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The relationship implications of rejecting a partner for sex kindly versus having sex reluctantly

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Romantic partners often have differing levels of sexual interest. In these situations, lower desire partners may engage in sex for avoidance goals (e.g., to avoid disappointing their partner), which are associated with negative relational outcomes. An alternative strategy to sustain relationship quality may be to decline a partner’s sexual advances in positive ways. In two experimental studies and a dyadic daily experience study with a longitudinal follow-up, we examined the relationship outcomes of positive rejection compared to avoidance-motivated sex. Across studies, when people engaged in positive rejection, both they and their partner did not experience lower levels of relationship satisfaction compared to when they had sex for avoidance goals, although this was not true for sexual satisfaction. Chronic pursuit of sex for avoidance goals did, however, have detrimental consequences over time, whereas positive rejection helped sustain relationship satisfaction. Results suggest positive rejection behaviors may be a viable alternative to avoidance-motivated sex.
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Article
The relationship implications
of rejecting a partner for
sex kindly versus having
sex reluctantly
James Kim
1
, Amy Muise
2
, and Emily A. Impett
1
Abstract
Romantic partners often have differing levels of sexual interest. In these situations, lower
desire partners may engage in sex for avoidance goals (e.g., to avoid disappointing their
partner),which are associated withnegative relational outcomes. An alternative strategy to
sustain relationship quality may be to decline a partner’s sexual advances in positive ways. In
two experimental studies and a dyadic daily experience study with a longitudinal follow-up,
we examined the relationship outcomes of positive rejection compared to avoidance-
motivated sex. Across studies, when people engaged in positive rejection, both they and
their partner did not experience lower levels of relationship satisfaction compared to when
they had sex for avoidance goals, although thiswas not true for sexual satisfaction. Chronic
pursuit of sex for avoidance goals did, however, have detrimental consequences over time,
whereas positive rejection helped sustain relationship satisfaction. Results suggest positive
rejection behaviors may be a viable alternative to avoidance-motivated sex.
Keywords
Avoidance goals, sexual decision-making romantic relationships, sexual motivation,
sexual rejection
Romantic couples frequently experience situations in which one partner has lower desire
than the other (see review by Impett, Muise, & Rosen, 2015). During times when people
are not in the mood for sex, they may experience conflicting goals: While they do not
1
University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada
2
York University, Canada
Corresponding author:
James Kim, University of Toronto Mississauga, 3359 Mississauga Road, Mississauga, Ontario L5L 1C6, Canada.
Email: jamesjk.kim@mail.utoronto.ca
Journal of Social and
Personal Relationships
2018, Vol. 35(4) 485–508
ªThe Author(s) 2018
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DOI: 10.1177/0265407517743084
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J S P R
want to disappoint their partner or risk conflict in their relationship, they may also want
to find a way to reject their partner’s sexual advances while preserving their intimate
connection. Given that one of the most commonly cited disagreements between romantic
partners is when and how frequently to engage in sex (Risch, Riley, & Lawler, 2003) and
conflicts of interest about sex are one of the most difficult types of conflict to suc-
cessfully resolve (Metts & Cupach, 1989), it is essential that couples find ways to
navigate these situations, so that both partners’ needs can be met.
Studies show that engaging in more frequent sex is linked with greater relationship
satisfaction (e.g., Brezsnyak & Whisman, 2004; Muise, Schimmack, & Impett, 2016),
especially when pursued for approach goals such as to please a partner or enhance
intimacy (Impett, Gable, & Peplau, 2005; Muise, Impett, & Desmarais, 2013). Yet
research has indicated that avoidance goals, such as to avoid conflict or hurting a
partner’s feelings, are linked with lower relationship and sexual satisfaction for both
partners (Impett et al., 2005; Muise et al., 2013). Therefore, it is essential to understand
if, when people have high avoidance goals for sex, there are particular ways that they can
decline their partner’s sexual advances that can buffer the rejected partner from feeling
hurt, while also maintaining the couples’ intimate connection.
Sexual goals and relationship well-being
An important predictor of what differentiates satisfying relationships and sexual
experiences from dissatisfying ones concerns people’s goals for engaging in sex (see
review by Impett et al., 2015). One common motivational framework applied to sexu-
ality stems from work on approach and avoidance social motivation (Elliot, Gable, &
Mapes, 2006; Gable & Impett, 2012). When people pursue sex for approach goals, they
are focused on attaining positive outcomes such as pleasing their partner or enhancing
relationship intimacy. In contrast, when people pursue sex for avoidance goals, they are
focused on averting negative outcomes such as a partner’s loss of interest or relationship
conflict (Cooper, Shapiro, & Powers, 1998; Impett et al., 2005).
Several daily experience studies of couples have shown that whereas approach goals
are associated with increased positive emotions as well as enhanced sexual and rela-
tionship satisfaction for both partners, avoidance goals are associated with increased
negative emotions and lower satisfaction (Impett et al., 2005; Muise et al., 2013).
Avoidance goals tend to be associated with unfavorable outcomes due to a person’s
focus and expectation of negative outcomes (Strachman & Gable, 2006), and when
pursuing sex for avoidance goals, people report lower sexual desire, which in part,
accounts for lower levels of satisfaction with the experience and relationship (Muise
et al., 2013). Furthermore, people who chronically pursue avoidance goals were less
sexually satisfied, more likely to have broken up with their partner (Impett et al., 2005),
and had partners who felt less sexually satisfied and less committed to the relationship
4 months later (Muise et al., 2013), suggesting that the chronic pursuit of avoidance
sexual goals can be detrimental to the maintenance of relationships over time. While
research indicates that in relationships, sex tends to be more strongly approach
motivated than avoidance motivated (Impett, Strachman, Finkel, & Gable, 2008), it
remains to be seen whether there are alternative behaviors or strategies people can
486 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 35(4)
engage in when their avoidance goals are strong that may be associated with better
relationship outcomes.
Sexual rejection and relationship well-being
In situations in which partners have divergent sexual interests, one possibility is for the
less interested partner to express their disinterest in having sex and decline their
partner’s advances. Only one study of which we are aware has examined sexual
rejection in established romantic relationships. Byers and Heinlein (1989) found that
sexual refusals were a relatively common response to sexual initiation attempts among
married and cohabiting couples and that more frequent sexual refusals were related to
lower relationship and sexual satisfaction. Complementing this work, research on
interpersonal rejection and unrequited love supports the view that romantic rejection is
highly distressing since the person being rejected experiences a threat to their self-
worth, and the rejecter experiences guilt from having caused the partner pain (Bau-
meister & Dhavale, 2001). Anticipating or experiencing rejection from a romantic
partner may also threaten connectedness (Murray, Rose, Bellavia, Holmes, & Kusche,
2002) and increase hostility and insecurity (Downey & Feldman, 1996; Downey,
Freitas, Michaelis, & Khouri, 1998).
Sexual rejection may pose significant threats to relationship quality given that
sexuality is a particularly emotionally charged domain of relationships (Banmen &
Vogel, 1985). As most relationships are sexually monogamous, partners rely solely on
one another to meet their sexual needs (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2004) which can make
sexual conflicts particularly difficult to resolve. Indeed, research on marital interactions
has shown that sexual conflicts can be more impactful for relationship quality and
produce greater anxiety than other types of conflict topics (Rehman et al., 2011; Reh-
man, Lizdeck, Fallis, Sutherland, & Goodnight, 2017). Thus, situations of desire dis-
crepancy may be particularly difficult for couples to manage given the sensitive nature of
delivering as well as experiencing, sexual rejection.
Empirical work on sexual rejection has yet to investigate if there are optimal ways
that people can express their disinterest in sex that protect relationship quality and hence
reflect a viable alternative to engaging in sex for avoidance goals. Given the limited
empirical work on sexual rejection in relationships, we drew upon research on rela-
tionship conflict resolution (e.g., Canary, 2003; Gottman, Markman, & Notarius, 1977;
Heyman, 2001; Rusbult & Zembrodt, 1983) to inform our work. A crucial message from
this literature is that it is not conflict per se that hurts relationships but rather, the way that
couples manage conflict that impacts whether relationships will falter or fail (Carrere &
Gottman, 1999; McCoy, Cummings, & Davies, 2009), suggesting that certain ways of
delivering sexual rejection might be better than others.
