Sticking to traditional gender roles could make you less comfortable and less safe in the bedroom. In a new study, young adults who assumed that men should take charge during sex were less likely to feel confident in sexual situations and less receptive to using female condoms.
The study, published online Sept. 25 in the journal Sex Roles, involved 357 women and 126 men (ages 18-29) from a public university in the Northeast, all heterosexual and sexually active. The researchers, led by Lisa Rosenthal from Yale University, gave the students a survey to measure their sexual confidence, asking them how assertive they were about getting sexual satisfaction from a partner, using a condom and taking precautions for safer sex.
They also examined the students’ support for social power inequalities and hierarchies based on their agreement with statements such as: “It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others;” and “The man should be the one who dictates what happens during sex.” (The endorsement of such power dynamics has been linked to sexism, negative attitudes toward women’s rights and a greater tolerance of sexual harassment.)
In the private cubicle where the students filled out their survey, there was a bowl of female condoms with a sign that read: “Protect yourself and your partner. Please take some! FREE FEMALE CONDOMS.” There were small pamphlets next to the bowl about how to use female condoms, which are inserted into the vagina before sex.
The more men and women endorsed hierarchical power dynamics, the more likely they were to believe men should dominate during sex and the less likely they were to take the free female condoms and report confidence in sexual situations, the researchers said.
“If men believe that men should dominate sexually, this may prevent them from feeling open or comfortable discussing sexual behavior and protection with their partners or asking questions about things they may not know,” which could lead to reduced sexual confidence, wrote the researchers.
“For both women and men, the belief that men should dominate sexually could reduce interest in female condoms, because female condoms are meant to be a woman-centered source of protection and may be seen as violating the norm or belief that men should be in control of sexual situations,” Rosenthal and her team explained.
Women in the study were generally less likely than men to believe that men should dominate in the bedroom, the study’s authors noted. The researchers controlled for variables such as age, family income, number of sexual partners in the past month and perceived HIV/AIDS risk.