Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Patricia J. Morokoff


The purpose of this study was to investigate implicit sex-submission associations for Hispanic /Latina and White women. Furthermore, this study examined how childhood sexual abuse, anticipated negative partner reaction-refusal, psychosexual functioning, sexual assertiveness-refusal and communication, and hyperfemininity are associated with women's implicit sex-submission associations. These interpersonal and psychosocial factors were analyzed for Hispanic/Latina and White women to help us determine if these associations are found for two different groups of women.

Previous research has demonstrated that individuals associate sex with power and aggression at an unconscious level (Bargh et al., 1995; Mussweiler & Forster, 2000; Zurbriggen, 2000). For men, implicit associations of sex with power and of women with sex predict aggression towards women, whereas for women, sex-aggression associations predict higher perceptions of male aggressiveness (Bargh et al., 1995). Exposure to cultural stereotypes and expectations often affects individuals' processing of information, interpretations of others' behavior, and their own behavior without their conscious awareness of this influence (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999).

In terms of sexuality, some studies using a subliminal priming methodology have demonstrated that many women implicitly associate sex with submission (Kiefer et al., 2006; Sanchez et al., 2006). Furthermore, it was found that women's nonconscious tendency to associate sex with submission predicted self-reported engagement in submissive sexual behavior. Thus, Sanchez and colleagues (2006) concluded that women's implicit sex-submission associations seem to reflect a link between the sexual context and their personal submission.

Eighty-two female undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Rhode Island participated in the 30-minute experimental session (44 White and 38 Hispanic/Latina women). Participants were recruited from multiple sources including the undergraduate psychology subject pool for which they participated in exchange for credit toward fulfillment of a course requirement. Other recruitment sources included contacting and advertising in several on campus associations and centers including the Graduate Student Association (GSA), the Women's Center, and the Multicultural Center.

Results indicated that both Hispanic/Latina and White women associate sex with submission at an implicit level. Results of this study show that Hispanic/Latina women respond in the same manner as White women: both groups of women had faster reaction times to sex primed submission words than to neutral primed submission words or to sex primed dominance words. Thus, sex primes facilitated responses to submissive target\ words suggesting that women associate sex with submission at an automatic level. This finding supports previous research that has found that women implicitly associate sex with submission and not with dominance (Kiefer et al., 2006; Sanchez et al., 2006).

Results also showed that women's implicit sex-submission links were associated with lower psychosexual functioning and higher hyperfemininity. In other words, women who associated sex with submission had lower positive attitudes towards their sexuality and adhered to more traditional gender roles. This was found for both Hispanic/Latina and White women when looking at both samples separately. Thus, women who implicitly associate sex with submission will tend to adhere to more traditional gender norms which in turn can create negative feelings towards their own sexuality.

However, for Hispanic/Latina and White women, different sex-power associations were associated with sexual assertiveness in refusing unwanted sexual activity. For White women, sex-dominance associations were associated with higher levels of sexual assertiveness-refusal indicating that to the extent that a sex prime facilitated response to dominance words, women were more assertive in refusing unwanted sex. For Hispanic/Latina women, these unconscious associations between sex and dominance did not affect assertiveness. Instead, for Hispanic/Latina women, sex-submission associations were found to be associated with less sexually assertive behaviors in refusing unwanted sex. Thus, different factors may be impacting their ability to be sexually assertive in refusing unwanted sex.

These results indicate that women associate their sexual role with submission at an automatic level. Furthermore, these sex-submission links are associated with adhering to more traditional gender roles and can affect women's attitudes towards their sexuality as well as their sexual assertiveness in refusing unwanted sex. However, different sex-power associations may be impacting Hispanic/Latina and White women's ability to assertively refuse unwanted sex. Therefore, it is important for interventions designed to address women's sexual health issues to be culturally tailored, taking into account such factors.



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