Research on conflict resolution typically characterizes relationship behaviors
according to whether they are positive or negative in valence. Positive conflict processes
such as accommodation (i.e., constructive responses to a partner’s destructive acts) and
validation (i.e., communicating understanding and acceptance of a partner’s experience)
tend to predict positive relationship evaluations (Rusbult, Verette, Whitney, Slovik, &
Lipkus, 1991), greater relationship well-being (Rusbult, Bissonnette, Arriaga, & Cox,
Kim et al. 487
1998), and less relationship distress (Epstein & Baucom, 2002; Kirby, Baucom, &
Peterman, 2005). Indeed, perceived partner responsiveness—where individuals feel
understood, accepted, and cared for by their partner (Reis, Clark, & Holmes, 2004)—
plays a central role in the quality and maintenance of relationships during conflict and
relationship discussions (Melby, Ge, Conger, & Warner, 1995; Wieselquist, Rusbult,
Foster, & Agnew, 1999).
In contrast, negative conflict behaviors such as hostility or criticism and greater
reciprocity of negative communication between partners are associated with lower
relationship satisfaction (Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Markman, Rhoades, Stanley,
Ragan, & Whitton, 2010) and increased distress (Beach & Fincham, 1994). Couples who
attempt to resolve problems and disagreements by belittling, attacking, or blaming their
partners also experience greater relationship difficulties (Assad, Donnellan, & Conger,
2007), highlighting how negative conflict behaviors can prevent partners from feeling
valued and respected (Maisel, Gable, & Strachman, 2008). Drawing on this literature,
sexual rejection that is delivered in negative ways—such as when people criticize their
partner and express hostility—should be associated with lower satisfaction as it fails to
provide partners with any assurance or validation. In contrast, sexual rejection that is
delivered in positive ways—such as when people demonstrate responsiveness, com-
municate feelings of affection, and show caring concern for their partner—may be an
optimal strategy for sustaining satisfaction and may indeed provide a viable alternative
to engaging in sex when avoidance goals are strong.
Overview of hypotheses and current studies
In the current research, we were interested in four behaviors—sex motivated by
approach goals, sex motivated by avoidance goals, sexual rejection delivered in
positive ways, and sexual rejection delivered in negative ways—and their links with
the sexual and relationship satisfaction of both partners in romantic relationships.
Based on past research, we expected that engaging in sex for approach goals should
predict the most satisfying relationship outcomes, whereas engaging in negative
behaviors when declining a partner for sex should predict the least satisfying rela-
tionship outcomes.
Central to the primary research question, however, it is unclear how the consequences
of engaging in sex for avoidance goals would compare to rejecting a partner in positive
ways. On the one hand, since avoidance sexual goals are associated with lower satis-
faction (Impett et al., 2005; Muise et al., 2013), people might be better protected against
experiencing negative relationship outcomes if their partner declines their advances in a
way that shows understanding, validation, and caring for their needs (Reis, Clark, &
Holmes, 2004). On the other hand, in light of research showing that couples typically
report higher satisfaction on days when they engage in sex compared to days when they
do not (Muise et al., 2013), it is possible that engaging in sex for any type of goal—
including avoidance goals—might be better than declining or being declined for sex,
even in reassuring and loving ways. We examine these possibilities in two experimental
studies of individuals in romantic relationships (Studies 1A and 1B) and a daily expe-
rience study of romantic couples (Study 2).
488 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 35(4)
Study 1A
Study 1A was a within-subject experimental scenario study designed to provide an initial
test of how approach goals, avoidance goals, positive sexual rejection, and negative
sexual rejection impact sexual and relationship satisfaction.
Method
Participants
Two hundred and forty participants were recruited from the United States from
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk). Participants had to be at least 18 years old and
have a current partner with whom they were sexually active. A final sample of 191
individuals (53%women) remained after excluding participants who did not meet
eligibility criteria or failed an attention check (n¼49 or 20%of participants). A priori
power analyses using G*Power 3 (Faul, Erdfelder, Lang, & Buchner, 2007) indicated
that this sample size was large enough to detect an estimated effect size of f
2
¼.11
(calculated from a pilot study) with 80%power. See Table 1 for participant demo-
graphic information.
Procedure and measures
Participants completed an online survey with several hypothetical scenarios in which
they imagined initiating sex with their partner. Each scenario represented an experi-
mental condition with the order of the conditions counterbalanced across the sample.
Among the scenarios, participants imagined their partner declining their sexual advances
using positive rejection behaviors or negative rejection behaviors.
1
In two other sce-
narios, they imagined their partner accepting their sexual advances for either approach or
avoidance sexual goals. A “sex-only” control condition was also included in which
participants imagined their partner accepting their sexual advances but were not pro-
vided with any information regarding their partner’s sexual goals. The purpose of this
control condition was to provide a point of comparison for the effects of all other
conditions. See Table 2 for full descriptions of all conditions of interest in this study.
Table 1. Sample characteristics.
Sample Age (years)
Relationship
length (years)
Sample
Initial
N
Final
N
%
Female
%
Caucasian
% Married/
Engaged
%
Heterosexual Mean SD Range Mean SD
Study 1A 240 191 53 82 41 86 33 10 18–70 6 7
Study 1B 568 451 49 80 51 89 35 11 18–73 8 9
Study 2 210 196 51 77 54 86 33 8 21–61 8 5
Note. The initial Nindicates the total number of participants recruited for the study. The final Nindicates
participants who were retained for final analyses.
Kim et al. 489
After each scenario, participants were asked to report on a 7-point scale (1 ¼not at all to
7¼alot) how satisfied they would feel about their relationship (How satisfied with your
relationship would you feel?) as well as their sex life (How satisfied with your sex life
would you feel?).
Results
A one-way repeated-measures MANOVA was conducted as relationship satisfaction and
sexual satisfaction were highly correlated (see Online Supplemental Materials for
details). There was a significant within-subjects main effect across the five conditions,
Pillai’s trace ¼.650, F(8, 1,504) ¼90.46, p< .001, Z2
p¼.33. Univariate tests indicated
that there was an effect of condition on relationship satisfaction, F(4, 1,738) ¼229.79, p
< .001, Z2
p¼.55, and sexual satisfaction, F(4, 1,831) ¼229.22, p< .001, Z2
p¼.55.
Bonferroni-corrected pairwise comparison tests revealed that participants’ relationship
satisfaction and sexual satisfaction were significantly different across all conditions. See
Table 3 for means and standard deviations (SDs) for Study 1A conditions and all pair-
wise comparisons. Participants reported the highest relationship satisfaction and sexual
satisfaction in the control condition. Consistent with our hypotheses, and as shown in
Figure 1, participants reported the next highest relationship satisfaction and sexual
satisfaction when they imagined their partner engaging in sex for approach goals, but
they reported the lowest relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction when they
imagined their partner declining their sexual advances in negative ways. Central to our
primary research question, participants reported significantly higher relationship satis-
faction, as well as sexual satisfaction, when they imagined their romantic partner
rejecting their sexual advances in positive ways than when they imagined their partner
engaging in sex for avoidance goals.
Table 2. Description of experimental conditions for Study 1A.
Prompt: “Imagine you and your partner are home on a typical night and you are in the mood for
sex. You initiate sex with your partner ...
Condition Description
Positive rejection ...but they reject your advance by trying to talk instead and offering other
forms of physical contact (kissing, hugging, snuggling, cuddling). Your
partner reassures you that they love you and are attracted to you and offers
to make it up to you in the future.”
Negative rejection ...but they reject your advance by displaying frustration toward you. Your
partner starts to criticize the way you initiated sex as well as other aspects
of your relationship.”
Approach sexual
goals
...and your partner accepts your advances because they want to show you
how much they care for you, give you a sexually pleasurable experience, and
keep you happy.”
Avoidance sexual
goals
...and your partner accepts your advances because they don’t want you to
be upset and don’t want you to lose interest or fall out of love with them.”
Control (sex only) ...and they accept your advances, resulting in sex.”
490 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 35(4)
Table 3. Study 1A pairwise comparisons.
