Alcohol Ads Can Influence Men and Women to Sexually Coerce Partners

Summary: Advertisements for alcohol products that feature objectified women encourage both males and females to manipulate and coerce others for sex.

Source: Washington State University

An experimental study revealed that alcohol advertising featuring objectified women encouraged not just some male but also female college students to manipulate others for sex.

The study, led by Washington State University researchers, found that both young men and women who expressed strong beliefs in gender stereotypes were more likely to sexually coerce. This connection was particularly strong with young men viewing alcohol ads featuring highly objectified female models.

The researchers also found that women who wanted to be like the female models in the ads were more likely to report intentions to sexually coerce without even using alcohol.

“Alcohol advertisements have effects beyond encouraging people to consume alcohol,” said lead author Stacey Hust, professor in WSU’s Murrow College of Communication. “For women, there was this interesting connection about wishful identification and coercion without alcohol.”

The study, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, tested different alcohol ads on about 1,200 college students. One set of participants saw real advertisements featuring highly objectified women such as models wearing little or no clothing. Another set viewed ads that were changed to lessen the objectification, such as adding a dress to a model who appeared in the original ad in a bikini.

The participants answered questions about their perceptions of the ads, their beliefs in gender stereotypes, sex-related alcohol expectancies and their own sexual coercion intentions with or without alcohol.

Sexual coercion covers a range of negative and illegal behaviors from lying and verbally pressuring someone to plying potential partners with alcohol to have sex. For instance, some of the questions on the study asked participants whether they would pretend to like someone just to have sex with them or if they would have sex with someone even if they felt their partner would feel used afterwards.

This shows a cocktail on the sand of a beach
The researchers also found that women who wanted to be like the female models in the ads were more likely to report intentions to sexually coerce without even using alcohol. Image is in the public domain

Interestingly, the researchers found that the alcohol ads did not have an effect on all the participants’ sexual coercion intentions. Rather, they only had a negative influence when the participants had certain perceptions, such as belief in gender stereotypes or women’s wishful identification with the depicted models.

The study adds evidence to previous research linking gender stereotypes, such as seeing men as sexually aggressive and women as submissive, to sexual coercion and other sexually violent behaviors.

“Most programs that talk about sexual violence focus on consent or bystander intervention, which is good, but there’s a wealth of studies out there that also show a tie to gender stereotypical beliefs,” said Hust. “If we start prevention programs that debunk gender stereotypes when kids are young, then hopefully over time we can impact these negative behaviors.”

Starting earlier with media literacy education would help too, Hust added, noting that ads for non-alcoholic beverages often use similar appeals and strategies to those used by alcohol ads.

“We don’t have to wait until young people are of drinking age to help them be more critically aware of advertisements,” she said. “If we start in the elementary years, then it’s a natural transition for them to apply those tools to products that are more dangerous.”

About this psychology and coercive behaviors research news

Author: Sara Zaske
Source: Washington State University
Contact: Sara Zaske – Washington State University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Perceived realism and wishful identification: College students’ perceptions of alcohol ads and their intentions to sexually coerce with or without using alcohol” by Stacey Hust et al. Journal of Interpersonal Violence


Perceived realism and wishful identification: College students’ perceptions of alcohol ads and their intentions to sexually coerce with or without using alcohol

Sexual coercion is a serious health problem in the United States, and it is the most prevalent form of sexual victimization that occurs on college campuses.

The present study aimed to identify factors, such as exposure to objectified women in alcohol advertisements, that may contribute to college students’ intentions to sexually coerce with alcohol use and without alcohol use.

We also investigated the potential effects of gender stereotypes, wishful identification of alcohol ads, perceived realism of alcohol ads, and alcohol expectancies related to sexual enhancement on students’ intentions to coerce.

An online experiment was conducted with 1208 students from a large Northwestern university.

Participants were randomly assigned to two conditions in which they were exposed to alcohol advertisements that included either highly objectified images of women or low-objectified images of women. The regression analyses indicate beliefs in gender stereotypes were the most consistent predictor across women and men’s sexually coercive intentions, regardless if alcohol was used.

Wishful identification with models in alcohol advertisements was positively associated with intentions to coerce, and perceived realism of alcohol ads was negatively associated with intentions to coerce.

For college men’s intentions to sexually coerce using alcohol, there were significant interaction effects between exposure to highly objectified advertisements and gender stereotypes. For women’s intentions to sexually coerce using alcohol, the interaction between wishful identification and perceived realism was significant. Education efforts are needed to deal with the endorsement of gender stereotypes on college campuses.

Media literacy may help college students critically evaluate portrayals of women in the media, and thus, in turn, may help lower intentions to sexually coerce.

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