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The current research investigates how people make sexual decisions when romantic partners' sexual desires conflict, situations we refer to as sexual interdependence dilemmas. Across an experimental study, a retrospective recall study, and a 21-day daily experience study, we found that people who were motivated to meet their partner's sexual needs-those high in sexual communal strength-were more willing to engage in sex with their romantic partner, even when their own desire was low, and as a result, both partners reported enhanced relationship and sexual satisfaction. The benefits of sexual communal strength were due to communally oriented people's increased desire to promote their partner's interests and decreased desire to pursue their own interests. This is the first set of studies to investigate how people make decisions in sexual interdependence dilemmas and show that communally motivated individuals navigate these situations in a way that is beneficial for relationships. © 2015 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
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Personality and Social
Psychology Bulletin
1 –14
© 2015 by the Society for Personality
and Social Psychology, Inc
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DOI: 10.1177/0146167215580129
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Article
It is an ironic truth that while powerful feelings of sexual
attraction are often what motivate people to initiate romantic
relationships (Diamond, 2004; Gonzaga, Turner, Keltner,
Campos, & Altemus, 2006), these initial feelings of sexual
attraction frequently diminish over time such that conflict
about sex ultimately tears many couples apart (Sprecher,
2002; Yabiku & Gager, 2009). Indeed, many studies have
shown that sexual desire tends to peak in the beginning
stages of relationships as intimacy is rapidly developing
(Baumeister & Bratslavsky, 1999) and then declines with
increased relationship duration (see review by Impett, Muise,
& Peragine, 2014). As sexual desire declines or changes over
the course of a long-term relationship, people are likely to
find themselves in situations in which their own sexual needs
and interests are not well aligned with their partner’s sexual
desires—situations which we refer to as sexual interdepen-
dence dilemmas.
In the current investigation, we sought to understand how
people make decisions about whether or not to engage in sex
in a specific type of sexual interdependence dilemma—situ-
ations in which partners report a discrepancy in their levels
of sexual desire (Davies, Katz, & Jackson, 1999; Mark,
2012; Mark & Murray, 2012), and in particular, when people
experience lower desire than their romantic partner. We build
upon a growing body of research on communal relationships
(see review by Clark & Mills, 2012) to test the idea that part-
ners who care about and are motivated to be responsive to
one another’s sexual needs—those who are high in sexual
communal strength (Muise, Impett, Kogan, & Desmarais,
2013)—will be more willing to engage in sex, even when
their own desire is low, and will navigate sexual interdepen-
dence dilemmas in a way that contributes to relationship and
sexual satisfaction for both members of the couple.
Sexual Interdependence Dilemmas
In romantic relationships, partners will inevitably face situa-
tions in which their interests or preferences conflict, termed
interdependence dilemmas (see review by Rusbult & Van
Lange, 2003). Interdependence dilemmas can take place in
any domain in which partners are dependent on one another.
Perhaps no other specific relationship domain involves more
580129PSPXXX10.1177/0146167215580129Personality and Social Psychology BulletinDay et al.
research-article2015
1University of Toronto Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Lisa C. Day, University of Toronto Mississauga, 3359 Mississauga Road,
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L5L 1C6.
Email: l.day@mail.utoronto.ca
To Do It or Not to Do It? How
Communally Motivated People Navigate
Sexual Interdependence Dilemmas
Lisa C. Day1, Amy Muise1, Samantha Joel1,
and Emily A. Impett1
Abstract
The current research investigates how people make sexual decisions when romantic partners’ sexual desires conflict,
situations we refer to as sexual interdependence dilemmas. Across an experimental study, a retrospective recall study, and
a 21-day daily experience study, we found that people who were motivated to meet their partner’s sexual needs—those
high in sexual communal strength—were more willing to engage in sex with their romantic partner, even when their own
desire was low, and as a result, both partners reported enhanced relationship and sexual satisfaction. The benefits of sexual
communal strength were due to communally oriented people’s increased desire to promote their partner’s interests and
decreased desire to pursue their own interests. This is the first set of studies to investigate how people make decisions in
sexual interdependence dilemmas and show that communally motivated individuals navigate these situations in a way that is
beneficial for relationships.
Keywords
sexuality, romantic relationships, decision making, interdependence
Received September 8, 2014; revision accepted March 10, 2015
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2 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
dependence between partners than the domain of sexuality,
given that the majority of long-term couples are monoga-
mous (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2004) and therefore cannot
get their sexual needs met outside of their relationship. In the
current research, we focus specifically on interdependence
dilemmas in the domain of sexuality. One particularly com-
mon sexual interdependence dilemma that couples face is a
discrepancy in partners’ levels of sexual desire (Byers &
Lewis, 1988; Davies et al., 1999; Impett & Peplau, 2003;
O’Sullivan & Byers, 1996). Research has shown that, in the
majority of long-term heterosexual relationships, one partner
tends to experience chronically lower desire than the other
(Davies et al., 1999; Mark, 2012). In the current research, we
focus on the consequences of engaging in consensual but
undesired sex in the absence of sexual coercion. This distinc-
tion is important to this line of work because while engaging
in consensual, undesired sex has both positive and negative
consequences (O’Sullivan & Allgeier, 1998), the conse-
quences of engaging in sex as a result of sexual coercion are
almost uniformly negative (O’Sullivan, Byers, & Finkelman,
1998). In the absence of sexual coercion, when partners
experience a desire discrepancy, the low desire partner must
decide whether or not to forgo their own self-interest and
engage in undesired sex with their partner to meet his or her
needs.
Situations in which partners experience conflicting inter-
ests provide important information about people’s motiva-
tion to pursue their own self-interests versus promote the
interests of their partner (Kelley et al., 2003; Kelley &
Thibaut, 1978; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). Interdependence
theory suggests that when people face situations of conflict-
ing interests, close relationship partners often transform their
motivations from focusing on what is personally best for
themselves to focusing on what is best for their partner or
their relationship more broadly (Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003,
2008). In the current research, we apply these ideas to sexu-
ality and suggest that when people find themselves in situa-
tions in which their partner wants to engage in sex but their
own personal desire is low, they will be challenged to trans-
form (or at least give less weight to) their own self-focused
reasons for not wanting to pursue sex and, instead, act based
on broader relationship concerns and motives to promote
their partner’s interest. We further expected that people who
are communally motivated in the domain of sexuality will be
the ones who are the most likely to take their partner’s needs
into account when making decisions about whether or not to
engage in sex when they are not in the mood.
A Communal Approach to Sexual
Relationships
In communal relationships, individuals vary in the degree to
which they are motivated to meet their partner’s needs. People
who are high in communal strength are particularly motivated
to meet their partner’s needs and do so noncontingently—that
is, without expectations for direct reciprocation (Mills, Clark,
Ford, & Johnson, 2004). Recent work has applied theories of
communal motivation to the domain of sexuality and, in par-
ticular, has examined the personal and relationship conse-
quences of the motivation to respond to a partner’s sexual
needs, termed sexual communal strength (Muise et al., 2013).