Comparisons Condition A
M(SD)
Condition B
M(SD)tdfp d[95% CI] Z
2
Condition A Condition B
Relationship satisfaction
Positive rejection Avoidance sex goals 5.25 (1.51) 4.03 (1.63) 7.75 189 <.001 0.56 [0.41, 0.71] .24
Positive rejection Approach sex goals 5.25 (1.51) 5.85 (1.35) 4.60 189 <.001 0.33 [0.18, 0.48] .10
Positive rejection Negative rejection 5.25 (1.51) 2.51 (1.67) 17.04 189 <.001 1.24 [1.04, 1.42] .61
Approach sex goals Negative rejection 5.85 (1.35) 2.51 (1.67) 19.63 190 <.001 1.42 [1.21, 1.62] .67
Avoidance sex goals Negative rejection 4.03 (1.63) 2.51 (1.67) 12.43 190 <.001 0.9 [0.73, 1.06] .45
Avoidance sex goals Approach sex goals 4.03 (1.63) 5.85 (1.35) 12.57 190 <.001 0.91 [0.74, 1.07] .45
Control Approach sex goals 6.23 (1.12) 5.85 (1.35) 4.46 190 <.001 0.32 [0.18, 0.47] .09
Control Avoidance sex goals 6.23 (1.12) 4.03 (1.63) 16.20 190 <.001 1.17 [0.99, 1.35] .58
Control Positive rejection 6.23 (1.12) 5.25 (1.51) 8.91 189 <.001 0.65 [0.49, 0.8] .30
Control Negative rejection 6.23 (1.12) 2.51 (1.67) 23.20 190 <.001 1.68 [1.46, 1.89] .74
Sexual satisfaction
Positive rejection Avoidance sex goals 4.65 (1.63) 3.93 (1.68) 4.60 190 <.001 0.33 [0.18, 0.48] .10
Positive rejection Approach sex goals 4.65 (1.63) 5.83 (1.40) 7.94 189 <.001 0.58 [0.73, 0.42] .25
Positive rejection Negative rejection 4.65 (1.63) 2.37 (1.61) 15.49 190 <.001 1.12 [0.93, 1.29] .56
Approach sex goals Negative rejection 5.83 (1.40) 2.37 (1.61) 19.99 189 <.001 1.45 [1.24, 1.65] .68
Avoidance sex goals Negative rejection 3.93 (1.68) 2.37 (1.61) 11.07 190 <.001 0.8 [0.63, 0.96] .39
Avoidance sex goals Approach sex goals 3.93 (1.68) 5.83 (1.40) 12.73 189 <.001 0.92 [1.09, 0.75] .46
Control Approach sex goals 6.27 (1.10) 5.83 (1.40) 5.09 189 <.001 0.37 [0.22, 0.52] .12
Control Avoidance sex goals 6.27 (1.10) 3.93 (1.68) 16.63 190 <.001 1.2 [1.01, 1.38] .59
Control Positive rejection 6.27 (1.10) 4.65 (1.63) 12.55 190 <.001 0.91 [0.74, 1.07] .45
Control Negative rejection 6.27 (1.10) 2.37 (1.61) 24.02 190 <.001 1.74 [1.5, 1.95] .75
Note. After each scenario, participants were asked to report on a 7-point scale (1 ¼not at all to 7 ¼alot) how satisfied they would feel about their relationship (How
satisfied with your relationship would you feel?) as well as their sex life (How satisfied with your sex life would you feel?). All conditions are significantly different from
one another (ps < .001). CI ¼confidence interval.
491
Given the extensive literature on gender differences in sexuality in relationships (see
review by Peplau, 2003), we tested whether gender moderated the key comparison
between the positive rejection and avoidance-motivated sex conditions. There was a
significant interaction between gender and condition for relationship satisfaction, F(4,
85) ¼11.93, p< .001, and sexual satisfaction, F(4, 65) ¼8.43, p< .001. Although both
men and women reported lower relationship satisfaction when they imagined their
partner engaging in sex with them for avoidance goals than when their partner engaged
in positive rejection, the effects were stronger for women, t(100) ¼8.51, p< .001,
compared to men, t(88) ¼2.54, p< .05. Furthermore, women reported lower sexual
satisfaction in the avoidance-motivated sex condition compared to the positive rejection
condition, t(100) ¼6.23, p< .001, although men did not, t(88) ¼.53, p¼.60. We also
examined the influence of sexual frequency and relationship length and found that all the
effects held when controlling for these variables.
Study 1B
In Study 1B, we sought to replicate the key findings of the previous study using a
between-subject design to minimize the potential influence of demand characteristics
and enhance confidence in the findings. We recruited 568 individuals from MTurk using
the same procedure and eligibility criteria as Study 1A. Individuals who had previously
participated in Study 1A or failed attention checks were excluded, leaving a final sample
of 451 individuals (49%women). A priori power analyses using G*Power 3 determined
this sample size was large enough to detect an estimated effect size of f
2
¼.11 with 80%
power. See Table 1 for participant demographics.
Study 1B was similar in design to Study 1A except for one key difference. As our
central research question concerned directly comparing the effects of perceiving
one’s partner engage in sex for avoidance goals versus rejecting them using positive
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
Relationship satisfaction Sexual satisfaction
Approach goals
Avoidance goals
Positive rejection
Negative rejectio
n
Control
Figure 1. Participants’ relationship and sexual satisfaction in response to scenarios in Study 1A. All
conditions are significantly different from one another (ps < .001).
492 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 35(4)
behaviors, we included only three conditions (the negative rejection condition and
sex-only condition were not included as we were confident that they would be
associated with the highest and lowest levels of satisfaction, respectively). Partici-
pants were randomly assigned to one of the three conditions: positive rejection
(n¼154), avoidance sexual goals (n¼145), or approach sexual goals (n¼152),
which acted as our control condition.
Full details of the study and results are available in the Online Supplemental Mate-
rials. Replicating the results from Study 1A, participants who imagined their romantic
partner reject their sexual advances in positive ways reported greater relationship
satisfaction (M¼5.21, standard error (SE)¼.11) than participants who imagined their
partner engaging in sex with them for avoidance goals (M¼4.30, SE ¼.12),
t(284) ¼5.05, p< .001. Similarly, participants who imagined their romantic partner
reject their sexual advances in positive ways reported greater sexual satisfaction
(M¼4.62, SE ¼.12) than participants who imagined their partner engage in sex with
them for avoidance goals (M¼4.18, SE ¼.13), t(288) ¼2.13, p< .05.
Brief discussion of Studies 1A and 1B
Overall, Studies 1A and 1B showed that people reported higher satisfaction when
imagining their partner engaged in sex with them for approach goals and lower
satisfaction when imagining their partner rejected them in negative ways. Most criti-
cally, people reported higher satisfaction when imagining their partner rejected them in
a positive way compared to imagining when their partner engaged in sex to avoid
negative relationship outcomes. While promising, these studies were limited in eco-
logical validity, so we do not know if positive rejection behaviors are associated with
higher satisfaction in couples’ daily lives. The scenarios also contained information
about a partner’s sexual goals (which may not be as readily discernible in daily life)
and only allowed us to examine the relationship implications for the partner who was
imagining having their sexual advances accepted or rejected, limitations which we
address in Study 2.
Study 2
Study 2 was a 4-week dyadic daily experience study designed to allow us to contrast
the daily relationship consequences of the pursuit of avoidance sexual goals and
positive sexual rejection for both relationship partners. As our primary research
question centered on the use of positive rejection behaviors and how they specifically
compare to avoidance goals, our analyses did not focus on testing the effects of
approach goals or negative rejection behaviors (although we controlled for these
variables in our models). We additionally tested whether the effects would be mod-
erated by gender, sexual frequency, and relationship length. For example, positive
rejection may be especially important if a couple engages in sex less frequently,
making the stakes of rejection even higher. Finally, we conducted lagged and long-
itudinal analyses to rule out alternative explanations and examine the longer term
effects of avoidance goals and positive rejection.
Kim et al. 493
Method
Participants
Participants consisted of 98 Canadian couples recruited on Kijiji.ca. In order to be eli-
gible, participants had to be at least 18 years old, and all couples had to be living together
and in a relationship for at least 2 years. Table 1 provides participant demographics.
Procedure
Participants were contacted via e-mail to confirm their eligibility and underwent a
phone screening by a trained research assistant who verified the relationship and
explained study procedures. Participants were instructed to complete their surveys
every evening and that their responses would be ineligible if completed the next day.
Participants were told to complete the surveys separately, to not discuss their sur-
veys with their partner, and that if they missed a day, they should leave that par-
ticular survey blank.
