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The Rough Stuff: Understanding Aggressive Consensual Sex

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The Rough Stuff: Understanding Aggressive Consensual Sex

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Abstract

Research on sexual behavior often characterizes rough sex as sexual aggression and as violent or abusive in nature. In a sample of 734 male and female undergraduates, we examined the extent of rough sexual acts in romantic relationships, the triggers for those acts, and how rough sex differs from “typical” sex. Participants were asked their definition of rough sex, questions regarding sexual aggression and behaviors during rough sex, and abusive behaviors in the relationship. Findings indicate that rough sex is triggered by curiosity and a need for novelty, and that both men and women often initiate rough sexual behaviors. Consensual rough sex typically results in little violence and only superficial injuries such as scratches, bruises, and welts. Rough sex does not correlate with violence in the relationship or abuse. However, rough sexual behaviors were increased in situations that involved male sexual jealousy. Being separated from a sexual partner was the second most common trigger for rough sex, particularly for men. Aspects of rough sex, such as increased semen displacement and decreased latency for female orgasm are discussed.
RESEARCH ARTICLE
The Rough Stuff: Understanding Aggressive Consensual Sex
Rebecca L. Burch
1
&Catherine Salmon
2
Published online: 15 April 2019
#Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019
Abstract
Research on sexual behavior often characterizes rough sex as sexual aggression and as violent or abusive in nature. In a sample of
734 male and female undergraduates, we examined the extent of rough sexual acts in romantic relationships, the triggers for those
acts, and how rough sex differs from Btypical^sex. Participants were asked their definition of rough sex, questions regarding
sexual aggression and behaviors during rough sex, and abusive behaviors in the relationship. Findings indicate that rough sex is
triggered by curiosity and a need for novelty, and that both men and women often initiate rough sexual behaviors. Consensual
rough sex typically results in little violence and only superficial injuries such as scratches, bruises, and welts. Rough sex does not
correlate with violence in the relationship or abuse. However, rough sexual behaviors were increased in situations that involved
male sexual jealousy. Being separated from a sexual partner was the second most common trigger for rough sex, particularly for
men. Aspects of rough sex, such as increased semen displacement and decreased latency for female orgasm are discussed.
Keywords Rough sex .Sexual aggression .Sexual jealousy .Semen displacement
Introduction
While a great deal of research has been done analyzing the
prevalence and implications of sexual aggression and sexual
violence, specifically forced sex (Finkelhor and Yllo 1982;
Messing, Thaller, and Bagwell 2014) and rape (Camilleri
and Stiver 2014; Honkatukia 2001), less can be found on the
topic of rough sex. Ryan and Mohr (2005) found that a variety
of aggressive behaviors are seen as playful by participants as
long as they occur without negative emotions or physical
harm. Such Bplayful^aggressive behaviors can fall under
the umbrella of rough sex, but should rough sex be classified
inthesamecategoryassexualaggression,oracategoryofits
own? More work needs to be done to create a nomenclature of
aggressive sexual behaviors, acknowledging categories, and
the overlap between them.
Including various sexual behaviors in the definition of sex-
ual aggression has long been a problem in research as well as
law. A key part of that problem is the understanding or ac-
knowledgment of consent. McKee (2015) clearly outlined
how much of the research on pornography and aggression
has ignored the issue of consent, lumping consensual BDSM
(Bondage Discipline Dominance Submission Sadism
Masochism) in with non-consensual acts. Pa (2001)givesan
extensive review of the legal history of sadomasochistic sex
play and how the matter of consent has been largely ignored
here as well. The waters are further muddied by both legal
defenses claiming consent (or Brough sex^)insexualviolence
cases (Buzash 1989;Honkatukia2001) and public perception
of sadomasochistic relationships or encounters as automatical-
ly non-consensual (Pa 2001). The debate over the relation-
ships between rough sexual behavior, consent, violence, and
criminal activity has waged for decades (see Buzash 1989;
Hanna 2000;Pa2001;andWeinberg2016, for reviews and
arguments).
