Affirmative consent standards adopted by colleges and universities are meant to decrease miscommunication that may lead to sexual assault. However, they may not take into account sociocultural factors that influence consent. In particular, the role of gender norms needs to be better understood.
In-depth interviews about college students’ sexual activity, including sexual consent communication, were conducted with 17 female and 13 male students at a large southern university during the spring 2013 semester. The interview protocol and analyses were guided by Carspecken's critical qualitative methodology, which seeks to understand both participants’ explicit statements and implied underlying meanings and values. Themes and subthemes were identified through inductive analyses.
Two overarching themes emerged: Students perceived a sexual double standard, and males viewed obtaining sex as a conquest. Subthemes related to the first theme reflected endorsement of traditional views of women's sexuality (the notions that “good girls” do not have sex, that women should privilege men's sexual needs over their own and that women “owe” men sex once men have “worked” for it). Subthemes related to the second theme reflected males’ beliefs that sex is a commodity that pits women and men against one another, and that women can be “convinced” to have sex if they initially refuse.
College students’ consent communication may be influenced by gender norms that challenge assumptions of affirmative consent standards. Cultural shifts in students’ views of sexuality may be necessary for affirmative consent policies to be effective.
Kristen N. Jozkowski is associate professor of public health at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and research fellow at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, Bloomington. Tiffany L. Marcantonio is a graduate student and research coordinator, and Mary E. Hunt is a graduate student and project coordinator, both at the University of Arkansas.