Each participant was initially sent a background survey in which they provided
demographic information. Then, starting the day after completing the background sur-
vey, participants completed 27 daily surveys delivered electronically at the same time
each day. Each daily survey was automatically time-stamped. Only daily surveys
completed before the next morning were treated as valid. In total, participants completed
4,693 daily surveys, an average of 23.9 (of 27) days per person. Each participant received
up to US$65 in gift cards for completing all daily surveys and the follow-up.
Measures
In the background survey, participants reported basic demographic information (i.e.,
gender, age, ethnicity, relationship length), as well as self-reported sexual frequency
(“On average, how frequently do you and your partner have sex?” from 1 ¼less than
once a month to 5 ¼multiple times per week). Participants completed at background the
satisfaction subscale of the Perceived Relationship Quality Components Inventory
(Fletcher, Simpson, & Thomas, 2000) with items such as “How satisfied are you with
your relationship?” (a¼.94). Participants also completed the Global Measure of Sexual
Satisfaction (GMSEX; Lawrance & Byers, 1995) by rating their sex life on five 7-point
dimensions: good–bad, pleasant–unpleasant, positive–negative, satisfying–unsatisfying,
and valuable–worthless (a¼.95).
Then, each day for 27 days, participants completed a survey in which they reported
whether they or their partner had higher sexual desire, rated on a 21-point scale (1 ¼I
had much higher desire to 21 ¼my partner had much higher desire). Full details of this
measure can be found in the Online Supplementary Materials. Participants were also
asked whether or not sex had occurred with the following question: “In the last 24 hr, my
partner and I engaged in sexual activity.” If they answered yes to this question—which
occurred on 1,021 days, participants reported their approach and avoidance sexual goals
(Impett et al., 2005; Muise et al., 2013). Avoidance sexual goals were measured with
three items: “I wanted to avoid conflict with my partner,” “I did not want my partner to
494 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 35(4)
be upset,” and “I did not want my partner to feel undesired” (M¼2.32, SD ¼1.35;
a¼.84). Approach sexual goals were measured with two items: “I wanted my partner to
experience sexual pleasure” and “I wanted to promote intimacy in my relationship”
(M¼5.65, SD ¼1.04, a¼.61), reported on a seven-point scale (1 ¼not at all important
to 7 ¼extremely important).
On days when participants did not engage in sex and reported having lower desire
than their partner—which occurred on 715 days, they indicated the degree to which they
engaged in sexual rejection (“Today, to what extent did you do something to indicate to
your partner that you were not in the mood for sex?” from 1 ¼not at all to 7 ¼alot). If
participants reported a 2 or higher, they responded to 10 items, developed in two pilot
studies (Kim, Muise, Sakaluk, & Impett, 2016) about the degree to which they engaged
in positive and negative sexual rejection behaviors, rated on a 7-point scale (1 ¼not at
all to 7 ¼alot).
The five positive sexual rejection behaviors were as follows: “I reassured my partner
that I am attracted to them,” “I reassured my partner that I love them,” “I offered
alternate forms of physical contact,” “I offered to make it up my partner in the future,”
and “I tried to talk with my partner instead” (M¼2.85, SD ¼1.37; a¼.81). The five
negative sexual rejection behaviors were as follows: “I displayed frustration toward my
partner,” “I was short or curt with my partner,” “I criticized aspects of our relationship,”
“I criticized the way my partner initiated sex,” and “I gave my partner the silent
treatment” (M¼1.56, SD ¼.92; a¼.92). Participants also completed a 1-item daily
measure of relationship satisfaction: “Today, with regard to my relationship, I felt
satisfied.” Daily sexual satisfaction was measured using the GMSEX (Lawrance &
Byers, 1995) with items assessing how they felt about their sex life that day (e.g., “good–
bad,” “pleasant–unpleasant”; a¼.98).
Finally, after completing the last daily diary survey, participants completed a follow-up
survey, which again consisted of the same measures of relationship satisfaction (PRQC;
a¼.97) and sexual satisfaction (GMSEX; a¼.97) included at background.
Results
Analytic plan
Study 2 estimates are reported in Table 4. We analyzed the data using a two-level
cross-classified multivariate multilevel model in which daily reports were crossed
with the individual and dyad level (Laurenceau & Bolger, 2005). Analyses were
conducted using mixed models in SPSS. The primary goal of the analyses was to
compare the effects of positive rejection behaviors to the effect of avoidance sexual
goals on daily relationship and sexual satisfaction. Because avoidance sexual goals
were only reported on days when participants engaged in sex and positive rejection
behaviors on days when they did not engage in sex, we analyzed the data with
multivariate multilevel modeling, which enabled us to simultaneously predict the
association between positive rejection behaviors and satisfaction on nonsex days and
between avoidance sexual goals and satisfaction on sex days. This analytic approach
involved merging participants’ daily scores of positive rejection behaviors on
Kim et al. 495
nonsex days with their daily scores of avoidance sexual goals on sex days to create a
new, combined predictor variable in the dataset. For each of the two outcome
variables—relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction, we further distinguished
between whether satisfaction was reported on sex days or nonsex days. As such, the
models consisted of two dependent variables: (1) relationship (or sexual) satisfaction
on sex days and (2) relationship (or sexual) satisfaction on nonsex days. By
restructuring the data in this way, we were able to simultaneously examine in one
model the effect of avoidance sexual goals on sex days controlling for approach
sexual goals as well as the effect of positive rejection on nonsex days controlling for
negative rejection.
We tested separate models for relationship and sexual satisfaction. A no-intercept
model was specified in order to test separate random intercepts for sex days and nonsex
days, meaning that the intercepts indicate participants’ average levels of satisfaction on
sex days and nonsex days. All predictor variables were grand mean-centered; there-
fore, the main effects for sexual goals and rejection behaviors represent how higher
levels of participants’ positive rejection on nonsex days or avoidance sexual goals on
sex days relative to the average person predicted their own as well as their partner’s
relationship and sexual satisfaction. In other words, the main effect for positive
rejection represents how higher levels of positive rejection (relative to the average
level of positive rejection on nonsex days across participants) predicted both partners’
relationship and sexual satisfaction; similarly, the main effect for avoidance sexual
goals represents how higher levels of participants’ avoidance goals (relative to the
average level of avoidance goals on sex days across participants) predicted
satisfaction.
We then used these results to compare satisfaction levels at 1 SD above the grand
mean on avoidance goals and positive rejection behaviors. Descriptive statistics showed
that participants deviated up to 1 SD above mean levels of positive rejection on 30%of
days. Similarly, participants deviated up to 1 SD above mean levels of avoidance sexual
goals on 30%of days.
Table 4. Study 2 estimates.
bSE t 95% CI Effect size r
Relationship satisfaction
Positive rejection actor effect .42 .04 9.81*** [.33, .50] .40
Positive rejection partner effect .24 .05 4.64*** [.13, .35] .16
Avoidance sex goals actor effect .11 .03 3.80*** [.17, .05] .13
Avoidance sex goals partner effect .10 .04 2.79** [.17, .03] .08
Sexual satisfaction
Positive rejection actor effect .33 .05 6.86*** [.24, .43] .21
Positive rejection partner effect .21 .06 3.70*** [.10, .32] .12
Avoidance sex goals actor effect .18 .03 5.71*** [.24, .12] .17
Avoidance sex goals partner effect .08 .04 2.19* [.16, .01] .06
Note. Approximate effect sizes were calculated using the formula r¼!(t
2
/(t
2
þdf); see Overall & Hammond,
2013; Rosenthal & Rosnow, 2007). CI ¼confidence interval.
*p< .05; **p< .01; ***p< .001.
496 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 35(4)
Actor effects
The results for Study 2 are displayed in Table 5. Beginning with actor effects—which
reflect the satisfaction of the person who engages in sex for avoidance goals or positive
rejection behaviors, we found that on days when participants were more positive in their
communication of sexual disinterest than the average person in the sample, they reported
higher relationship satisfaction, B¼.42, t(499) ¼9.81, p< .001, and sexual satisfaction,
B¼.33, t(1,005) ¼6.86, p< .001. Conversely and as expected, on days when participants
reported stronger avoidance sexual goals than the average person, they reported lower
relationship satisfaction, B¼.11, t(865) ¼3.80, p< .001, and sexual satisfaction,
B¼.18, t(1,175) ¼5.71, p< .001. These effects are depicted in Figures 2 and 3.
