Local communities, families and peers play a fundamental role in shaping men’s attitudes and behaviours towards women and sex, according to a new study.
The two-year study in areas of high deprivation in Scotland explored the influence of where people live on attitudes and behaviours towards sexual health, including coercion and violence.
It found that experiences had a lasting negative effect on men as they aged, stopping some forming the intimate relationships they desired.
Researchers spoke to 116 men and women aged 18-40, in what they believe to be the first study of its kind in the UK.
The team, led by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Dr Karen Lorimer, found tackling misogyny and sexism goes beyond the individual and needs to be approached from a community level.
She said: “Within sexual health, we found looking narrowly at what individuals know is never going to solve sexual health issues and improve attitudes towards equality.
“What we found is that if you are a young man living in a community, where there is a norm for violence; where there is peer acceptance that you have sex with lots of women; where women are treated poorly; you will have limited opportunities to adopt more positive forms of masculinity that could help foster more equal relationships. To tackle misogyny, sexism and violence, we need to work at a community level and look beyond individuals.”
Participants were shown images of both men and women to find out their opinions and attitudes and to discuss their experiences of growing up. They were also shown images reflecting domestic abuse and sexual violence.
The researchers were struck by the level of blame attributed to women and the undertone of simmering resentment towards women in the men’s responses, particularly in relation to perceived ‘appropriate’ femininity, sexuality, and sex.
“The sheer levels of hostility towards women peppered the interviews. It didn’t just emerge in relation to talking about sexual violence. It was everything. Somehow they would end up castigating women,” added Dr Lorimer.
The areas where the research was conducted remains confidential.
“We found that it isn’t simply about what people know or what they do that matters in sexual health. It matters where people live. What people think is normal and what is considered ok impacts on their sexual health. If we want to make a difference, we can’t just hand people a leaflet and expect them to change when there are bigger influences on them.”
Researchers will now work with policymakers to feed their research into sexual health plans and recommend that policy goes beyond the individual and tackles issues at a community level.
The study was led by Dr Karen Lorimer, Glasgow Caledonian University’s School for Health and Life Sciences, and co-authored by Professor Lesley McMillan, GCU’s Glasgow School for Business and Society; Professor Lisa McDaid, MRC/CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow; Dona Milne, NHS Lothian; Siân Russell Newcastle University; and Kate Hunt MRC/CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow.
The study was funded by the Chief Scientist Office CZH/4/925. The views are those of the study team.