Sex Talk Changing With the Times
Perception of Sexual Terms Shifting Among Men and Women
WebMD News Archive
Jan. 7, 2005 -- The way we talk about sex and sexual issues has changed
dramatically in the past 15 years, a new study shows.
But researchers say men and women still don't seem to see eye to eye when it
comes to sensitive sexual subjects, such as rape and orgasm.
The study shows that the term "rape" is viewed much more negatively
by both men and women than it was 15 years ago. The word prompted the most
negative response of any sexual term among a group of male college students,
but for women the most adverse reaction was associated with the term "date
"We interpreted these differences to possibly mean that rape to a man is
a crime he can be charged with," says researcher Virginia Noland, professor
in health science education at the University of Florida, in a news release,
"whereas date rape in his eyes is almost like an act of passion or
something he doesn't see himself as having much control over."
"We found that young people's evaluation of sexual terms has changed
with recent shifts in the cultural landscape," says Noland. "It's very
important to understand not only the dictionary meaning of words, but the
emotions that people attach to them."
Let's Talk About Sex
In the study, which appeared in a recent issue of Sex Roles: A Journal
of Research, researchers asked 567 Midwestern undergraduate students to
rate their impressions of 42 sexuality-related terms. The students rated them
on a seven-point scale from extremely positive to extremely negative.
The results showed that men and women differed significantly in terms of
what types of sex talk they viewed most favorably and negatively.
The most favorably rated sexual terms among women were orgasm, vaginal sex,
sexual intercourse, virginity, masturbation, oral sex, pro-choice, pregnancy,
erection, and heterosexual.
The most negatively perceived sexual terms among women were date rape,
sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault, HPV (human papillomavirus, a common
sexually transmitted disease), and HIV/AIDS.
Among men, the most positively rated sexual terms were sexual monogamy,
virginity, orgasm, vaginal sex and heterosexual. The most negatively rated
terms were rape, HPV, date rape, and sexual abuse.
Women and men gave significantly different ratings to two sexually
transmitted diseases, gonorrhea and syphilis. Women rated gonorrhea and
syphilis less negatively than men. Perhaps they don't view themselves as being
at risk for these STDs, and therefore do not see them as threats.
Women also assigned a negative meaning to Chlamydia and HPV. This may be
because the diseases have special interest to women due to the long-term
consequences to female reproductive health.
Men gave HIV/AIDS a slightly favorable rating, which may mean they sense
they are at low risk for the disease, or the mistaken belief that HIV/AIDS is a
problem for persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation.
The biggest gender differences in perceptions of sex talk were found for 12
often controversial sexual terms that elicited strong visceral responses from
For example, researchers found men rated the following words more positively
- Sexual assault
Women, however, rated the following terms more positively than men:
- Breast enlargement
- Internet sex
- Oral sex