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Speaking in Code: Men and Women Differ in Communicating Consent

Speaking in Code: Men and Women Differ in Communicating Consent

iStock_000018541344SmallA study by Kristen Jozkowski, assistant professor of community health promotion, reveals differences in the way men and women communicate consent to sexual relations. Her findings may be used to improve sexual assault prevention programs on college campuses by addressing differences in communication and helping students see the value in direct, verbal communication of consent.

In a survey of 185 students at Indiana University, Jozkowski found that while men rely more heavily on non-verbal indicators when communicating and gauging sexual interest, women use more verbal strategies. Such gender-distinct ways of communicating consent, she concludes, could ultimately lead to unwanted sex.

“They are saying something but meaning something else, and they think the intended message is well understood given other contextual cues,” Jozkowski said, “But what is really going on from our analyses is that men and women have disjunctive views of consent. Both think they understand each other but really the two (men and women) have different understandings of what these codes mean.”

One male participant explained that when he asks a woman to come to his house to watch a movie he is, at times, communicating in code. Depending on the context of the relationship and the timing of the invitation, this could actually be an invitation for sex. Despite defining consent as an explicit communication of agreement, college students often rely on consent signals that are less clear than an explicit “yes.”

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