Some straight men are confusing sexual desire with consent, a problem being played out on college campuses across the USA but also in the outpouring of allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men in the public and private sectors, according to a paper from a team of psychologists from two universities.

The study, published Nov. 2 in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, was a collaboration between faculty at Binghamton University in New York and Rush University in Chicago.

“I think this is a pretty relevant finding because there’s other research showing that men tend to misconstrue even neutral interactions with women as being sexually charged,” said Richard Mattson, an associate psychology professor at Binghamton and one of the authors. “So if they’re relying on their gut impression of the woman’s sexual desire instead of affirmative indicators of consent, this likely provides maybe some mechanism by which a lot of sexual assaults in fact happen.”