Although previous work suggests that people who are moti-
vated to meet their partner’s needs in general are also likely to
be willing to meet their partner’s sexual needs (in one study,
the two constructs were correlated at r = .59; see Muise et al.,
2013), we assert that the domain of sexuality is unique
because in sexually monogamous relationships, individuals
cannot (or are not allowed to) get their sexual needs met out-
side of their current romantic relationship like they might be
able to with other needs. As such, partners are more depen-
dent on each other to get their needs met in the domain of
sexuality than in other domains.
Recent work on the personal and relational consequences
of the motivation to meet a partner’s sexual needs has shown
that whereas people who are low in sexual communal
strength experience declines in sexual desire over the course
of time—as is relatively normative in romantic relationships
(see review by Impett et al., 2014)—those who are high in
sexual communal strength are more likely to sustain passion
and desire over time (Muise et al., 2013). This research fur-
ther suggests that this boost in desire is due to the tendency
of people high in communal strength to engage in sex to
ensure their partner’s pleasure and to promote intimacy in
the relationship, rather than out of self-interested concerns.
Furthermore, the romantic partners of people high in sexual
communal strength are able to detect this increased respon-
siveness—they report that their partner is more responsive to
meeting their sexual needs—and in turn, they feel more sat-
isfied and committed to their relationship (Muise & Impett,
2015).
Past research on sexual communal strength has focused
on the consequences of being motivated to meet a partner’s
sexual needs in general, rather than in specific, desire-dis-
crepant situations. It is one thing for communal people and
their partners to report that sex is highly satisfying when both
partners’ passions are running high, but it is quite another to
be willing to engage in sex when desire is low and to report
benefits as a result. One of the most stringent tests of the
potential benefits of sexual communal strength concerns
whether communally motivated people will still be willing to
meet their partner’s needs in situations in which partners’
sexual needs and interests differ. We expected that even in
sexual interdependence dilemmas in which people report
lower sexual desire than their partner, people high in sexual
communal strength will be more willing to engage in sex and
that they will report enjoying these experiences more than
less communally motivated people. Based on interdepen-
dence theory, we expected that highly communal people
would report these benefits due to an increased focus on pro-
moting their partner’s interests—such as providing their
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Day et al. 3
partner with sexual pleasure or enhancing intimacy in the
relationship—as well as a decreased motivation to pursue
their own personal interests—such as spending time pursu-
ing another activity that they might enjoy. We tested these
predictions—which are depicted in a conceptual model in
Figure 1—in three studies, including an experimental study
designed to demonstrate a causal link between sexual com-
munal strength and key sexual and relationship outcomes
(Study 1), as well as a recall study (Study 2) and a dyadic
experience sampling study (Study 3) in which we sought to
replicate our effects in a naturalistic context and test the pro-
posed mediators of our effects.
Study 1
In our first study, we sought to show that participants who
are asked to consider the ways in which they strive to meet
their partner’s sexual needs, relative to those in a control
condition, would be more willing to engage in sex in situa-
tions when their own personal desire for sex is low, and
would also experience greater sexual and relationship
satisfaction.
Method
Participants and procedure. We recruited 456 participants
(219 males, 235 females, 2 prefer not to disclose) from the
United States through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Partici-
pants ranged in age from 18 to 64 years (M = 31.71, SD =
9.54). All of the participants were currently in a romantic
relationship ranging from 1 month to 40 years (M = 6 years 2
months, SD = 6 years 6 months). The majority of the partici-
pants (75%) were currently living with their romantic partner
and 43% were married. Participants comprised a diverse
range of ethnic backgrounds: 57% were European, 7% were
African American, 6% were Asian, 5% were Latino or
Mexican, 2% were Native American, 1% were Middle East-
ern, and 22% were multiethnic or self-identified as “Other.”
Procedure and measures. Participants were randomly assigned
to either the sexual communal strength condition (n = 205) or
a control condition (n = 231). Those who were assigned to
the sexual communal strength condition responded to the
open-ended item: “Please describe, in as much detail as pos-
sible, what you do to meet your partner’s sexual needs. Try
to think carefully about the different things that you do, this
can be before, during, or after sex (i.e., during foreplay, sex-
ual intercourse, or postsex affection).”
Participants in the control condition did not read this
prompt and, instead, began with reading a scenario.
The scenario, read by all participants, was the following:
“You and your partner just spent the night at home watching
a movie. As you are heading to bed, your partner lets you
know that they would like to have sex. You know that having
sex tonight would really make your partner happy and make
them feel loved and desired. You are feeling exhausted—you
had a long stressful day at work and are not in the mood to
have sex.”
After reading this scenario, participants then answered a
question to assess their willingness to engage in sex (“How
willing would you be to engage in sex with your romantic
partner?”; 1 = not at all willing to 6 = extremely willing; M =
4.73, SD = 1.00) and a question about relationship satisfac-
tion (“How satisfied do you think you would feel with your
relationship after making this decision?”; 1 = not at all satis-
fied to 7 = extremely satisfied; M = 5.73, SD = 1.05).
Participants who indicated that they would choose to have
sex with their romantic partner answered a question to assess
their satisfaction with the sexual experience (“How satisfy-
ing do you think that this sexual experience would be?”; 1 =
not at all satisfying to 7 = extremely satisfying; M = 5.21, SD =
1.19). Finally, to ensure that participants could personally
Partner-Focused
Motives
++
--
Self-Focused
Motives
Sexual
Communal
Strength
Sexual and
Relationship
Outcomes
Figure 1. Conceptual model for communal decision making in sexual interdependence dilemmas.
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4 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
relate to the scenario, they answered the question “How easy
was it for you to imagine yourself in this situation?” (M =
6.05, SD = 1.18) on a 7-point scale (1 = very difficult to 7 =
very easy).
Results
We began our data analysis by reading the open-ended
responses from participants in the sexual communal strength
condition; the responses that participants wrote served as our
manipulation check. We excluded people for several reasons,
including leaving the manipulation blank or writing only a
few words, explicitly stating that they do not meet their part-
ner’s sexual needs, or reporting that they did not engage in
sex in their relationship. Under these criteria, 20 of the 225
participants in this condition failed to complete the manipu-
lation; thus, these individuals were excluded from all analy-
ses. Our sample size (N = 436) far exceeds the minimum
requirement of 64 participants per condition to detect a
medium effect size at α = .05 (Cohen, 1992).