The difficulty in the research stems from the definition of
rough sex, related practices, and above all, confusion about
consent and how that affects these practices. Researchers have
studied sexual aggression, defined as sexual acts performed
against a personswill(Kraheet al. 2015), extensively and
rough sex may often be placed in this category. However,
rough sex and sexual aggression may also be placed in
completely different categories because of the key component
of consent. Although many studies may be examining the
same behaviors (kissing, intercourse, spanking, slapping),
*Rebecca L. Burch
Rebecca.burch@oswego.edu
1
Department of Human Development, State University of New York
at Oswego, 7060 State Route 104, Oswego, NY 13126, USA
2
Department of Psychology, University of Redlands, Redlands, CA,
USA
Evolutionary Psychological Science (2019) 5:383393
https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-019-00196-y
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... The consequences of sexual offending on victim-survivors and families are also understood well Chowdhury et al., 2021;Debowska et al., 2021;Duncan et al., 2022;Sharratt et al., 2022). A plethora of studies have aided understanding surrounding public attitudes toward sexual violence generally (Bows and Westmarland, 2017;Debowska et al., 2018;Hudspith et al., 2021;Smith et al., 2021), though to date, very little research has explored public attitudes toward more specific types of sexual violence, resulting in harm and fatality as a consequence of "rough sex." "Rough Sex" Generally, research distinguishes between rough sex as consensual sexual behaviors and sexual violence as nonconsensual sexual behaviors (Burch and Salmon, 2019). Indeed, the term "rough sex" is traditionally understood to refer to a range of sexual activities that whilst involving a degree of force or aggression, are nonetheless consensual (Eastman-Mueller et al., 2021). ...
... Opposingly, masochism involves sexual gratification experienced while being subjected to physical pain or humiliation by another individual (i.e., powerlessness) (Lines, 2015). Both concepts, allow individuals to express sexual agency, however, such terms are arguably socially constructed (Stabile et al., 2019), and their perceived meaning is likely to alter between contexts and individuals (Burch and Salmon, 2019). Such meanings are therefore important in our understanding of gendered power relations and unequal sexual spaces including within intimate relationships, politics, pornography and the criminal justice system (Smith and Skinner, 2017;Stabile et al., 2019;Eaton and McGlynn, 2020). ...
... It is important to note that not all BDSM practices involve violence and should not be characterized as deviant or problematic behaviors. Rather, many enjoy engaging in such behaviors in a mutual, safe, consensual manner (Burch and Salmon, 2019). However, in relatively rare cases, engagement in rough sex (consensual or non-consensual) have led to fatalities. ...
Article
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‘Rough sex’ can be considered an act of sexual violence that is consensual or non-consensual, often resulting in bodily harm and in rare cases, fatalities. The rough sex defence is typically advanced by male perpetrators in an effort to portray a sexual encounter as consensual, to avoid criminal sanctions for causing injury or death. Public attitudes towards this defence are often reflected on social media following high profile cases and appear to echo dominant discourses that reinforce widely held sexual violence stereotypes. Therefore, this study aims to deconstruct public attitudes surrounding the rough sex defence. Namely, how female victims/survivors and male perpetrators of sexual violence are constructed online, whilst exploring the wider implications upon society. NVivo12 NCapture software was used to collect a sample of 1000 tweets mentioning the terms ‘rough sex’ or ‘rough sex defence’. Data were examined using Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis (FCDA), underpinned by a social constructionist perspective, to elicit emergent discourses. Findings indicate that Twitter allowed women to resist harmful victim-blaming discourses and constrained binary identities. Opposingly, men were constructed as sexually entitled predators, yet resisted these subject positions by advocating support for male victims/survivors. Additional analyses examine account holders’ constructions of British Parliamentarians (MP’s) and their campaigns against the rough sex defence. These constructions demonstrated a cultural, heteronormative and victim-blaming understanding of sexual violence, which calls for legislative clarity.