To compare satisfaction levels when people engaged in positive rejection behaviors
on nonsex days to satisfaction when people pursued avoidance sexual goals on sex days,
we estimated the standard errors of the estimated marginal means for each point estimate
Table 5. Comparisons of point estimates of actor effects.
Actor’s relationship satisfaction Actor’s sexual satisfaction
Avoidance goals Avoidance goals
0þ10þ1
Positive
rejection
0 Av > Pos
(6.02 > 5.40)
Av > Pos
(5.90 > 5.40)
Positive
rejection
0 Av > Pos
(5.83 > 4.59)
Av > Pos
(5.65 > 4.59)
þ1 Av > Pos
(6.02 > 5.82)
Av 6Pos
(5.90 65.82)
þ1 Av > Pos
(5.83 > 4.92)
Av > Pos
(5.65 > 4.92)
Note. Comparisons of point estimates of actor effects at 0 and þ1 standard deviation from mean levels of
avoidance goals and positive rejection, following Cumming and Finch’s (2005) guidelines. “Av > Pos” indicates
higher levels of satisfaction when engaging in avoidance sexual goals (p< .05). “Av 6Pos” indicates no
significant difference. “Pos > Av” indicates higher levels of satisfaction when engaging in positive rejection
behaviors (p< .05). Mean estimates are provided in brackets.
4.5
5
5.5
6
6.5
10
Actor's relationship satisfaction
SD
Actor's positive
rejection on non-sex
day
Actor's avoidance
goals on sex day
Figure 2. Actor effects of avoidance sexual goals and positive behaviors at various degrees
predicting relationship satisfaction.
Kim et al. 497
up to one SD above the mean for both predictor variables. As the nature of our data does
not allow us to directly assess the significance of the differences between point estimates
(since both predictor variables are not measured on the same day), we followed an
inference technique by Cumming and Finch (2005) to make these comparisons. The
difference in the estimated marginal means is significant at p.05 if the SE bars of the
two points do not overlap, and if the gap between the ends of the corresponding SE bars
is at least the size of the average SE. In doing so, we could test whether participants’ own
(or their partner’s) levels of relationship or sexual satisfaction were significantly dif-
ferent when they engaged in positive rejection behaviors at varying degrees compared to
when they engaged in sex with their partner for avoidance goals at varying degrees.
Table 5 depicts all comparisons between point estimates of positive behaviors and
avoidance sexual goals (at mean levels and 1 SD above the mean) on relationship
satisfaction and whether they are statistically significant at p.05. These results
revealed that participants reported higher relationship satisfaction when they engaged in
sex for avoidance goals at mean levels compared to when they engaged in positive
rejection behaviors at mean levels, However, when people engaged in positive rejection
at 1 SD above the mean of the sample, there were no significant differences in rela-
tionship satisfaction compared to having sex for avoidance goals at 1 SD. As shown in
Table 5, we found that actors’ sexual satisfaction was always higher when engaging in
sex for avoidance goals compared to engaging in positive rejection.
Partner effects
Turning to partner effects—which reflect the satisfaction of the person who gets rejected
in positive ways versus has their partner engage in sex with them for avoidance goals, we
found that on days when participants were more positively rejected by their partner than
the average person, their partners reported higher relationship satisfaction, B¼.24,
t(819) ¼4.64, p< .001, and sexual satisfaction, B¼.21, t(905) ¼3.70, p< .001.
Conversely and as expected, on days when participants pursued sex for avoidance goals
4.5
5
5.5
6
6.5
10
Actor's sexual satisfaction
SD
Actor's positive
rejection on non-sex
day
Actor's avoidance
goals on sex day
Figure 3. Actor effects of avoidance sexual goals and positive rejection behaviors at various
degrees predicting sexual satisfaction.
498 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 35(4)
more than the average person, their partners reported lower relationship satisfaction,
B¼.10, t(1,255) ¼2.80, p< .01, and sexual satisfaction, B¼.09, t(1,233) ¼2.19,
p< .05. These effects are depicted in Figures 4 and 5.
When comparing positive rejection behaviors to avoidance sexual goals, as shown in
Table 6, we found that people reported higher relationship satisfaction when their
partners engaged in sex for avoidance goals at mean levels compared to when they
engaged in positive rejection behaviors at mean levels. However, when people engaged
in positive rejection at 1 SD above the mean, there were no significant differences in their
partners’ relationship satisfaction compared to having sex for avoidance goals at 1 SD.
People’s sexual satisfaction was always higher when their partner engaged in sex
regardless of the strength of their avoidance goals compared to when their partner
rejected them, regardless of how positively they communicated their sexual disinterest.
In sum, the main findings of Study 2 show that higher than average levels of
positive rejection on nonsex days were associated with similar levels of relationship
satisfaction as higher than average avoidance goals on sex days, for both actors and
partners. With respect to sexual satisfaction, however, positive rejection behaviors
were always associated with lower daily sexual satisfaction than avoidance goals for
both actors and partners.
Gender, sexual frequency, and relationship length
We also examined possible moderations by gender, sexual frequency, and relationship
length. Gender did not moderate any of the effects. Sexual frequency did moderate the
association between a person’s avoidance sexual goals and a partner’s relationship
satisfaction, B¼.07, t(1,057) ¼1.90, p¼.06, although this effect was marginal. Simple
effects at 1 SD above and below the mean showed that for couples who engaged in sex
less frequently, higher levels of a person’s avoidance sexual goals were associated with
lower relationship satisfaction for their partners, B¼20, t(913) ¼3.07, p< .01, but
the same was not true for couples who engaged in sex more frequently, B¼.05,
4.5
5
5.5
6
6.5
10
Partner's relationship satisfaction
SD
Actor's positive
rejection on non-sex
day
Actor's avoidance
goals on sex day
Figure 4. Partner effects of avoidance sexual goals and positive behaviors at various degrees
predicting relationship satisfaction.
Kim et al. 499
t(1,368) ¼1.19, p¼.24. We did not find a significant moderation by sexual frequency
for partners’ sexual satisfaction nor did we find significant moderations for any actor
effects on relationship and sexual satisfaction.
Relationship length significantly moderated the association between a person’s
avoidance sexual goals and a partner’s relationship, B¼.12, t(949) ¼3.101, p< .01,
and sexual satisfaction, B¼.17, t(823) ¼4.03, p< .001. Specifically, high levels of
avoidance sexual goals were negatively associated with partners’ relationship satisfac-
tion in longer relationships, B¼.24, t(899) ¼4.10, p< .001, but not in shorter
relationships, B¼.01, t(1,267) ¼.20, p¼.84. Avoidance sexual goals were also
negatively associated with partners’ sexual satisfaction in longer relationships, B¼.27,
t(795) ¼4.54, p< .001, but not in shorter relationships, B¼.07, t(1,181) ¼1.25,
p¼.21. In addition, relationship length moderated the association between positive
4.5
5
5.5
6
6.5
10
Partner's Sexual Satisfaction
SD
Actor's positive
rejection on non-sex
day
Actor's avoidance
goals on sex day
Figure 5. Partner effects of avoidance sexual goals and positive behaviors at various degrees
predicting sexual satisfaction.
Table 6. Comparisons of point estimates of partner effects.
Partner’s relationship satisfaction Partner’s sexual satisfaction
Avoidance goals Avoidance goals
0þ10þ1
Positive
rejection
0 Av > Pos
(5.91 > 5.59)
Av > Pos
(5.81 > 5.49)
Positive
rejection
0 Av > Pos
(5.67 > 4.76)
Av > Pos
(5.58 > 4.76)
þ1 Av > Pos
(5.91 > 5.73)
Av 6Pos
(5.81 65.73)
þ1 Av > Pos
(5.67> 4.97)
Av > Pos
(5.58 > 4.97)
Note. Comparisons of point estimates of partner effects at 0 and þ1 standard deviation from mean levels of
avoidance goals and positive rejection, following Cumming and Finch’s (2005) guidelines. “Av > Pos” indicates
higher levels of satisfaction when engaging in avoidance sexual goals (p< .05). “Av 6Pos’” indicates no
significant difference. “Pos > Av” indicates higher levels of satisfaction when engaging in positive rejection
behaviors (p< .05). Mean estimates are indicated in brackets.