Our primary hypotheses were that individuals in the sex-
ual communal strength condition would be more willing to
engage in sex and would feel more satisfied with their rela-
tionship and with the sexual experience than those in the
control condition. Results from independent-samples t tests,
conducted in SPSS 20.0 (IBM SPSS, 2011), revealed no sig-
nificant condition differences in willingness to engage in
sex, although the mean level willingness was nonsignifi-
cantly higher for those in the sexual communal strength
prime condition (M = 4.80, SD = 0.96) than for those in the
control condition (M = 4.66, SD = 1.03), t(433) = 1.43, p =
.154. We should point out that there was not a lot of variabil-
ity in the willingness to engage in sex item, as the majority of
people (91%) scored at or above the midpoint of the scale,
with 22% indicating that they would be “extremely likely” to
engage in sex in this situation. Most critical to our argument,
however, is the finding that participants in the sexual com-
munal strength condition anticipated that they would feel
significantly more satisfied with the sexual experience (M =
5.34, SD = 1.15) than those in the control condition (M =
5.09, SD = 1.22), t(382) = 2.05, p = .041. They also reported
significantly higher relationship satisfaction (M = 5.86, SD =
1.00) than those in the control condition (M = 5.61, SD =
1.07), t(434) = 2.58 p = .010.
To ensure that participants across conditions did not differ
in terms of the relevance of the scenario, we asked partici-
pants in both conditions how easy it was to imagine them-
selves in this situation. As expected, participants in the
control condition (M = 6.03, SD = 1.15) did not differ from
participants in the sexual communal strength condition (M =
6.05, SD = 1.20) on how easy they found it to imagine them-
selves in this situation, t(433) = 0.26 p = .797. To ensure that
our findings are generalizable to both men and women, we
tested whether condition interacted with gender to predict
any of the outcomes. None of these interactions were
significant, suggesting that when men and women think
about the ways in which they are motivated to meet their
partner’s sexual needs, they experience similar increases in
sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction.
Brief discussion. The data from this experimental study show
that when people are induced to feel more motivated to meet
their partner’s sexual needs, they expect to feel more satis-
fied with their relationship as a result of engaging in sex—
and they expect sex to be more satisfying—even when their
own sexual desire is low. In our next two studies, we sought
to understand why sexual communal strength leads people to
have more positive expectations about undesired sex.
Study 2
After having demonstrated evidence for our key predictions
in an experimental study, we next sought to provide evidence
for the predicted mechanisms of these effects. In particular,
we expected that the reasons why people high in sexual com-
munal strength may benefit more from engaging in sex in
interdependence dilemmas are because they are more
strongly motivated by desires to promote their partner’s
interests and less motivated to avoid costs to themselves
from engaging in sex. To test these hypotheses, we conducted
a study where participants recalled a recent sexual interde-
pendence dilemma that had taken place in their current
romantic relationship.
Method
Participants and procedure. We recruited 371 participants
from the United States through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
We excluded 19 of these participants due to failed attention
checks; thus, our final sample included 352 participants (145
males, 198 females, 3 transgender, 6 prefer not to disclose).
Participants ranged in age from 18 to 68 years (M = 31, SD =
9.06). All participants were currently in a romantic relation-
ship, which ranged in length from 2 months to 46 years (M =
5.69 years, SD = 6.66 years). All participants were currently
living with their romantic partner, 42% of participants were
married and 34% had children. Participants comprised a
diverse range of ethnic backgrounds: 55% were European,
6% were African American, 7% were Asian, 6% were Latino
or Mexican, 2% were Native American, and 24% were mul-
tiethnic or self-identified as “Other.”
Measures. Prior to the recall portion of the study, participants
completed the 6-item measure of sexual communal strength
on a 7-point scale (1 = not at all to 7 = extremely; Muise
et al., 2013; M = 5.37, SD = 1.03, α = .81), the 10-item mea-
sure of communal strength on a 7-point scale (1 = not at all
to 7 = extremely; Mills et al., 2004; M = 5.60, SD = 0.98, α =
.86), and the 7-item measure of relationship commitment on
a 7-point scale (1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree;
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Day et al. 5
Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998; M = 6.14, SD = 1.06, α =
.87). After completing these measures, participants were
asked to recall a recent time when their romantic partner
desired to engage in sex, but they were not “in the mood.”
Specifically, we told participants,
Next, we would like you to carefully think back to the most
recent time that your romantic partner was in the mood to have
sex, but you were not, try to put yourself back in that situation,
and recall how you felt, and how your partner was feeling.
Eighty percent of participants reported that they could
recall such a situation in the past month, and 95% reported
that they could recall one in the past year. We asked partici-
pants about their motivations both to engage in and not to
engage in sex in the particular sexual interaction which they
recalled, including three items regarding self-focused motives
(e.g., “I wouldn’t want to be tired tomorrow,” M = 4.26, SD
= 1.27, five items, α = .65), and five items regarding partner-
focused motives (e.g., “I would want my partner to feel
desired/loved/wanted,” M = 4.82, SD = 1.06, three items, α =
.92) which were all rated on a 7-point scale (1 = not at all
important to 7 = extremely important). Next, we asked par-
ticipants about their sexual behavior by having them indicate
whether or not they had engaged in any type of sexual activ-
ity with their romantic partner on this occasion. Nearly half
(48%) of participants in the sample indicated that they chose
to engage in sex in this situation (51% indicated that they did
not engage in sex, and 1% preferred not to disclose). Using
the same items used in Study 1, participants provided ratings
of their relationship satisfaction after making this decision (1
= not at all satisfied to 7 = extremely satisfied; M = 5.19, SD
= 1.60), and if they indicated that they had engaged in sex
with their partner, they rated their satisfaction with the sexual
experience (1 = not at all satisfying to 7 = extremely satisfy-
ing; M = 5.19, SD = 1.59). Finally, we also asked people
about how difficult versus easy it was for them to recall this
situation on a 7-point scale (1 = very difficult to 7 = very
easy; M = 5.69, SD = 1.33).
Results
Data analytic strategy. We analyzed the data in SPSS 20.0
(IBM SPSS, 2011). We used the INDIRECT macro devel-
oped by Preacher and Hayes (2008) to test self-focused moti-
vations and partner-focused motivations as simultaneous
mediators of our hypothesized effects. This macro allows for
the inclusion of two or more mediators in one statistical
model and tests the indirect pathways of each mediator sepa-
rately. We tested all indirect pathways using bootstrapping
analyses and generated a 95% confidence interval (CI) with
5,000 simulated samples (Preacher & Hayes, 2008). When
the CI does not include the value of 0, it is significant at p <
.05. Intercorrelations among all variables are shown in Table 1.
Our sample size (N = 352) far exceeds the minimum
requirement of 85 participants to detect a medium effect size
at α = .05 (Cohen, 1992).
Retrospective sexual interdependence dilemmas. As expected
and shown in Table 2, sexual communal strength was signifi-
cantly positively associated with willingness to engage in
sex. In fact, for every one unit increase in sexual communal
strength, participants were 1.47 times more likely to have
indicated that they engaged in sex with their partner the most
recent time their partner had a high desire for sex but their
own personal desire was low. Sexual communal strength was
also positively associated with relationship satisfaction, and
for the participants who indicated that they had actually
engaged in sex with their partner, with greater satisfaction
with the sexual experience. Sexual communal strength was
positively associated with partner-focused motives to engage
in sex, b = .28, t(347) = 5.28, SE = .05, p < .001, and was
negatively associated with self-focused motives not to
engage in sex, b = −.18, t(347) = 3.14, SE = .07, p = .008.
