to be the best policy.
Another interesting result is the data that indicated a significant increase in the levels of positive feeling as the relationship becomes well established.
Exploring the reasons for this increase would be worthwhile. In future studies of this type it would be useful to add some additional items of behavior, such as disrobing, observing each other naked, use of toys, other touching, and massaging. It would help to be more specific as to where in the behavioral sequence any token resistance occurs.
Appendix C (Charts)
Return to Front Page