Women’s sexual beliefs and behaviors are influenced by the overarching demands of society. This paper discusses a portion of a study completed at a small liberal arts institution in the northeastern United States. Female undergraduates (N = 54) answered an online questionnaire concerning their own sexual compliance attitudes and behaviors. O’Sullivan and Allgeier (1998) define sexual compliance as engaging in unwanted sexual activity. Results from this mixed methods study indicate that participants have engaged in sexual compliance (N = 25, 46%) in their own lives. A series of three fictional vignettes of varying sexual scenarios prompted qualitative narratives from participants. Female respondents endorsed the female character’s use of verbal communication over physical communication of lack of desire to engage in sexual activity in the vignette. However, although women regularly used verbal communication, they expressed reluctance to do so in specific sexual situations out of fear of making themselves and their partners uncomfortable. Results also indicate that participants assigned women as the “gatekeepers” of sexual activity by giving responsibility often wholly to the female character in the scenarios (Simon & Gagnon, 2005, p. 68). This paper discusses how women’s agency in sexual interactions is a prevailing discourse in American culture and is reflected in the compliance behaviors of women. Specific programming endeavors that aim to change this predominant culture are also discussed.
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