Finally, as shown in Table 2, self- and partner-focused
motives mediated the associations between sexual commu-
nal strength and all of the sexual and relationship outcomes
with two exceptions: motivation to avoid costs to the self did
not significantly mediate the association between sexual
communal strength and likelihood of engaging in sex or rela-
tionship satisfaction.
Ruling out alternative explanations. We conducted additional
analyses to rule out potential alternative explanations. We
wanted to be sure that our effects were not due to differences
in relationship commitment, general communal strength, or
ease of imagining oneself in the scenario. In subsequent
analyses in which we controlled for each of these factors in
separate models, all of the effects reported above, including
all of the mediation models, remained significant with two
exceptions. First, controlling for general communal strength,
the indirect effect from sexual communal strength to sexual
Table 1. Intercorrelations Among All Variables in Study 2.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1 — .67*** .48*** −.14** .27*** .19*** .35*** .29*** .16**
2 — .62*** −.05 .19** .13* .38*** .29*** .09
3 .00 .23** .05 .41*** .34*** .04
4 −.09 −.06 .14* −.29*** −.03
5 .21** .19** .30** .16**
6 .18** — .13*
7 .69*** .19***
8 — .15
9 —
Note. Correlation between expected behavior and sexual satisfaction could not
be computed because only participants who indicated that they would engage in
sex rated their sexual satisfaction; 1 = sexual communal strength; 2 = communal
strength; 3 = relationship commitment; 4 = self-focused motives; 5 = partner-
focused motives; 6 = actual sexual behavior (0 = did not engage sex and 1 = engaged
in sex); 7 = relationship satisfaction; 8 = sexual satisfaction; 9 = recall ease.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
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6 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
satisfaction via self-focused motivations dropped in magni-
tude and was no longer significant (95% CI = [−.03, .15]).
Second, controlling for relationship commitment, the indi-
rect effect from sexual communal strength to relationship
satisfaction via partner-focused motivations dropped to non-
significance (95% CI = [−.007, .06]).
Finally, consistent with previous research (Muise &
Impett, 2015; Muise et al., 2013), men reported higher levels
of sexual communal strength (M = 5.54, SD = 0.92) than did
women (M = 5.30, SD = 1.05), t(341) = 2.24, p = .026.
Furthermore, men also reported being more concerned with
partner-focused reasons to engage in sex (M = 4.99, SD =
1.06) than did women (M = 4.74, SD = 1.03), t(341) = −2.17,
p = .031. However, there were no significant gender differ-
ences in the importance of self-focused motives not to engage
in sex, or in the ease with which participants were able to
recall a situation in which their desire for sex was lower than
their partner’s desire. Finally, none of our effects were sig-
nificantly moderated by gender, indicating that while men
and women may differ in mean levels of sexual communal
strength and motivation to provide benefits to their partner
when they had lower desire than their partner, the effects of
sexual communal strength on relationship and sexual out-
comes did not differ between men and women.
Brief discussion. The results of this study provide additional
evidence that sexual interdependence dilemmas are incredi-
bly common in romantic relationships. Eighty percent of par-
ticipants were able to recall a situation in which their partner
had high sexual desire but their own desire was low in the
past month, and almost all (95%) had experienced one in the
past year. This study also provided initial evidence for our
model of communal sexual motivation. People who were
highly communal in the sexual domain were more focused
on what they could do for their partner and less focused on
what they had to personally give up to engage in sex, and in
turn, they were more willing to engage in sex when their own
desire was low, and they felt more satisfied with their rela-
tionship and with the sexual experience as a result.
Study 3
In our third study, both members of romantic couples partici-
pated in an experience sampling study in which they com-
pleted daily surveys each day for 21 consecutive days. Study
3 extends the results of our first two studies in three ways.
First, participants in this study completed all key measures
on a daily basis, thus minimizing retrospective bias and the
possibility that people may have potentially reconstrued their
motivations to engage (or not to engage) in sex with their
romantic partner. Second, as both partners reported on sexual
situations in this study, we can investigate the effects of one
partner’s sexual communal motivation in shaping the other
partner’s sexual and relationship satisfaction. This dyadic
data will enable us to determine whether people who are high
in sexual communal strength are actually successful in their
goal of meeting their partner’s sexual needs. Third, we
sought to reduce socially desirable responding by obtaining
an unobtrusive measure of desire-discrepant sexual situa-
tions in romantic relationships. In our first two studies, it was
possible that people overestimated their willingness to
engage in sex when they had low desire to seem like more
responsive romantic partners, and this may have been espe-
cially likely to be true for highly communal people. In Study
3, both members of the couple provided reports of their sex-
ual desire each day that allowed us to test our key effects
both on days when partners reported similar levels of sexual
desire and, most critically, on days when they reported dis-
crepant levels of desire.
Method
Participants and procedure. Participants were recruited
through online postings and classroom visits at a small Cana-
dian university and through online postings on the websites
Kijiji and Craigslist in the Greater Toronto Area. To be eli-
gible to participate, both members of the couple had to agree
to take part in the study and be older than 18. Eligible cou-
ples had to see their partner several times a week and be
sexually active. Interested participants who met the eligibil-
ity criteria emailed the researchers for more information
about the study. After couples agreed to participate, each
partner was emailed a unique link allowing them to access
the online surveys.
Table 2. Total, Direct, and Indirect Effects for Models With
Self-Focused Motives and Partner-Focused Motives Mediating the
Association Between Sexual Communal Strength and Relationship
Outcomes in Study 2.
Relationship outcomes
Sexual
behavior
Sexual
satisfaction
Relationship
satisfaction
Total effect of sexual
communal strength
.39*** (.11) .50*** (.13) .49*** (.07)
Direct effect of
sexual communal
strength
−.03 (.14) .29* (.14) .32*** (.08)
Indirect effects
Self-focused
motives
[−.02, .05] [.01, .16] [−.004, .05]
Partner-focused
motives
[.03, .18] [.02, .21] [.00, .09]
Note. Numbers outside parentheses are unstandardized coefficients;
numbers inside parentheses are standard errors; numbers inside brackets
are upper and lower limits of 95% confidence intervals from MCMAM
mediation analyses. MCMAM = Monte Carlo Method of Assessing
Mediation.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
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Day et al. 7
A total of 101 couples (95 heterosexual, 5 lesbian, and 1
gay couple) ranging in age from 18 to 53 years (M = 26 years,
SD = 7 years) participated in the study. Nearly half of the
participants were cohabitating (29%), married (17%), or
engaged (3%); the remaining participants were in a romantic
relationship but not living together. Participants reported
being involved in their current relationship between 6 months
and 22 years (M = 4.45 years, SD = 3.76 years) and identified
as a diverse variety of ethnic backgrounds; 67% were White,
8% were Asian, 7% were Black, 4% were South Asian, 4%
were Latin American, 4% were South East Asian, 1% were
Arab/West Asian, and 5% identified as multiethnic or “Other.”
