The relationship between hegemonic norms of masculinity and men's conceptualization of sexually coercive acts by women in South Africa

Erin Stern, Diane Cooper, Bryant Greenbaum
Journal of Interpersonal Violence 2015, 30 (5): 796-817
While sexual abuse against women and girls in South Africa has generated much deserved attention, the awareness of men's experiences of sexual coercion is limited, and often restricted to a homosexual context. This article illuminates men's experiences of pressurized sex in a heterosexual context, which were revealed in a broader men's sexual health study. Fifty sexual history narrative interviews were conducted with men purposively sampled from three age categories: (18-24, 25-54, and 55+), a wide range of cultural and racial backgrounds, and in urban and rural sites across five provinces in South Africa. Narrative interviews began with accounts of early knowledge of sex and sexual experimentation and explored the range of sexual relationships and experiences through adulthood. The narratives privileged the diversity of men's conceptualizations of and the impact of reportedly sexually coercive experiences by women. Many men described feeling unready for their first sexual experiences but pressured to do so by their peers and female partners, who were often older. There were also some instances of sexual coercion by women against men, some of which would constitute a criminal offense in South Africa. Due to the pressure for men to always be responsive to women's sexual desires, these experiences were often not framed as sexual coercion. Nevertheless, for many of these men, such experiences were uncomfortable and unrewarding. Men's negative responses to such experiences appeared to be linked to the fact that they did not fit social stereotypes of masculine sexuality as being initiative and dominant. Such coercive experiences could influence men's sexual risk-taking, including their use of sexual coercion against women. Research on sexual abuse should not be limited to male against male sexual abuse, but needs to explore the meanings and experiences associated with reported coercion against men by women to more comprehensively prevent and respond to sexual violence.

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