Sexual coercion and the misperception of sexual intent

Clin Psychol Rev. 2008 Jan;28(1):48-66. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2007.03.002. Epub 2007 Mar 15.


Misperceiving a woman's platonic interest as sexual interest has been implicated in a sexual bargaining process that leads to sexual coercion. This paper provides a comprehensive review of sexual misperception, including gender differences in perception of women's sexual intent, the relationship between sexual coercion and misperception, and situational factors that increase the risk that sexual misperception will occur. Compared to women, men consistently perceive a greater degree of sexual intent in women's behavior. However, there is evidence to suggest that this gender effect may be driven largely by a sub-group of men who are particularly prone to perceive sexual intent in women's behavior, such as sexually coercive men and men who endorse sex-role stereotypes. Situational factors, such as alcohol use by the man or woman, provocative clothing, and dating behaviors (e.g., initiating the date or making eye contact), are all associated with increased estimates of women's sexual interest. We also critique the current measurement strategies and introduce a model of perception that more closely maps on to important theoretical questions in this area. A clearer understanding of sexual perception errors and the etiology of these errors may serve to guide sexual-assault prevention programs toward more effective strategies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Coercion*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Intention*
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Perceptual Distortion*
  • Rape / prevention & control
  • Rape / psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Perception*