... An emerging area of research has to do with what some people call "rough sex." In recent studies with young adults, most participants have indicated that they like rough sex, desire to engage in rough sex, and/or have already engaged in rough sex (e.g., Burch & Salmon, 2019;Herbenick, Fu, Patterson, et al., 2021;Vogels & O'Sullivan, 2019). The term "rough sex" is commonly used in mainstream magazine media articles (e.g., Moore, 2015;Sinrich, 2016). ...
... Yet, despite how commonly mainstream media and pornography use the term "rough sex," little is known about how the term "rough sex" is understood and what it is used to mean. Several studies have asked participants about the extent to which they like or engage in "rough sex" without defining it (e.g., Burch & Salmon, 2019;Herbenick, Fu, Svetina Valdivia et al., 2021;Herbenick et al., 2017). Other studies have relied on researcher determination of "rough sex" practices by asking participants about the appeal of and/or their engagement in specific practices such as hair pulling or spanking (e.g., Herbenick et al., 2020;Sun, Wright, & Steffen, 2017;Vogels & O'Sullivan, 2019). ...
... Women and men may think of rough sex in mostly similar ways but with some key differences (little is known about conceptualizations of rough sex among people who identify outside the gender binary). Burch and Salmon (2019) noted that, in survey write-in responses, college men provided examples of rough sex that seemed more "aggressive" (e.g., cutting, using hot wax) or "degrading" (e.g., urinating on a partner) than the examples supplied by college women. ...
Article
The purpose of this study was to investigate how various subgroups based on gender, sexual identity, and political ideology conceptualize rough sex. We used available data from a 2020 survey of randomly sampled undergraduate students at a large public university in the Midwestern U.S. (n = 4,989). The dichotomous responses to 13 items on the rough sex meaning scale were analyzed using a conditional covariance approach to better understand which behaviors commonly described as rough sex behaviors were prevalent. Our results showed that rough sex was conceptualized largely as a two-dimensional construct for vast majority of subgroups. Across all subgroups, nine of the 13 behaviors clustered along two dimensions in the same way. Specifically, four behaviors related to hair pulling, being pinned down, hard thrusting, and throwing someone onto a bed clustered together as one dimension (spanking and tearing clothes off being present along this dimension for vast majority of the subgroups). Being tied up, slapping, choking, punching, and making someone have sex behaviors formed a separate dimension of rough sex across all studied groups (with biting and scratching being associated with this dimension for vast majority of subgroups).
... [11][12][13] In a 2015 U.S. probability survey, among [18][19][20][21][22][23][24] year-olds approximately 12% of men and 15% of women reported having tied up a partner or been tied up, 17% of men and 46% of women reported having spanked or been spanked, 11% of men and 2% of women reported having had a threesome, and 5% of men and 1% of women reported having had group sex. 14 Behaviors sometimes characterized as dominant/submissive, aggressive, or as "rough sex" are prevalent among young adults. [15][16][17][18] In a series of 2006-2015 college student convenience surveys, Burch and Salmon (2019) found that 51% of their participants reported having engaged in rough sex behaviors; in this study, rough sex included hair pulling, spanking, scratching, biting, among others. ...
... 14 Behaviors sometimes characterized as dominant/submissive, aggressive, or as "rough sex" are prevalent among young adults. [15][16][17][18] In a series of 2006-2015 college student convenience surveys, Burch and Salmon (2019) found that 51% of their participants reported having engaged in rough sex behaviors; in this study, rough sex included hair pulling, spanking, scratching, biting, among others. 14 Vogels and O'Sullivan (2019) found, in an online convenience sample of [19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30] year olds, that 82% reported having engaged in at least one rough sex behavior; the researchers had defined rough sex behaviors as including spanking, scratching, hair pulling, and double penetration. ...
