Men, women, sex and confusion

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When things go wrong during amorous trysts, here’s one reason why, hot from the labs of our vaulted ivory towers: According to new research, men frequently misread signals from women that they want to slow down, and women are often indirect in saying what they mean.

‘When she says, ‘It’s getting late,’ he may hear, ‘So let’s skip the preliminaries,’ ' says UC Davis professor Michael Motley, according to a release by the university. ‘The problem is he is interpreting what she said by trying to imagine what he would mean -- and the only reason he can imagine saying, ‘It’s getting late’ while making out is to mean, ‘Let’s speed things up.’ ‘

Motley’s technical term for this, should anyone wish to bandy the term around at home: ‘faulty male introspection.’

Motley’s findings are based on surveys of male and female undergraduates. He investigated their reactions to 16 common ‘female resistance messages’ -- and found that the subtle ones fall flat. Telling a man ‘let’s be friends’ as a brushoff was as likely to be interpreted as ‘keep going’ as ‘stop,’ ' he found. Also unclear was the statement, ‘I’m seeing someone else.’


Men did clearly understand direct messages such as ‘Let’s stop this,’ however. (The study wasn’t examining cases of rape where a man might understand a message but choose to ignore it, according to the release.) And though women often opt for subtlety out of fear of hurting a man’s feelings, Motley has also found that men tend to readily accept these more-direct messages.

The findings were published in the 2008 book Motley edited called ‘Studies in Applied Interpersonal Communication’ -- a title not guaranteed, we fear, to send it zipping to the top of popular bestseller lists. It’s due out any day.

--Rosie Mestel