The impact of ethnicity, and economic, social, and marital status on differences in the frequency of sexually aggressive behaviors among women living in Ufa, Russian Federation.

Author:Anderson, Peter B.


The vast majority of the recent research published on the phenomenon of women's sexual aggression has been conducted with populations of college students from the United States and Canada (Anderson & Struckman-Johnson, 1998; Spitzberg, 1999; Byers & O'Sullivan, 1996). One recent study from Germany, and another from India (Krahe, Scheinberger-Olwig, & Bieneck, 2003; Waldner, Vaden-Goad, & Sikka, 1999) provide accounts of women's sexual aggression outside the U.S.. The present study is the first report of women's sexual aggression gathered from a sample of women in the Russian Federation. Cultural norms and stereotypes have typically cast women as sexually passive (Campbell, 1999; Byers, 1996) and even resistant to sexual behavior and pleasure (Waldner, et al., 1999). The study of women's sexual aggression runs counterintuitive to these cultural norms and expectations and challenges some basic assumptions about the nature of women's sexuality (Denov, 2003; Green, 1999). Despite these cultural expectations, several authors have reported on women's sexually aggressive behaviors (Anderson & Melson, 2002; Spitzberg, 1999). It has been argued that the most commonly studied variables used to explain women's heterosexual aggression (e.g., past sexual abuse, stereotypical beliefs about sexuality) are not sufficient to explain the majority of the variance in this behavior and that other behavioral, cultural, and contextual variables need more scrutiny (Anderson, Kontos, Tanigoshi, & Struckman-Johnson, 2005; Anderson & Savage, 2005)

Women's Sexual Aggression

The very definition of sexual aggression is controversial, even when analyzing men's behavior. The most widely used or adapted survey to assess men's heterosexual aggression was first introduced by Koss and Oros in 1982. The sexual experiences survey (SES) was developed to reveal hidden cases of rape (Koss & Oros, 1982) and as they stated, "the continuum of sexual aggression would range from intercourse achieved through verbal coercion and threatened force to intercourse achieved against consent through use of physical force (rape)" (p. 455). Researchers who use the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES), (Koss & Oros, 1982; Koss & Gidycz, 1985; Koss, Gidycz, &Wisniewski, 1987) assume the intersubjectivity of terms such as sex, sexual behavior and verbal pressure. However, it has been found that the terms used in the SES are interpreted in many different ways by male subjects, which undermines the validity of results gleaned from this survey (O'Sullivan, 2005; Ross & Allgeier, 1996). According to Ross and Allgeier, "the SES may be plagued by inaccurate psychometric citations ... and potentially questionable face validity" (p. 1590). For example, as O'Sullivan explains, the SES item: "Have you ever had intercourse with a woman when she didn't really want to because she felt pressured by your continual arguments?" was interpreted by male respondents on a continuum from verbally persuading a woman, using threats to obtain sex to using physical force to obtain sex from a woman (p. 7).

As Larimer, Lydum, Anderson, and Turner (1999) explain, one of the limitations of her research is that the SES has been criticized for its lack of clarity. Further they state: "insufficient information exists regarding the extent to which men and women mean the same thing when they respond 'yes' or 'no' to these items" (p. 306). The "gender-neutral" version of the SES faces similar issues. One question reads, "In the past year, have you been in a situation where your partner became so sexually aroused that you felt it was useless to stop them even though you DID NOT want to have sexual intercourse?" (p. 304)

Although Larimer's, et al. (1999) questions are theoretically "gender-neutral," the only terms that had been altered are the respondent's or perpetrator's gender. For example, instead of using "he" or "she," Larimer, et al. (1999) uses "your partner" and "their." It presumes that terms such as "intercourse," "sex play" and "pressure" are defined similarly by women and men. However, men and women have been shown to define these terms in gender-specific ways. As Fenton, Johnson, and McManus (2001) stated, men are more likely than women to include "non-penetrative sex" in their definition of "sex." In addition, since sexual initiation, dominance, and even aggression are consistent with the masculine role within the traditional sexual script, a man may be physically aggressive in a sexual encounter without a woman perceiving this behavior as coercive. Further, men may over report their sexual aggression since they may "need to impress others or [have] an emotional investment in a culture's male script" (O'Sullivan. 2005, p. 7). This may also lead men to underreport their own sexual victimization. Conversely, women are acknowledged to underreport the number of partners with whom they had sexual contact and the amount of times they have participated in premarital sex (Fenton, et al., 2001, p. 86).

This issue is intensified by the fact that the SES defines physical force in vague terms, as is evident in the following question: In the past year, have you been in a situation where someone used some degree of PHYSICAL FORCE (twisting your arm, holding you down, etc.) to get you to have sexual intercourse with them when YOU DIDN'T WANT TO, WHETHER OR NOT INTERCOURSE ACTUALLY OCCURRED (Larimer, et al., 1999. p. 306).

The first published study to adapt the Koss and Oros questionnaire to examine women's heterosexual aggression was the Anderson and Aymami (1993) article on male and female differences in reports of women's initiation of sexual contact. Since that publication, Anderson and others have continued to use the continuum of sexual aggression first described by Koss and Oros to measure women's heterosexual aggression (Anderson, 1996; Russell & Oswald, 2002). Koss, et al. (2007) have published an updated version of the original scale to counter these criticisms and offer an improved version of the scale. Our study was conducted prior to the publication of the revised scale and we specify our list of the 15 tactics used to define sexually aggressive behavior in the methods section.

Spitzberg (1999) aggregated the results of 120 studies of sexual aggression conducted in the U.S. that involved a total of over 100,000 respondents. His analysis revealed that despite methodological differences, prevalence estimates for perpetration and victimization were generally consistent across time, population type, and gender regardless of whether the questions asked about specific behaviors (e.g., lying, using your position of power or authority, or threatening to use violence) or categories of behavior (e.g., used coercion or raped). Estimates were that approximately 13% of women and 3% of men had been raped and approximately 25% of both men and women had experienced and perpetrated sexual coercion. He also concluded that there are likely other variables that would better account for the variation among prevalence estimates, and that these prevalence estimates will remain consistent until new variables (e.g., region and culture) are used. The Spitzberg study was published concurrent with the Waldner, et al. (1999) study and before the Krahe, et al. (2003) study and was only focused on U.S. data.

Waldner, et al. (1999), gathered self-report data from 54 men and 83 women attending college in Western India. The authors expected women, married persons, and members of the "protected" or lower class to experience higher levels of sexual coercion. Results from a sexual coercion inventory indicated that overall rates of coercion in Western India were virtually identical to those reported by Spitzberg (26%), that there was no relationship between gender and victimization status, and that both married persons and members of the protected class reported higher levels of sexual coercion than singles and upper class members respectively. The authors concluded that the lack of gender differences could be due to...

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