... [15][16][17][18] In a series of 2006-2015 college student convenience surveys, Burch and Salmon (2019) found that 51% of their participants reported having engaged in rough sex behaviors; in this study, rough sex included hair pulling, spanking, scratching, biting, among others. 14 Vogels and O'Sullivan (2019) found, in an online convenience sample of [19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30] year olds, that 82% reported having engaged in at least one rough sex behavior; the researchers had defined rough sex behaviors as including spanking, scratching, hair pulling, and double penetration. 15 In a campus probability survey of undergraduate students, 80% of those who had a current sexual or romantic partner reported engaging in, and largely enjoying, rough sex which students most often described as including choking, hair pulling, spanking, and/or slapping, among other behaviors. ...
Article
Background Probability-based surveys of college students typically assess sexual behaviors such as oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Little is known about the broader range of sexual behaviors in which students engage. Aims In a random sample survey of undergraduate students, we aimed to: (1) describe how recently participants had engaged in solo and partnered sexual behaviors, (2) examine how frequently participants enacted certain rough sex sexual behaviors (e.g., light spanking, hard spanking, choking, slapping, and others), (3) assess participants’ frequency of experiencing certain rough sex behaviors, (4) describe participants’ frequency of threesome/group sex, (5) assess the characteristics of participants’ experiences with choking during sex; and (6) examine choking and face slapping in regard to consent. Methods A confidential, online cross-sectional survey of 4,989 randomly sampled undergraduate students at a large U.S. university. Outcomes Participants reported having engaged in a broad range of solo and partnered sexual activities, including rough sex behaviors. Results The most prevalent general sexual behaviors were solo masturbation (88.6%), oral sex (79.4% received, 78.4% performed), penile-vaginal intercourse (73.5%), and partnered masturbation (71.1%). Anal intercourse was the least prevalent of these behaviors (16.8% received, 25.3% performed). Among those with any partnered sexual experience, 43.0% had choked a partner, 47.3% had been choked, 59.1% had been lightly spanked and 12.1% had been slapped on the face during sex. Clinical translation College health clinicians and educators need to be aware of the diverse and evolving range of solo and partnered sexual behaviors reported by students. In addition to counseling students about pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection risk, clinicians might assess patients’ engagement in diverse sexual behaviors, such as choking/strangulation during sex, given the risk for serious outcomes including death. Strengths and limitations Strengths of our research include the large sample size, use of random sampling, high response rate for college populations, broad range of behaviors assessed, and novel data on choking during sex. Among our limitations, we did not assess to what extent the experiences were wanted, pleasurable, or appealing to participants. Except for in relation to choking and slapping, we also did not assess issues of consent. Conclusion Participants reported engaging in diverse sexual behaviors, some of which have important clinical implications, are understudied, and warrant further research. Herbenick D, Patterson C, Beckmeyer J, et al. Diverse Sexual Behaviors in Undergraduate Students: Findings From a Campus Probability Survey. J Sex Med 2021;XXX:XXX–XXX.
... We found only one study that asked college students themselves what "rough sex" means to them. In a series of convenience surveys conducted with 734 undergraduate students between 2006 and 2015, Burch and Salmon (2019) found that most participants described rough sex as including hair-pulling, being pinned down, biting, being tied up, and slapping; far fewer considered choking, punching, or pinching to be rough sex. The latter three behaviors were described by Burch and Salmon as "more violent"; indeed, choking was reported by their student participants at similar frequencies of verbal threats, threatening to hit or throw something, and physically forcing someone to have sex. ...
... Researchers have suggested that definitions of and engagement in rough sexual behaviors are associated with, and potentially influenced by, pornography use and exposure to other sexually explicit media (Bridges, Sun, Ezzell, & Johnson, 2016;Herbenick et al., 2020;McKee et al., 2014;Miller, McBain, & Raggatt, 2019;Sun, Wright, & Steffen, 2017;Wright et al., 2015;Wright, Tokunaga, & Kraus, 2016). Research has found that men engage in more dominant sexual behaviors (hair-pulling, spanking, choking) while women experience more target sexual behavior (having hair pulled, being spanked or choked) (Bridges et al., 2016;Burch & Salmon, 2019;Herbenick et al., 2020). However, it is not clear if such gender differences are actually caused by viewing rough sex in pornography. ...
