Romance in the Air

Deals with military sexual connotations. Sexual connotations of dating behaviors rated by Air Force cadets; Sex differences in cadets' perception.

By Marian M. Jones, published on September 1, 1997 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

If a woman agrees to go to dinner with a man, does it mean she's interested in him sexually? Men answer "yes" to this and similar questions about dating more often than women, according to a new Air Force Academy study. But despite the recent military sex scandals, Air Force cadets may be a step ahead of civilians on this issue.

The researchers asked cadets to rate the sexual connotations of dating behaviors--such as accepting a dinner invitation, wearing tight pants, or offering a backrub--on a scale of one to 10. Male cadets saw all of these behaviors as more sexually charged than their female counterparts did, echoing a 1993 study of college students. But civilians only showed this gender gap when the target of a behavior was female, while cadets saw actions the same way regardless of whether a man or woman was making the moves.

This unisex attitude may result from the 24-hours, seven-days-a-week professional environment at the Academy, says Steven M. Samuels, Ph.D., the psychologist who led the study. "Cadets are taught, `She's your superior, and it doesn't matter that she is female.'"

Still, the sex differences in cadets' perceptions show that more education is necessary, Samuels believes. "If we teach men, `Just because she waves at you doesn't mean she wants you,' and teach women that a friendly gesture may not be taken as pure friendliness, this could help defuse tense situations that can lead to harassment or even rape."