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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Communicating Sexual Consent: The Role of Uncertainty, Information Seeking, and Misunderstanding in Predicting Unwanted Sexual Activity

  • Author(s): Gangi, Katlyn Elise
  • Advisor(s): Afifi, Walid A
  • et al.

Given the prevalence of unwanted sexual activity reported by college students, the current study focused on the communication of sexual consent and how misunderstanding may occur in this context. More specifically, it investigated the role of uncertainty, information-seeking behaviors and misunderstanding in explaining unwanted sexual activity. This work is based on the idea that some unwanted sexual activity, is in part, a result of making inaccurate inferences about another’s interest level related to particular sexual activities (i.e., whether or not the partner consents to a particular sexual act). The investigation used a dyadic design and applied theoretical thinking from sexual scripts, Error Management Theory, empathic accuracy, and the Theory of Motivated Information Management (TMIM) to predict conditions under which information seeking efforts will occur and identify barriers to consent interactions as well as barriers to achieving an accurate understanding of one’s sexual partner. Results revealed that individuals often misperceive that their sexual encounters are completely mutually consensual, and this misperception is associated with unwanted sexual activity. Additionally, the study provided support for TMIM as a useful framework for this context, and revealed that negative outcome expectancies and low communication efficacy are barriers to people seeking information about consent. The findings are discussed in terms of a first step in developing a communicative intervention designed to prevent unwanted sexual activity and promote consensual sex.

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