... However, it is not clear if such gender differences are actually caused by viewing rough sex in pornography. Finally, there have been suggestions that people may engage in rough sex behaviors for reasons related to curiosity, sexual novelty, alcohol use, sexual jealousy, aggressive male tendencies, learning from sexually explicit media (including but also beyond pornography), or partners reconnecting after time apart (Burch & Salmon, 2019;Honkatukia, 2001;Vogels & O'Sullivan, 2019;Wright et al., 2015), though more research is needed in each of these areas. ...
Article
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Using data from an undergraduate probability sample, we aimed to: (1) describe the prevalence and demographic characteristics of students who reported having engaged in rough sex with their current partner; (2) assess which sexual behaviors students consider to be rough sex; (3) describe the frequency with which participants report engaging in rough sex as well as their reports of initiating and liking rough sex, in relation to gender and sexual identity; and (4) examine predictors of rough sex frequency. Participants were 4998 students randomly sampled from a large Midwestern university who completed a confidential Internet-based survey (2453 women, 2445 men, 41 gender non-binary, 36 transgender or other gender non- conforming identities). Within these, 1795 individuals who reported a romantic/sexual partner of at least 3 months responded to questions about engaging, liking, and initiating rough sex. The most common behaviors participants considered to be rough sex were choking, hair pulling, and spanking. Transgender and gender non-binary students more often endorsed behaviors as rough sex. Also, rough sex was conceptualized as multidimensional, with one cluster being more consistent with earlier conceptualizations of rough sex (e.g., hair pulling, spanking) and the second cluster including behaviors such as choking, slapping, punching, and making someone have sex. About 80% of those with a current sexual or romantic partner engaged in rough sex with them and most who engaged it liked it. Bisexual women reported greater rough sex frequency and enjoyment (54.1% indicated enjoying it “very much”). Implications for sexuality research and education are discussed.
... In initial coding, I generated as many ideas as I could from the pilot data and at the same time, continued data collection from other participants to allow for theoretical sampling. During this phase, I adapted an inductive approach in which I analyzed specific ideas from the data and grouped them together to form categories (Bryant & Charmaz, 2007). Case-based memos were written during and after interviews to allow me to capture my initial ideas and record my process of analytical thinking. ...
... It is said that women who are found to be more open to sexual experiences have more frequent fantasies of being manhandled or to surrender sexually against her will (Bivona et al., 2012). In addition, having rough sex is said to be triggered by curiosity, exploration and a need for novelty (Burch & Salmon, 2019). However, for this to confer them with pleasure, it is crucial for the relationship to have been founded on mutual respect and genuine acceptance of one another, where both partners perceive the sexual relationship as a safe space for them to let go and be vulnerable. ...
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The Philippines is considered to have one of the highest rates of heterosexual women who have difficulty in experiencing sexual pleasure. However, very few studies have tackled this concern due to the conservative culture of the country. To address this, the present study aimed to build a theory of sexual pleasure for the Filipino women using a constructivist grounded theory approach. The theory is constructed out of two models: the Identity Model of Sexual Pleasure and the Sexual Event Model of Sexual Pleasure. Results of the study can be used to aid in future interventions for sex and relationship therapy in the country.
... 43 In a series of convenience surveys administered to undergraduates between 2006 and 2015, Burch and Salmon found that students widely recognized rough sex as including spanking, slapping, biting, and hair pulling, however they did not tend to include choking as rough sex. 44 Instead, choking seemed to align more closely with what the authors termed as "more violent" behaviors (e.g., punching, physically forcing someone to have sex). 44 Recent research demonstrates that most undergraduate students now conceptualize choking as part of rough sex. ...