On the first day of the study, participants completed a
30-min background survey. Then, each day for 21 consecu-
tive days, participants completed a 5- to 10-min daily survey.
Participants were asked to begin the study on the same day as
their romantic partner and to refrain from discussing their
responses with their partner until the completion of the study.
Each participant was paid up to Cad$40 (in gift cards) for
completing the background and daily surveys; payment was
prorated based on the number of daily diaries completed.
Participants completed an average of 18 daily surveys (M =
18.48, SD = 5.06, range = 1-21).
Person-level measures. Participants completed several indi-
vidual differences measures. As in Study 2, participants com-
pleted the 6-item measure of sexual communal strength on a
5-point scale (0 = not at all to 4 = extremely; Muise et al.,
2013; M = 2.72, SD = 0.80, α = .86), the 10-item measure of
communal strength on a 5-point scale (0 = not at all to 4 =
extremely; Mills et al., 2004; M = 3.16, SD = 0.86, α = .85),
and the 7-item Rusbult et al. (1998) measure of relationship
commitment on a 7-point scale (1 = strongly disagree to 7 =
strongly agree; M = 6.24, SD = 1.04, α = .89).
Daily-level measures. We used measures with only a few items
or a single item in the diary study to increase efficiency and
minimize participant attrition (Bolger, Davis, & Rafaeli,
2003).
Each day, regardless of whether participants engaged in
sexual activity with their romantic partner, they rated their
motivations to have sex as well as their motivations not to
have sex to measure self-focused motives not to engage in
sex (M = 3.52, SD = 1.61, five items, α = .93) and partner-
focused motives to engage in sex (M = 4.88, SD = 1.87, three
items, α = .96). The items were the same items used in Study
2 and were all rated on a 7-point scale (1 = not at all to 7 = a
lot). In addition, as in this study we did not specifically set up
situations of conflicting interests, we also asked participants
to report their self-focused motives for engaging in sex
because participants may have also been motivated to engage
in sex for their own self-interest. Six items, such as “I wanted
to pursue my own sexual pleasure” (M = 3.30, SD = 1.50, six
items, α = .89), were rated on a 7-point scale (1 = not at all to
7 = a lot).
Participants also indicated whether or not they engaged in
sex with their partner each day (yes/no). Participants engaged
in sex, on average, 4 times over the course of the 3-week diary
study (M = 4.13, SD = 2.83, range = 1-14). On days when par-
ticipants reported engaging in sex, they answered five ques-
tions from the Global Measure of Sexual Satisfaction (GMSEX;
Lawrance & Byers, 1995) to measure their sexual satisfaction.
Items were rated on 7-point bipolar scales: bad–good, unpleas-
ant–pleasant, negative–positive, unsatisfying–satisfying,
worthless–valuable (M = 6.37 SD = 0.89, α = .92). Relationship
satisfaction was assessed with five items from the Investment
Model scale (Rusbult et al., 1998) rated on a 7-point scale (1 =
strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree; α = .90, M = 5.67, SD
= 1.27). Sexual desire was assessed with one item that we have
used in previous daily experience research: “I felt a great deal
of sexual desire for my partner today” (Muise et al., 2013) rated
on a 7-point scale (1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree;
M = 4.76, SD = 1.94). Although we did not compute formal
power analyses given the complexity of determining power in
multilevel designs, our sample sizes are aligned with multilevel
power recommendations of sampling at least 50 observations
at Level 2 to avoid biased estimates of standard errors (current
study: 202 observations; Maas & Hox, 2005).
Results
Data analytic strategy. We analyzed the data with multilevel
modeling using mixed models in SPSS 20.0 (IBM SPSS,
2011). We tested a two-level cross model with random inter-
cepts where persons are nested within dyads, and person and
days are crossed to account for the fact that both partners
completed the daily surveys on the same days (Kenny,
Kashy, & Cook, 2006). The actor–partner interdependence
model (APIM; Kenny et al., 2006) guided our analyses;
models included both actor and partner variables entered
simultaneously as predictors. To avoid confounding within-
and between-person effects, we used techniques appropriate
for a multilevel framework, partitioning all the Level 1 pre-
dictors (i.e., self-focused and partner-focused motives) into
their within- and between-variance components, which were
person-mean centered and aggregated, respectively (Rauden-
bush, Bryk, Cheong, & Congdon, 2004; Zhang, Zyphur, &
Preacher, 2009). In our tests of mediation, as our predictor
variable (i.e., sexual communal strength) is at Level 2, we
focused on the daily aggregates of self-focused and partner-
focused motives, following the guidelines for a multilevel
2-1-1 mediation outlined by Zhang et al. (2009). We used the
Monte Carlo Method of Assessing Mediation (MCMAM;
Selig & Preacher, 2008) with 20,000 resamples and 95% CIs
to test the significance of the indirect effects. In our tests of
mediation, both self-focused and partner-focused motives
were entered simultaneously. For the dichotomous out-
come—whether or not the couple engaged in sex on a given
day—we used the GENLINMIXED procedure. Intercorrela-
tions among all variables are shown in Table 3.
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8 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
In this study, we sought to provide evidence for our model
of sexual communal motivation, both on days when partners’
sexual desires are aligned and on days when partners experi-
enced a sexual interdependence dilemma, most specifically,
on days when a person’s own sexual desire was lower than
their partner’s desire. To do so, we calculated a desire dis-
crepancy score for each couple on each day by subtracting
the partner’s self-reported sexual desire from the actor’s self-
reported desire; any value different from 0 was considered a
desire discrepancy between partners. The absolute values
ranged from 0, indicating that partners’ desires were per-
fectly aligned, to 6, indicating that one partner’s desire was a
1 on a 7-point scale, whereas the other partner’s was a 7 (M
= 1.42, SD = 1.43). It was common for partners to report dif-
ferent levels of daily sexual desire: Across the 21-day diary,
couples reported experiencing desire discrepancies on 69%
of days.
For each predicted effect, we conducted additional analy-
ses to test whether our effects would be consistent on days
when partners’ sexual interests are more closely aligned as
well as on days when romantic partners report discrepancies
in sexual desire. In particular, we considered whether the
degree of desire discrepancy between partners moderated
any of our effects. Following a bilinear modeling approach
(Kenny et al., 2006), we created two separate desire discrep-
ancy variables so that we could model both the magnitude
and direction of the desire discrepancy between partners.
This approach allowed us to investigate situations in which
the actor’s desire is higher than the partner’s desire and situ-
ations in which the partner’s desire is higher than the actor’s
desire separately. This is important because we are particu-
larly interested in situations when a person’s own sexual
desire is low and their partner’s sexual desire is high, and this
technique allowed us to distinguish these situations from
those where the actor reports higher desire than their
partner.