500 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 35(4)
rejection and a person’s own sexual satisfaction, B¼.16, t(1,106) ¼3.28, p<.01.Spe-
cifically, high levels of positive rejection were more strongly associated with sexual
satisfaction for people in longer relationships, B¼.48, t(1,199) ¼7.27, p<.001,compared
to people in shorter relationships, B¼.16, t(931) ¼2.31, p<.05.Wedidnotfindsig-
nificant moderations by relationship length for actors’ relationship satisfaction.
Lagged-day and longitudinal analyses
We also sought to rule out several alternative explanations for our findings. As partners
could be more likely to endorse avoidance goals on days when they feel lower satis-
faction, or engage in positive rejection on days when they feel greater satisfaction, we
conducted analyses in which we controlled for sexual and relationship satisfaction on the
previous day to determine whether rejection and goals predict changes in these outcomes
from the previous day. When controlling for the previous day’s satisfaction, all of our
effects predicting relationship and sexual satisfaction remained significant with two
exceptions. The partner effects of avoidance goals predicting relationship, B¼.04,
t(795) ¼1.17, p¼.24, and sexual satisfaction, B¼.05, t(931) ¼1.30, p¼.20,
were no longer significant. These results suggest that positive rejection and avoidance
sexual goals are associated with changes in both relationship and sexual satisfaction from
the previous day, although the associations between a partner’s avoidance goals and
same-day satisfaction may be partially driven by the previous day’s satisfaction.
To further assess directionality and look at over time effects, we conducted long-
itudinal analyses to test whether sexual goals and positive rejection (each aggregated
over the course of the diary) predicted satisfaction at the end of the study controlling
for satisfaction at baseline. These results revealed that partners of individuals who
chronically pursued avoidance sexual goals over the course of the study reported
marginally lower relationship satisfaction, B¼.15, t(31) ¼1.72, p¼.10, and
sexual satisfaction, B¼.25, t(29) ¼1.83, p¼.08, at follow-up. Furthermore,
partners of individuals who engaged in higher levels of positive rejection over the
study reported marginally greater relationship satisfaction, B¼.14, t(31) ¼1.90,
p¼.07, but not sexual satisfaction, at follow-up. Neither positive rejection nor
avoidance sexual goals significantly predicted changes in one’s own relationship or
sexual satisfaction at follow-up. Thus, over time, engaging in avoidance sex may have
detrimental consequences and engaging in positive rejection behaviors may help
sustain satisfaction, particularly for partners.
General discussion
Results from two experiments and a daily experience study showed that rejecting a
partner for sex in positive ways may represent a viable alternative to engaging in sex for
avoidance goals to maintain satisfaction. In Studies 1A and 1B, people were more sat-
isfied with their relationship and sex life when they imagined their partner rejecting their
sexual advances in positive, reassuring ways compared to imagining their partner
engaging in sex for avoidance goals. In Study 2, the overall pattern of results demon-
strated that individuals and their partners experienced no differences in relationship
Kim et al. 501
satisfaction on days in which they indicated their sexual disinterest in positive ways at
higher than average levels compared to days in which they had sex for avoidance goals at
higher than average levels. We did not find a similar pattern of results for sexual
satisfaction in Study 2. In particular, engaging in sex for avoidance goals (or when one’s
partner pursued sex for avoidance goals) was always associated with greater daily sexual
satisfaction than rejecting (or being rejected) in a positive manner. In short, the current
set of studies provides initial insight into alternative behaviors people can pursue in
situations of conflicting sexual interest when their avoidance goals for sex are high.
Specifically, declining a partner’s sexual advances may not be detrimental to the rela-
tionship provided it is done in positive ways and may reflect a more effective way
couples can sustain relationship satisfaction, especially over the longer term, compared
to engaging in sex to avoid negative outcomes.
Across studies, we did not find robust evidence that gender, sexual frequency, or
relationship length moderated our effects. However, findings from Study 2 suggest that
avoidance sexual goals may have a particularly negative impact on a partner’s rela-
tionship satisfaction when sexual frequency is low, but that couples may be buffered
from the negative consequences of avoidance goals when sex occurs more frequently.
Similarly, for relationship length, the findings suggest that avoidance sexual goals may
be particularly detrimental for partner’s satisfaction in longer relationships, perhaps
again due to sexual frequency declining over time. Furthermore, it may be particularly
important for people’s own sexual satisfaction to deliver rejection in positive ways in
longer relationships. Perhaps communicating one’s need to not have sex in constructive
ways may be more impactful in longer term relationships given that sexual desire tends
to decline over time (Impett, Muise, & Peragine, 2014).
We found a slightly different pattern of results across studies. In Study 2, positive
rejection was not associated with greater benefits for the partner compared to avoid-
ance goals, as was the case in Studies 1A and 1B. As the experimental studies involved
hypothetical scenarios, we specifically informed participants about their partner’s
sexual goals; however, in daily life, it is far more difficult to ascertain a partner’s true
motivations for pursuing sex. Indeed, previous research has shown that one person’s
sexual goals and the partner’s perceptions of their sexual goals are only weakly cor-
related (Impett et al., 2005). Furthermore, it is possible that people (women in par-
ticular, given the results of Study 1A) were not able to accurately predict how sexually
satisfied they would feel in the scenario study given that they were merely imagining,
and not actually engaging in sex, thus producing lower levels of sexual satisfaction in
the avoidance goals condition than might truly occur. Indeed, the act of physically
engaging in sex with a partner may help explain why, in the daily diary study, partners
experienced higher sexual satisfaction on days when they engaged in sex, even when
avoidance goals were present. This notion is consistent with research suggesting that
sexual satisfaction is closely tied to physical pleasure and emotional intimacy (Haavio-
Mannila & Kontula, 1997). Thus, the findings from the current studies suggest that the
negative impact of avoidance sexual goals may be more pronounced for couples when
those goals are more transparent.
In line with previous work (Impett et al., 2005; Muise et al., 2013), we found that
people were less satisfied when they or their partner pursued sex for avoidance goals,
502 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 35(4)
suggesting that in and of itself, engaging in sex may not be good for relationships if one’s
reasons for doing so are focused on avoiding negative relationship outcomes. Opti-
mistically, however, this research suggests that a relationship-promoting alternative may
exist when people are reassuring and express love and caring concern when declining
their partner’s sexual advances. Results from the longitudinal analyses further highlight
the importance of positive rejection. Whereas the chronic pursuit of avoidance goals was
associated with declines in a partner’s relationship and sexual satisfaction over time,
chronic positive rejection behaviors did not have a similar effect and actually protected a
partner’s relationship (but again not sexual) satisfaction over time, although all of these
longitudinal effects were only marginally significant.
Positive sexual rejection behaviors may play a key role in helping couples navigate
situations of conflicting sexual desire, as they may help buffer partners from the
negative effects of rejection (Byers & Heinlein, 1989). As sexual rejection can pose a
threat to the felt security and validation that partners expect from one another, the
reassurance inherent in positive rejection behaviors may serve to preserve a partner’s
self-esteem, an important future direction. Further, engaging in positive rejection
behaviors may be beneficial for the self as doing so allows people to attend to their own
sexual needs to, at times, not engage in sex. This notion is consistent with prior work on
sexual communal strength in relationships and the importance of being both responsive
to a partner’s sexual needs while also attending to one’s own needs and not focusing on
apartnersneedstoanunhealthyextreme(Muise, Bergeron, Impett, & Rosen, 2017).
Given the prevalence of situations of desire discrepancy (Herbenick, Margo, & Mark,
2014) and the difficulty of resolving sexual conflicts (Sanford, 2003), the effective use
of positive rejection behaviors may be key to maintaining relationship quality during
these conflicts. However, relationships are likely to thrive when partners are able to
strike a balance between asserting their own needs to not engage in sex by declining a
partner in positive ways, while also maintaining a regular intimate sexual connection
(Muise & Impett, 2016).
In our daily experience study, we found a different pattern of associations for rela-
tionship and sexual satisfaction. In particular, both partners reported greater sexual
satisfaction on days when sex occurred for avoidance goals compared to nonsex days
when positive rejection behaviors were high. These findings, however, are not surprising
since sexual satisfaction may be more contingent on having one’s sexual needs physi-
cally met and less so on how one feels about the relationship more generally. Indeed,
researchers often discuss the nature of sexual satisfaction in relation to sexual activity
and orgasm (Edwards & Booth, 1994; Haavio-Mannila & Kontula, 1997). Further,
research supports the notion that sexual satisfaction is a relatively stable construct
(Fallis, Rehman, Woody, & Purdon, 2016), and studies find that specific relationship
processes such as sexual beliefs predict different outcomes for relationship and sexual
satisfaction (Maxwell et al., 2017). Thus, the benefits of engaging in positive rejection
behaviors versus engaging in sex for avoidance goals may be less pronounced when
examining their impact on sexual satisfaction as rejection behaviors preclude the
occurrence of sex.
