Morokoff, Patricia J.
Compliant sex; Sexual behavior; Sexual assertiveness; Relationship satisfaction; Gender differences; College students
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Background: Compliant sex occurs when an individual agrees to participate in unwanted sexual activity that does not involve coercion from one's partner (Vannier & O'Sullivan, 2010). Previous research has found that consenting to unwanted sexual activity is prevalent, with some studies reporting over one-third to as high as sixty percent of their participants engaging in undesired sex (O'Sullivan & Allgeier, 1998; Kennett, Humphreys, & Bramley, 2013). Both men and women consent to unwanted sex, with women usually complying more frequently (Impett & Peplau, 2003; Vannier & O'Sullivan, 2010). Compliant sex has been reported as more unexpected, less pleasing, and associated with decreased relationship satisfaction (Vannier & O'Sullivan, 2010; Kennett, Humphreys, & Bramley, 2013).
Methods: A sample of female and male college students (N=260) were given an online questionnaire. Participants reported on their experiences with compliant sex and completed 15 measures in the domains of: motivations for consenting to unwanted sex (which were divided into approach motives, where the goal is aimed towards relationship enhancement or maintenance, and avoidance motives, where the goal is to prevent negative partner reactions or relationship consequences); relationship satisfaction; decision-making power in a sexual relationship; dependency; insecurity; investment; commitment; psychosexual attitudes; sexual assertiveness; intimate partner violence; and body dissatisfaction.
Results: Twenty-four percent (n=65) of the participants (51 women and 14 men) reported that they had complied with unwanted sex with a partner, either from their current relationship or their longest past relationship. There were no statistically significant differences in female and male reports of compliant sex. However, men who had consented to unwanted sex tended to endorse approach motives at a statistically higher level than women.
Seven of the fourteen independent variables were significantly correlated with consenting to unwanted sex. Relationship satisfaction, dependency, psychosexual attitudes, sexual assertiveness refusal, and sexual assertiveness sexual communication for preferences were positively associated with compliant sex, while insecurity and intimate partner violence were negatively associated. A logistic regression comprised of 13 of these variables revealed that only sexual assertiveness refusal and sexual assertiveness information communication were significantly related to consenting to unwanted sex. More specifically, the higher one’s assertiveness in refusing unwanted sex, the more likely one was to have never engaged in compliant sex. Counterintuitively, the higher one’s assertiveness in discussing their partner’s sexual risk, the more likely one was to have complied with unwanted sex.
Conclusions: Almost one quarter of participants reported engaging in compliant sex (approximately 27% of women and 18% of men). An important question relates to why young women and men engage in unwanted sex. These results suggest that a desire to enhance and maintain a relationship is a stronger motivation for men than women to consent to unwanted sex.
The results also raise potential clinical implications. Prevalence of unwanted sex in young people could be reduced by implementing interventions to increase sexual assertiveness in refusing undesired activity. Since higher relationship satisfaction was associated with never having consented to unwanted sex, it may be beneficial to develop interventions that reduce or prevent compliance. However, considering that the association between relationship satisfaction and compliant sex engagement was small, further research will be needed to ascertain whether this is necessary.