We tested whether each effect was moderated by either of
the two desire discrepancy variables. The first variable (part-
ner’s desire is higher) was coded as the numerical difference
between partners’ reported sexual desire when a partner’s
desire was higher than the actor’s; when the actor’s desire
was higher, we assigned a value of 0 to the variable. A higher
score on this variable represents a larger desire discrepancy
between partners in situations when the partner’s desire is
higher than the actor’s desire. The second variable (actor’s
desire is higher) was coded in the opposite manner: The
actual difference between partner’s reported sexual desire
when an actor’s desire was higher than their partner’s desire,
and 0 for when the partner’s desire was higher than the
actor’s desire. A higher score on this variable represents a
larger desire discrepancy in situations where the actor’s
desire is higher than their partner’s desire. Even though we
are primarily interested in days when a partner’s sexual
desire is higher than the actor’s desire, we entered both desire
discrepancy variables into the model to test whether any
effects are due to the magnitude of the desire discrepancy
between partners or whether the direction of the desire dis-
crepancy is important.
Daily sexual interdependence dilemmas. The results of this
study supported all of our predictions. As shown in Table 4,
sexual communal strength was positively associated with the
likelihood of engaging in sex on any given day in the diary; in
fact, for every one unit increase in sexual communal strength,
participants were 1.2 times more likely to engage in sex each
day. Sexual communal strength was also positively associated
with sexual and relationship satisfaction, meaning that people
who were more motivated to meet their partner’s sexual needs
reported higher sexual and relationship satisfaction than those
who were lower in sexual communal strength. Finally, the
partners of people high in sexual communal strength also
reported enhanced sexual and relationship satisfaction, which
Table 3. Intercorrelations Among All Variables in Study 3.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 .35*** .29*** .32*** −.27*** .31*** −.07 .21*** .21** .36***
2 — .59*** .14 −.20** .09 −.25 .04 .36*** .29***
3 .17* −.14 .10 −.19 .07 .44*** .23**
4 −.10 .65*** .21 .40*** .53*** .36***
5 .09 .46** −.07 −.17* −.30***
6 .37* .33*** .42*** .27***
7 — .09 .17 .03
8 .21** .14
9 — .49
10 —
Note. All daily items in the diary were aggregated to produce correlations; 1 = sexual communal strength (background); 2 = communal strength
(background); 3 = relationship commitment (background); 4 = sexual desire (daily); 5 = self-focused motives (daily); 6 = partner-focused motives (daily);
7 = self-focused motives for engaging in sex (daily); 8 = sexual behavior (daily; 0 = did not engage sex and 1 = engaged in sex); 9 = relationship satisfaction
(daily); 10 = sexual satisfaction (daily).
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
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Day et al. 9
suggests that people who are high in sexual communal
strength are actually successful in their goal of meeting their
partner’s sexual needs.
Importantly, as shown in Table 5, the results revealed that,
with one exception, none of these effects were significantly
moderated by the degree of discrepancy in partners’ sexual
desire, except the effect of sexual communal strength on
sexual satisfaction (b = .11, SE = .04, t = 2.38, p = .02). More
specifically, and as shown in Figure 2, whereas people low (1
SD below the mean) in sexual communal strength reported
experiencing decreased sexual satisfaction on days when
their partner’s desire was higher than their own (b = −.19, SE
= .05, t = −3.97, p < .001), people high (1 SD above the
mean) in sexual communal strength were buffered against
feeling less satisfied in these situations (b = −.003, SE = .06,
t = −0.06, p = .96).
Sexual communal strength was also associated with self-
and partner-focused motivations. As expected, sexual com-
munal strength was negatively associated with self-focused
motives not to engage in sex (b = −.40, SE = .08, t = −4.72, p
< .001) and was positively associated with partner-focused
motives to engage in sex (b = .41, SE = .09, t = 4.50, p <
.001). Most critically and as shown in Table 5, there were no
significant moderations by either of the desire discrepancy
variables, suggesting that these effects are consistent even on
days when romantic partners reported differing levels of sex-
ual desire—most central to our argument, on days when the
partner’s desire for sex was high, but an actor’s own desire
for sex was low. Finally, as shown in Table 4, self- and part-
ner-focused motives simultaneously mediated all of the asso-
ciations between sexual communal strength and sexual and
relationship outcomes for both partners with only one
Table 4. Total, Direct, and Indirect Effects for Models With Costs to Self and Benefits to Partner Mediating the Association Between
Sexual Communal Strength and Daily Outcomes in Study 3.
Daily outcomes
Decision to
have sex
Actor’s sexual
satisfaction
Actor’s
relationship quality
Partner’s sexual
satisfaction
Partner’s
relationship quality
Total effect of sexual
communal strength
.18* (.09) .37*** (.06) .20** (.07) .16** (.06) .16* (.07)
Direct effect of sexual
communal strength
.12 (.16) .21** (.07) .08 (.07) .04 (.07) .09 (.07)
Indirect effects
Self-focused motives [−.02, .15] [.03, .11] [.001, .07] [.03, .12] [.001, .06]
Partner-focused motives [.12, .35] [.02, .12] [.08, .24] [.02, .12] [.08, .23]
Note. Numbers outside parentheses are unstandardized coefficients; numbers inside parentheses are standard errors; numbers inside brackets are upper
and lower limits of 95% confidence intervals from MCMAM mediation analyses. MCMAM = Monte Carlo Method of Assessing Mediation.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
Table 5. Daily Desire Discrepancy Moderations Between Sexual Communal Strength and Daily Outcomes in Study 3.
Daily outcomes
Costs to self
Benefits to
partner
Sexual
behavior
Actor’s sexual
satisfaction
Actor’s relationship
satisfaction
Partner’s sexual
satisfaction
Partner’s relationship
satisfaction
SCS −.43*** (.09) .32** (.10) .32* (.10) .27*** (.07) .25** (.07) .44 (.42) .29*** (.07)
Desire (sum of
partners’ scores)
−.10*** (.01) .29*** (.01) .54*** (.02) .09*** (.02) .20*** (.02) .28* (.12) .21*** (.02)
Discrepancy 1
(actor > partner)
−.07** (.03) .17*** (.03) .11 (.03) .05 (.03) .12** (.03) −.64** (.24) −.04 (.03)
Discrepancy 2
(partner > actor)
.15*** (.03) −.30*** (.03) −.07 (.03) −.09* (.04) −.22*** (.04) .03 (.23) .05 (.03)
SCS × Discrepancy 1 .02 (.03) .01 (.03) −.04 (.04) .01 (.03) −.05 (.03) .15 (.28) .00 (.01)
SCS × Discrepancy 2 .04 (.03) −.01 (.03) −.13 (.04) .11* (.05) −.06 (.05) −.10 (.31) .00 (.01)
Note. Numbers outside parentheses are unstandardized coefficients; numbers inside parentheses are standard errors. The variable “sexual behavior”
was coded as 0 = did not engage in sex, 1 = did engage in sex. In these analyses, partner’s sexual communal strength is controlled; however, the pattern
of results is the same if this variable is not controlled. None of the interactions between partner’s sexual communal strength and the desire discrepancy
variables are significant, and all the effects remained the same when these were entered into the model; therefore, these variables are not reported here.