... 44 Instead, choking seemed to align more closely with what the authors termed as "more violent" behaviors (e.g., punching, physically forcing someone to have sex). 44 Recent research demonstrates that most undergraduate students now conceptualize choking as part of rough sex. 32 Indeed, choking is prevalent among young adults, 30 though no prior research to our knowledge has specifically investigated choking during sex among college populations. ...
Article
Objective: In a random sample of undergraduate students, we aimed to: (1) establish the prevalence of choking and being choked; (2) examine demographic and situational predictors of being choked, and (3) examine demographic and situational predictors of choking someone. Participants: 4168 randomly sampled undergraduates at a large public U.S. university. Methods: A cross-sectional, confidential online survey. Results: We found that 26.5% of women, 6.6% of men, and 22.3% of transgender and gender non-binary participants reported having been choked during their most recent sexual event. Additionally, 5.7% of women, 24.8% of men, and 25.9% of transgender and non-binary participants reported that they choked their partner at their most recent event. Choking was more prevalent among sexual minority students. Conclusions: Choking is prevalent among undergraduate students; implications for college sexual health education are discussed.
... Clinicians, sexuality educators, and those with policy interests for college campuses or adolescent health need to grapple with contemporary sexual repertoires, which appear to often include choking during sex. Sex educators, for example, need to become knowledgeable about choking/strangulation, reasons for engaging in choking, relevant health sequelae, ways that consent may be negotiated, and then create and evaluate educational curricula related to choking and other rough sex behaviors that are prevalent among young adults (e.g., Burch & Salmon, 2019;Herbenick, Fu, et al., 2021a;Vogels & O'Sullivan, 2019). This is particularly important in light of the fact that choking/strangulation appears to be increasing as part of sexual assaults (Cannon et al., 2020;Patch et al., 2021). ...
Article
Full-text available
Choking/strangulation during sex is prevalent among young adults, with one study finding that 58% of women college students had ever been choked during sex. However, no qualitative study has examined women’s experiences with choking/strangulation during sex outside of intimate partner violence. The purpose of our qualitative interview study was to investigate women’s experiences with choking and/or being choked during partnered sex. Through in-depth interviews with 24 undergraduate and graduate women students ages 18 to 33, we sought to understand how women communicate about choking, their learning about and initiation into choking, their feelings about being choked and choking others, as well as consent and safety practices used in relation to choking. We found that women had first learned about choking through diverse sources including pornography, erotic stories, magazines, social media, friends, and partners. While all 24 women had been choked during sex, only 13 of 24 had ever choked a partner. They described having engaged in choking with men as well as women and with committed as well as more casual partner types. Participants described consensual and non-consensual choking experiences. While many women enjoyed choking, others did it largely to please their sexual partner. Women described different methods and intensities of having been choked. Although very few had ever sought out information on safety practices or risk reduction, and only some had established safe words or safe gestures with partners, participants consistently expressed a belief that the ways in which they and their partner(s) engaged in choking were safe.
... 37 Another survey of 734 college students, with data collected between 2006 and 2015, found that only 36% considered choking to be a rough sexual behavior (similar in prevalence to those who considered punching as a rough sex behavior), whereas most considered hair pulling, being pinned down, biting, being tied up, and slapping as rough sexual behaviors. 38 Moreover, choking/strangulation was reported as occurring infrequently to participants-far less often than spanking, scratching, being tied up, or being thrown around and only slightly more often than being physically forced to have sex, being forced to do humiliating or degrading things, or having a partner throw, hit, kick, or smash things. We acknowledge that choking and other forms of asphyxiation are not new, have been previously documented in the literature, and have been previously connected to learning from sexually explicit materials. ...