An important limitation of this work is that because we did not measure perceptions of
a partner’s rejection behaviors or sexual goals in Study 2, we were not able to determine
Kim et al. 503
how accurate individuals were at perceiving their partner’s rejection behaviors or sexual
goals. Indeed, research shows that people project their own responsiveness as well as
other interpersonal traits onto their perceptions of their partners (Lemay, Clark, &
Feeney, 2007; Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996), suggesting that people in satisfying
relationships may overestimate their partner’s positive rejection behaviors and
underestimate their partner’s avoidance goals. Related to this, we do not know the
mechanisms behind the observed partner effects in this study, and whether the findings
are due to people’s ability to effectively communicate their behaviors and goals, to
accurately detect their partner’s behaviors and goals, or both, all important directions
for future work.
Conclusion
The current set of studies suggest that although engaging in positive rejection may not
necessarily predict better relationship outcomes than engaging in sex for avoidance
goals, positive rejection is a viable alternative behavior to engaging in avoidance-
motivated sex that can help romantic partners sustain the quality of their relationship.
When people are not in the mood for sex and find that the main reason they are inclined
to “say yes” is to avoid hurting their partner’s feelings or the relationship conflict that
might ensue, engaging in positive rejection behaviors that convey love and reassurance
may be critical to sustain relationship quality. If individuals are positive and reassuring,
both they and their partners end up no less satisfied than if they were to engage in sex for
avoidance goals, and while avoidance goals detracted from a partner’s satisfaction over
time, reassuring goals promoted satisfaction, suggesting that the use of positive rejection
behaviors is a key way that couples can maintain the quality of their relationship.
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 SSHRC Insight Grant awarded to
Emily A. Impett and Amy Muise and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship awarded to James J. Kim.
Supplemental material
Supplementary material for this article is available online.
Note
1. Study 1 consisted of additional conditions not shown in Table 2, as they are not relevant to our
research question and hypotheses. Reported results remained unchanged when including these
conditions. Details of these conditions can be found in the supplemental materials.
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... 38 Another related concept is sexual compliance versus sexual restraint, which refers to a partner engaging in sex with low sexual desire versus a partner having little sex despite high sexual desire, respectively. 43 Although sexual restraint is psychologically and physiologically demanding for partners, engaging in sex for avoidance reasons has detrimental effects as well, as it may lead to lower relationships quality and higher physiological and emotional stress. 44 A final related concept is sexual compatibility, which implies that partners desire and enjoy similar things sexually, and this is believed to be beneficial to the relationship. ...
... 39 Instead of taking part in this allocation of blame, a clinician may try to reframe the complaint as a couple problem in which both partners are involved. 6,43 It is also important to normalize SDD as a common experience in long-term sexual relationships. 2,6,25 The main focus of treatment should not be on reducing SDD but on decreasing distress and helping partners to better cope with discrepant levels of desire. ...
... In addition to working together on developing the couple's sexual script, therapeutic advice can also be directed at normalizing and depathologizing having sex without direct, initial desire. 34,36,38,40,42,43,52 The desire may grow over the course of the sexual act as a result of (physiological) sexual arousal responses. 18 Yet, having sex without sufficient sexual arousal is clearly not indicated. ...
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Introduction There is a lack of theoretical and empirical knowledge on how sexual desire functions and interacts in a relationship. Aim To present an overview of the current conceptualization and operationalization of sexual desire discrepancy (SDD), providing clinical recommendations on behalf of the European Society of Sexual Medicine. Methods A comprehensive Pubmed, Web of Science, Medline, and Cochrane search was performed. Consensus was guided by a critical reflection on selected literature on SDD and by interactive discussions between expert psychologists, both clinicians and researchers. Main Outcome Measure Several aspects have been investigated including the definition and operationalization of SDD and the conditions under which treatment is required. Results Because the literature on SDD is scarce and complicated, it is precocious to make solid statements on SDD. Hence, no recommendations as per the Oxford 2011 Levels of Evidence criteria were possible. However, specific statements on this topic, summarizing the ESSM position, were provided. This resulted in an opnion-based rather than evidence-based position statement. Following suggestions were made on how to treat couples who are distressed by SDD: (i) normalize and depathologize variation in sexual desire; (ii) educate about the natural course of sexual desire; (iii) emphasize the dyadic, age-related, and relative nature of SDD; (iv) challenge the myth of spontaneous sexual desire; (v) promote open sexual communication; (vi) assist in developing joint sexual scripts that are mutually satisfying in addition to search for personal sexual needs; (vii) deal with relationship issues and unmet relationship needs; and (viii) stimulate self-differentiation. Conclusion More research is needed on the conceptualization and underlying mechanisms of SDD to develop clinical guidelines to treat couples with SDD. Marieke D, Joana G, Giovanni C, et al. Sexual Desire Discrepancy: A Position Statement of the European Society for Sexual Medicine. J Sex Med 2020;XX:XXX–XXX.
... Recent research, however, examining the association between sexual rejection and sexual and relationship satisfaction found that sexual rejection characterized by reassurance (e.g. reassuring your partner that you love them, are attracted to them, etc.) was not associated with lower relationship satisfaction, but was negatively associated with sexual satisfaction (Kim, Muise, & Impett, 2018). Nevertheless, discrepancies between relationship partners on the desired frequency of sexual activity is one of the most frequently cited problems among romantic couples (Risch, Riley & Lawler, 2003), indicating a need for greater understanding of the experience and consequences of when sexual activity does not occur (i.e. ...
... Specifically, we hypothesized that instances of having one's sexual advance accepted or accepting one's partner's advance (i.e., when sexual activity occurs) should result in higher than baseline sexual and relationship satisfaction, consistent with previous research (e.g., Meltzer et al., 2017). In contrast, consistent with previous research (e.g., Byers & Heinlein, 1989;Kim et al., 2018), instances of having one's sexual advance rejected should lead to lower than baseline levels of sexual satisfaction. The relation between having one's advance rejected and relationship satisfaction was examined as well, however, given contradictory evidence for this association these analyses were exploratory. ...
... In contrast, having one's sexual advance rejected was associated with decreased sexual satisfaction that day, consistent with past literature demonstrating that rejection by one's partner is painful (Leary, Springer, Negel, Ansell, & Evans, 1998), particularly sexual rejection (Byers & Heinlein, 1989;Kim et al., 2018). Also, as predicted, being sexually rejected was associated with lower sexual satisfaction for 48 hours after the rejection occurred. ...
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We examine the relations between accepting and rejecting a partner’s sexual advances with sexual and relationship satisfaction and assess how long these effects endure. Couples ( N = 115) completed a 21-day daily diary indicating whether a partner made a sexual advance each day, and if so, whether the advance was accepted or rejected. Having one’s sexual advance accepted was associated with increased sexual and relationship satisfaction that day and increased sexual satisfaction up to 24 hours later. Having one’s sexual advance rejected was associated with decreased sexual satisfaction that day and up to 48 hours later. Sexual advances made by one’s partner were associated with increased sexual satisfaction that day and for up to 72 hours later, regardless of whether the advance was accepted or rejected. Findings indicate benefits of sexual activity, but also prolonged postrejection decreases in sexual satisfaction.
... But while it is the case, sexual dissatisfaction does not necessarily lead to negative relationship outcomes (Traeen, 2010). For example, the study of Kim et al. (2018) underscores the fact that unfulfilled sexual encounters do not always lead to lower satisfaction in the relationship provided that positive rejection styles are employed. The same is also found by Litzinger and Gordon (2005, Oct-Dec) as long as couples are communicating constructively. ...
