A Decision Science-Informed Approach to Sexual Risk and Nonconsent

Published in: CTS, Clinical and Translational Science, v. 5, no. 6, Dec. 2012, p. 482-485

Posted on RAND.org on December 01, 2012

by Coreen Farris, Baruch Fischhoff

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Research Question

  1. When choosing between sexual nonconsent strategies, what outcomes do young women consider and value?

Sexual risk reduction programs often assume that adolescents and young women care only about the minimization of their risks when making decisions about sexual encounters. As a result, these programs teach only the most effective strategies to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections or sexual victimization. We propose a translational decision science approach that addresses the other outcomes that adolescents and young women might consider. In this study, young women reported their sexual nonconsent goals in response to hypothetical encounters in which their partner wished to have sex when they did not. We found that young women highly valued communicating their intent clearly as an end in itself, as well as a means to avoid unwanted sex. However, they also cited other, potentially conflicting, goals such as maintaining relationship stability and protecting their partner. These other goals were associated with participants' self-reported histories of sexual victimization. Young women who had been sexually coerced or raped attached greater importance to protecting their partner's feelings, preserving sexual relationships, and avoiding awkwardness or embarrassment, compared to young women without such experiences. We discuss the implications for creating sexual risk reduction programming relevant to young women with competing sexual nonconsent goals.

Key Findings

Young women's most important goals were communicating clearly and avoiding unwanted sex.

  • However, they also reported other potentially conflicting goals such as protecting their partner and the romantic relationship.

Compared with other young women, those who had been sexually assaulted reported greater concern about their partner's feelings, maintaining the sexual relationship, and avoiding awkwardness.

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