Article
Background: Convenience sample data indicate that substantial portions of adults have engaged in sexual behaviors sometimes described as rough; little is known about these behaviors at the population level. Aim: To describe, in a U.S. probability sample of Americans aged 18 to 60 years, (i) the prevalence of diverse sexual behaviors, described here as dominant and target behaviors; (ii) the age at first pornography exposure as well as prevalence, range, and frequency of pornography use; (iii) the association between past year pornography use frequency and dominant/target sexual behaviors; and (iv) associations between lifetime range of pornography use and dominant/target sexual behaviors. Methods: A confidential cross-sectional online survey was used in this study. Outcomes: Lifetime engagement in dominant behaviors (eg, spanking, choking, name calling, performing aggressive fellatio, facial ejaculation, penile-anal penetration without first asking/discussing) and lifetime engagement in target behaviors (eg, being spanked, being choked, being called names during sex, having their face ejaculated on, receiving aggressive fellatio, or receiving penile-anal penetration without having discussed) were assessed; lifetime pornography use, age at first porn exposure, past-year frequency of porn viewing, and lifetime range of pornography were also assessed. Results: Women as well as men who have sex with men were more likely to report target sexual behaviors: having been choked (21.4% women), having one's face ejaculated on (32.3% women, 52.7% men who have sex with men), and aggressive fellatio (34.0% women). Lifetime pornography use was reported by most respondents. After adjusting for age, age at first porn exposure, and current relationship status, the associations between pornography use and sexual behaviors was statistically significant. Clinical implications: Clinicians need to be aware of recent potential shifts in sexual behaviors, particularly those such as choking that may lead to harm. Strengths & limitations: Strengths include U.S. probability sampling to provide population level estimates and the use of Internet-based data collection on sensitive topics. We were limited by a lack of detail and context related to understanding the diverse sexual behaviors assessed. Conclusion: Clinicians, educators, and researchers have unique and important roles to play in continued understanding of these sexual behaviors in the contemporary United States. Herbenick D, Fu T-C, Wright P, et al. Diverse Sexual Behaviors and Pornography Use: Findings From a Nationally Representative Probability Survey of Americans Aged 14 to 60 Years. J Sex Med 2020;XX:XXX-XXX.
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In this novel approach to understanding consent, Jill D. Weinberg features two case studies where groups engage in seemingly violent acts: competitive mixed martial arts and sexual sadomasochism. These activities are similar in that consenting to injury is central to the activity, and participants of both activities have to engage in a form of social decriminalization, leveraging the legal authority imbued in the language of consent as a way to render their activities legally and socially tolerable. Yet, these activities are treated differently under criminal battery law. Using interviews with participants and ethnographic observation, Weinberg argues that where law authorizes a person's consent to an activity, consent is not meaningfully regulated or constructed by the participants themselves. In contrast, where law prohibits a person's consent to an activity, participants actively construct and regulate consent. This difference demonstrates that law can make consent less consensual. Synthesizing criminal law and ethnography, Consensual Violence is a fascinating account of how consent gets created and carried out among participants and lays the groundwork for a sociology of consent and a more sociological understanding of processes of decriminalization.
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Darwinian sexual selection can now be seen in the broader context of social selection, or social competition for resources (under sexual selection, mates or fertilization success). The socialinteraction aspects of sexually selected traits give them special evolutionary properties of interest for neurobiological studies of stimulus-response (communication) systems because they can account for highly complex systems with little information content other than stimulatory effectiveness per se. But these special properties have a long history of being forgotten when other factors dominate the analysis of male-female interactions, such as the mistaken belief that differential responsiveness to signals produced by competing rivals (“choice”) requires an aesthetic sense; that species recognition explains all species-specific sexual signals; and, more recently, that successful signals must reflect good survival genes; or the assumption that male-female conflict is due to female cost-resistance rather than stimulus evaluation. A “conflict paradox” results when male-female conflict is seen as driven by natural selection, whose costs should often move sexual sensory-response systems toward the powerful domain of sexual selection. Special properties of sexual selection apply to other forms of social competition as well, showing the wisdom of Darwin's setting it apart from natural selection as an explanation of many otherwise puzzling and extreme traits. I remember well the time when the thought of the eye made me cold all over… now small trifling particulars of structure often make me very uncomfortable. The sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick! Charles Darwin Letter to Asa Gray April 3, 1860 from Darwin, F (ed.), 1892 [1958, p. 244]