The analyses for the variable “sexual behavior” was conducted using GENLINMIXED because this is a dichotomous variable; the other analyses depicted
were conducted using mixed models. SCS = sexual communal strength.
p < .06. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
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10 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
exception. When self- and partner-focused motives were
entered as simultaneous mediators, self-focused motives
were not significantly associated with the likelihood of
engaging in sex (b = −.12, p = .11) and therefore did not sig-
nificantly mediate the association between sexual communal
strength and the likelihood of engaging in sex.
Ruling out alternative explanations. As in Study 2, we wanted
to rule out the possibility that the effects might be driven by
individual differences in general communal strength or rela-
tionship commitment. As shown in Table 5, sexual commu-
nal strength was significantly correlated with general
communal strength and relationship commitment. However,
after we controlled general communal strength and relation-
ship commitment, all of our effects remained significant. In
addition, in this study, we wanted to rule out the possibility
that our effects could be accounted for by a person’s self-
focused motives to engage in sex, such as desires to pursue
their own pleasure, because even in situations in which a per-
son’s desire is lower than their partner’s desire, they may still
engage in sex to pursue benefits for the self. All of our effects
remained significant after we controlled for self-focused
sexual motives.
Finally, consistent with previous research (Muise et al.,
2013), men (M = 3.96, SD = 0.82) reported higher sexual
communal strength than women (M = 3.45, SD = 0.85),
t(191) = 3.38, p = .001. Furthermore, women (M = 3.74, SD
= 1.66) indicated that they were significantly more likely
than men (M = 3.28, SD = 1.52) to avoid costs to the self of
engaging in sex, t(2419) = −7.06, p < .001. However, gender
did not moderate any of our effects, suggesting that the
effects of sexual communal strength on sexual and relation-
ship outcomes did not differ for men and women.
Brief discussion. The results of Study 3 suggest that desire dis-
crepancies are incredibly common in long-term romantic
relationships. Couples reported differing levels of sexual
desire on 69% of days in the sample—equivalent to about 5
days out of 7 per week. On days when partners reported dis-
crepant levels of sexual desire, couples nonetheless engaged
in sex on about a quarter (23%) of these days, suggesting that
engaging in sex when one is not in the mood is also quite
common. Importantly, this study provided the strongest evi-
dence of the three studies for our full model of sexual com-
munal motivation, showing that communal people make
daily sexual decisions in desire-discrepant situations in a
way that benefits both themselves and their romantic
partner.
General Discussion
In three studies using multiple methods, we showed that it
was very common for romantic partners to experience situa-
tions in which they had conflicting sexual interests and
desires in their relationships. In fact, participants were easily
able to imagine, recall, or report desire-discrepant situations
in their own relationships, suggesting that partners in long-
term relationships are highly likely to experience situations
of conflicting sexual interests and that this is an important
interdependence dilemma that couples face in their daily
lives (see review by Impett & Peplau, 2003). Given the high
frequency with which couples face this dilemma, it is sur-
prising that close relationships and sexuality scholars have
not yet investigated how couples can navigate such situa-
tions to maximize sexual and relationship satisfaction.
The results of our studies showed that in sexual interde-
pendence dilemmas in which people had lower desire than
4
4.5
5
5.5
6
Low desire discrepancyHigh desire discrepancy
Actor's Sexual satisfaction
Low sexual
communal strength
High sexual
communal strength
***
Figure 2. Interaction between sexual communal strength and desire discrepancy in Study 3.
Note. In these analyses, low desire discrepancy refers to days when partners’ desire are equal, and high desire discrepancy refers to days when the
partner’s sexual desire is higher than the actor’s sexual desire.
p < .06. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
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Day et al. 11
their romantic partner, people who are high in sexual com-
munal strength, or were in an experimental condition that
primed sexual communal strength, were not only more will-
ing to engage in sex, but they also experienced higher sexual
and relationship satisfaction than people who were less com-
munal. Most strikingly, whereas less communal people expe-
rienced less sexual satisfaction on days when they engaged
in sex when they were not in the mood than on days when
both partners’ passions were running high, people high in
sexual communal strength experienced equally high levels of
sexual satisfaction on days when both partners wanted sex
and on days when they were less enthused than their partner.
In Studies 2 and 3, we investigated our proposed mediators
of these effects. These studies showed that people high in
communal strength were more motivated by partner-focused
concerns, and less motivated with self-focused concerns,
which in turn led to a greater willingness to engage in sex, as
well as greater sexual and relationship satisfaction in both
studies. Furthermore, the dyadic nature of Study 3 also
enabled us to investigate the effect of one partner’s sexual
communal strength on the other partner’s feelings of sexual
and relationship satisfaction in desire-discrepant situations.
We found that when individuals are more communally moti-
vated in the domain of sexuality, their partner did, in fact,
report experiencing higher sexual and relationship satisfac-
tion, indicating that communally motivated people are at
least somewhat successful in achieving their desired goal of
meeting their partner’s sexual needs in situations of conflict-
ing sexual interests.
Theoretical Contributions
The current investigation extends existing work on close
relationships and sexuality. The current studies merge two
well-established theories in close relationships research—
interdependence theory (Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003, 2008)
and theories of communal motivation (Clark & Mills, 1979,
2012; Mills & Clark, 1982)—and are the first studies to do so
in the context of established relationships. Interdependence
theory posits that in romantic relationships, partners will
inevitably encounter situations in which their interests con-
flict. These situations provide important information about
people’s motivation to pursue their own self-interests versus
promote the interests of their partner (Rusbult & Van Lange,
2003, 2008). Interdependence theory suggests that when
people choose to make a sacrifice for their romantic partner,
their motivation is transformed from immediately focusing
on the consequences for the self of making the sacrifice to
focusing on the broader consequences for the partner or the
relationship. The current studies suggest that, at least in the
domain of sexuality, people who are highly motivated to
meet their partner’s sexual needs are more willing to forego
their own interests to pursue benefits to their partner, which
in turn contributes to the better relationship and sexual out-
comes experienced by both partners.
