While it is frequently assumed that men should dominate women sexually, a new study reveals that sticking to traditional gender roles could make people less comfortable and more risky in the bedroom.
Researchers found that young adults who assumed that men should take charge during sex were less likely to feel confident in sexual situations and were less likely to consider using female condoms.
The study, published in the journal of Sex Roles, included 357 undergraduate women and 126 undergraduate men from a public university who were all heterosexual and sexually active.
Researchers asked participants to fill out a survey that measured their sexual confidence, sexual assertiveness, sexual satisfaction, and whether they used a condom or took other precautions for safer sex.
Lead researcher Lisa Rosenthal of Yale University and her team also measured the participants' support for social power inequalities and hierarchies based on their agreement with statements like: "It's OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others;" and "The man should be the one who dictates what happens during sex."
Researchers say that the agreement of such traditional power dynamics is associated to sexism, negative attitudes toward women's rights and a greater tolerance of sexual harassment.
Investigators measured how willing participants were to consider using female condoms by counting how many condoms participants took from the bowl of female condoms in the private cubicle where the students had filled out their survey with a sign that read: "Protect yourself and your partner. Please take some! FREE FEMALE CONDOMS."
Researchers said that there were small leaflets next to the bowl about how to use female condoms, contraception that is inserted into the vagina before sex.
The results from the study showed that the more men and women accepted hierarchical power dynamics, the more likely they were to say that men should dominate during sex and the less likely they were to take the free female condoms and report confidence in sexual situations.
"If men believe that men should dominate sexually, this may prevent them from feeling open or comfortable discussing sexual behavior and protection with their partners or asking questions about things they may not know," which could lead to less sexual confidence, wrote the study authors.
"For both women and men, the belief that men should dominate sexually could reduce interest in female condoms, because female condoms are meant to be a woman-centered source of protection and may be seen as violating the norm or belief that men should be in control of sexual situations," researchers explained.
Researchers noted that women in the study were generally less likely than men to believe that they should dominate in the bedroom.
Rosenthal and her team also accounted for variables like number of sexual partners in the past month, age, family income and perceived HIV/AIDS risk.