An additional novel contribution of this work is that it is
the first to combine interdependence theory and theories of
communal motivation in the uniquely intimate domain of
sexuality. Given that the vast majority of ongoing romantic
relationships are sexually monogamous (Blanchflower &
Oswald, 2004), romantic partners are highly dependent on
each other to meet their sexual needs. In a sexual interdepen-
dence dilemma when one partner is interested in sex, but the
other partner’s desire for sex is low, the higher desire partner
is often more dependent on the lower desire partner than vice
versa as the high desire partner is relying on their partner to
meet their needs (Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003). Therefore,
sexual interdependence dilemmas may make people feel par-
ticularly vulnerable (Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003) and pres-
ent ample opportunities for rejection and emotional pain
(Metts & Cupach, 1989; Sanford, 2003). Indeed, a pilot
study by Rehman et al. (2011) has shown that disagreements
in the domain of sexuality are more diagnostic of overall
relationship quality than other types of disagreements. In this
work, negative behaviors displayed during discussions of a
sexual conflict more strongly predicted feelings of relation-
ship dissatisfaction than negative behaviors displayed during
discussions of a nonsexual conflict. It seems then that sexual
conflicts may be particularly challenging and emotionally
charged but that their successful resolution is especially
important for the maintenance of satisfying relationships.
Finally, the current investigation includes the first study
to experimentally manipulate communal motivation, and in
this case, communal motivation in the domain of sexuality.
Although previous work includes experimental manipula-
tions of felt value toward a romantic partner (Lemay &
Melville, 2014) and the desire for a communal relationship
with a stranger (Lemay & Clark, 2008), no research to date
has manipulated communal motivation within the context of
a romantic relationship. Thus, our findings are the first in this
growing literature to provide experimental evidence for the
direction of the association between communal motivation
and relationship outcomes.
Limitations and Future Directions
In the current research, we found that when people encoun-
tered situations in which their romantic partner’s desire for sex
was higher than their own, people high in sexual communal
strength were more willing to forego their own self-interest to
promote their partner’s interests. One important limitation of
this set of studies is that it relied on self-report measures, and
thus, participants may have been responding based on social
desirability concerns. Importantly, this issue may have affected
each part of our theoretical model. Participants may have been
particularly motivated to appear more communal than they
actually were, more concerned with partner-focused reasons to
engage in sex, and less concerned with self-focused motives
not to engage in sex, and they may have wanted to appear
more satisfied in their relationships than they actually were.
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12 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
We attempted to mitigate these limitations in two ways. First,
in Studies 2 and 3, we controlled for general communal
strength, a construct that would also likely be vulnerable to
socially desirable responding, and our results remained sig-
nificant. Second, in Study 3, participants were not aware that
we were specifically interested in sexual interdependence
dilemmas and thus would not have been motivated to make
themselves appear more communal than they actually were.
An additional limitation of this work is that we were not
able to disentangle two competing explanations for our find-
ings. One possibility is that communally motivated people
transform their motivation from focusing on what they
would personally have to lose from engaging in sex when
their desire is low to focusing on promoting their partner’s
interests (Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003, 2008). Another pos-
sibility, in line with recent research on prosociality, suggests
that communally motivated people are instinctually focused
on promoting their partner’s interests (Righetti, Finkenauer,
& Finkel, 2013; Zaki & Mitchell, 2013). That is, their moti-
vation may not be transformed from initially being more
self-focused to becoming more partner-focused, but commu-
nally oriented people’s first inclination might be to act proso-
cially. One avenue for future research is to try to disentangle
these two explanations and determine any benefits that are
unique to instinctual prosociality versus transformed proso-
cial giving in relationships (see review by Day & Impett, in
press).
As the current study was centrally focused on demon-
strating the relationship and sexual benefits of communal
motivation when couples experience sexual interdepen-
dence dilemmas, we did not address the factors that pro-
mote sexual communal strength in the first place. Research
on communal motivation more generally suggests that self-
disclosure is an important aspect of communal relation-
ships (Clark & Mills, 2012) As such, one way to promote
sexual communal strength in an ongoing relationship may
be for partners to communicate about their sexual prefer-
ences. In addition, research suggests that expressing grati-
tude to a partner promotes communal strength (Lambert,
Clark, Durtschi, Fincham, & Graham, 2010), and feelings
of gratitude motivate responsiveness and the maintenance
of relationships over time (Gordon, Impett, Kogan, Oveis,
& Keltner, 2012). As such, it will be interesting for future
research to determine whether gratitude might promote
sexual communal strength.
The present studies did not consider times in which it
might be important for partners to be motivated to meet one
another’s needs not to engage in sex. Thus, a relevant avenue
for future research is to consider responsiveness to a partner’s
sexual needs, when those needs are to not engage in sex.
Communally motivated people may be better able to respond
to a romantic partner’s changing needs over time (Clark,
Graham, Williams, & Lemay, 2008), and in the sexual
domain, this may mean, at times, being relatively accepting of
a partner’s desire not to engage in sex. We expect that during
times when people are experiencing particularly low sexual
desire, such as during times of stress or important life transi-
tions, their partner’s motivation to meet their need not to
engage in sex will be particularly important in shaping how
both partners feel about the relationship. Thus, future research
could investigate the role of sexual communal strength—
including the ability to accept having sex less frequently than
is typical for the couple—in shaping how couples manage
conflicting sexual interests during important life and relation-
ship transitions, such as the transition to parenthood.
Finally, it will also be important to consider some of the
possible boundary conditions of the effects documented in
this article. Although we have shown that being motivated to
meet a partner’s sexual needs is beneficial for both partners,
we do not think that being motivated to meet a partner’s sex-
ual needs to the exclusion of one’s own needs would be ben-
eficial—for either partner in the relationship. Indeed,
research on unmitigated communion (see Helgeson & Fritz,
1998) has shown that in situations when interpersonal con-
flict arises, individuals high in unmitigated communion tend
to experience more negative and less positive affect
(Nagurney, 2007). Thus, we think it is important that people
strike the right balance between being responsive to their
partner’s needs and asserting their own needs, and this bal-
ance will likely change over the course of the relationship
and as couples undergo important relationship transitions.
Conclusion
In ongoing romantic relationships, partners will inevitably
face situations in which their sexual interests and desires are at
odds with one another. The current investigation provides the
first evidence that, when partners experience a discrepancy in
their sexual desires, communally motivated people have an
increased desire to promote their partner’s interests and a
decreased desire to pursue their own interests and, as a result,
are able to navigate sexual interdependence dilemmas in a
way that is beneficial for both partners in the relationship.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support
for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This
work has been supported by a Social Science and Humanities
Research Council (SSHRC) Graduate Scholarship awarded to Lisa
Day, a SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship awarded to Samantha
Joel, a SSHRC Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship awarded to Amy
Muise, and a SSHRC Insight Grant awarded to Emily Impett.
Supplemental Material
The online supplemental material is available at http://pspb.
sagepub.com/supplemental.
by guest on April 9, 2015psp.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Day et al. 13
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The links between income, sexual behavior and reported happiness are studied using recent data on a sample of 16,000 adult Americans. The paper finds that sexual activity enters strongly positively in happiness equations. Higher income does not buy more sex or more sexual partners. Married people have more sex than those who are single, divorced, widowed or separated. The happiness-maximizing number of sexual partners in the previous year is calculated to be 1. Highly educated females tend to have fewer sexual partners. Homosexuality has no statistically significant effect on happiness. © The editors of the Scandinavian Journal of Economics 2004. Published by Blackwell Publishing.
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