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The study aims to examine the experiences of premarital , non-cohabiting partners while coping with the Covid-19-induced lock-down. With specific focus on sexual intimacies, our interest is to investigate the degree or extent by which the pandemic has constrained people's sexual interests and expressions with the intention to determine whether or not the overall relationship would be negatively affected by the paucity of sexual encounters. Findings drawn from online interviews involving 28 participants reveal that the pandemic has indeed affected sexual intimacy aspirations among partners, with some participants calling these times as "dry season." For this very reason, the pandemic has also emerged as a sexual issue. Further results reveal that partners employ technology-based strategies in order to satisfy their sexual desires during these times when restrictions in movement are in place. Trust, love, communication and understanding serve also to assure partners of the integrity of the relationship. The study suggests that the loss of physical sexual encounters during lockdowns is not sufficient to result in negative relationship outcomes. ARTICLE HISTORY
... This could be, in part, because sexual communal strength is associated with a greater understanding of partners having different sexual interests. For example, people higher in sexual communal strength are more understanding and caring when a partner is not in the mood for sex and they tend to feel less resentment in response to a partner declining their sexual advances (see Kim et al., 2018). Even among couples coping with extenuating factors that influence their sexual interests and desire (e.g., transitioning to parenthood; and those coping with clinical sexual issues (e.g., low sexual desire; Hogue et al., 2019;sexual pain;, when one partner is higher in sexual communal strength, both partners reported higher sexual and relationship satisfaction. ...
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Despite the importance of sex for the maintenance of satisfying romantic relationships, our understanding of a person's sexual ideals-the traits and attributes a person desires in a sexual partner or experience-and what might buffer against lower satisfaction associated with unmet sexual ideals is limited. Across four studies including cross-sectional, dyadic, longitudinal, and experimental methods (N = 1,532), we draw on the Ideal Standards Model and theories of communal motivation to examine whether unmet sexual ideals are associated with lower sexual satisfaction and relationship quality and test whether higher sexual communal strength-the motivation to meet a partner's sexual needs-buffered these effects. Across studies, when individuals perceived their partner to fall short in meeting their sexual ideals, they reported poorer sexual and relationship quality. People with partners low in sexual communal strength reported poorer sexual satisfaction and relationship quality when their sexual ideals were unmet, but these associations were attenuated among people with partners who were high in sexual communal strength. Perceived partner responsiveness-both in general (Study 2) and to a partner's sexual needs specifically (Study 3)-was one reason why people with partners high in sexual communal strength were buffered against the lower sexual and relational quality associated with unmet ideals. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
... Indeed, our findings underscore the importance of considering the daily relationship context, as daily conflict may be one critical context in which sex may be less enjoyable. Given conflict is often associated with lower mood, our findings also fit with research demonstrating that having sex when not particularly in the mood yields both benefits and drawbacks for intimates (e.g., Kim, Muise, & Impett, 2018). From an applied perspective, our study provides empirical support that refutes popular lay notions of sex that co-occurs with conflict, which is important given that media portrayals of sexuality often lack scientific support (e.g., Ménard & Kleinplatz, 2008). ...
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Although conflict and sex frequently occur in relationships, little research has examined their interconnectedness. Some evidence suggests their co-occurrence can benefit relationships, whereas other evidence suggests the opposite. We sought to clarify such contrasting evidence by conducting a dyadic daily-diary study of 107 newlywed couples that included a 6-month follow-up assessment. Although conflict (operationalized as one partner doing something the other did not like) was unassociated with the likelihood of sex on a given day, it predicted a lower likelihood the following day. Moreover, despite the fact that sex co-occurring with (vs. occurring independent of) conflict was less enjoyable, it partially reduced the negative effects of conflict on both spouses’ daily relationship quality. The extent to which sex and conflict co-occurred was unassociated with intimates’ changes in marital satisfaction 6 months later. The implications of engaging in post-conflict sex are nuanced: although such sex is less enjoyable, it temporarily buffers relationship quality in that moment.
... Beyond this, the general expectation for women to be passive before, during, and after sex (Kiefer and Sanchez 2007), which complicates how they can assert agency, makes it difficult to assess women's actual sexual desire. The story is further complicated by cultural beliefs that good wives and girlfriends say "yes to sex" (Bay-Cheng and Eliseo-Arras 2008), which coincide with men's entitlement to sex (Martin et al. 2007) and men's willingness to encourage women to have unwanted sex in order to keep men happy (Kim et al. 2018), leaving women with clear cues about how they can (or should) imagine their own sexuality. Finally, lack of attention to women's positive and desirous sexual experiences (Fahs 2011;Wood et al. 2006) also greatly impacts women's sexual negotiations, as frameworks for sexuality emphasize negative or problematic aspects of sex rather than positive ones. ...
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Tensions between emotional labor, agency, entitlement, and coercion all underlie women’s ability or inability to negotiate, consent to, and refuse oral and anal sex. In this study, we analyzed semi-structured interviews with twenty women from a diverse 2014 community sample collected in a large Southwestern U.S. city in order to examine the context around women’s negotiations of oral and anal sex, particularly how, when, why, and with whom they engage in, and refuse, such activities. There were three themes in how women negotiated oral and anal sex with their partner(s): (1) not expecting sexual reciprocity; (2) partner pressure; and (3) emotional labor. Implications for how women negotiate sex, and what meanings they bring to these negotiations, are explored. Women’s beliefs about (men’s) sexual entitlement and cultural expectations for non-vaginal sex further complicate women’s negotiations of oral and anal sex as well as their ability to enthusiastically consent to such activities. Clinical practice implications and the importance of clinicians both broadening definitions of sex and openly discussing women’s entitlement to refuse sex are discussed.
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Mobile apps in mental health have seen a significant growth in recent years. Most of them are aimed at treating depression, anxiety, and stress disorders using cognitive behavioural therapy methods and relatively few apps are being developed to address interpersonal issues. This study tested the effectiveness of the iCognito Relationship Program, a self-help application for couple relationships based on the chatbot technology. A between-group experimental study was conducted in Russia using the bibliotherapy as a control condition (N = 58, female sample), with results showing that, after 2 weeks, iCognito's users had increased satisfaction, tenderness, constructive communication, as well as commitment to the relationship. Also, indicators for relationship self-efficacy, communicative skills in relationships, and self-esteem regarding relationship skills had significantly increased, while level of conflicts had decreased. A medium effect size was reported for most indicators. The participants of an experimental group expressed a high level of satisfaction with the technology and a generally positive attitude towards the idea of working with a "virtual psychologist"-chatbot on their personal issues. Despite the need to reproduce the research results, iCognito program demonstrates that both mobile application and chatbot technologies can be useful for training individuals' relationship satisfaction and communication skills, and that they can be more efficient in increasing satisfaction and reducing conflict in relationships than self-help books.
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Sex is a crucial factor that impacts the quality and stability of relationships, yet many couples report recurrent sexual issues – such as discrepancies in their desired sexual frequency or levels of sexual desire – that detract from their relationship quality. This article describes how applying the theory of communal motivation from relationship science to the sexual domain of relationships can shed light onto understanding how couples can maintain desire over time, remain satisfied in the face of conflicting sexual interests, and decline one another’s sexual advances in ways that protect their relationship. We integrate a decade of research on communal motivation, sexual rejection, and responses to sexual rejection to provide a better, and more holistic, understanding of how partners can successfully balance their sexual needs to ultimately reap the powerful rewards of a fulfiling sexual connection.
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Relationship maintenance encompasses a wide range of activities that partners use to preserve their relationships. Despite the importance of these efforts, considerably more empirical focus has been devoted to starting (i.e. initiation) and ending (i.e. dissolution) relationships than on maintaining them. In this volume, internationally renowned scholars from a variety of disciplines describe diverse sets of relationship maintenance efforts in order to show why some relationships endure, whereas others falter. By focusing on 'what to do' rather than 'what not to do' in relationships, this book paints a more comprehensive picture of the forms, functions, and contexts of relationship maintenance. It is essential reading for scholars and students in psychology, communication, human development and family science, sociology, and couple/marriage and family therapy.
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Our goal was to investigate whether systematic differences exist in how couples discuss sexual versus nonsexual conflicts in their relationships and to explore the nature of these differences. We compared sexual and nonsexual conflict discussions on two key dimensions of interpersonal behavior: warmth and dominance. Past theoretical work suggests that there are unique barriers to sexual communication that lead partners to perceive such communication as being more threatening to the relationship and to the self (Metts & Cupach, 1989). Empirical findings have supported this perspective by demonstrating that sexual communication tends to be avoided by couples (e.g., Byers, 2011). Extending this notion further, we reasoned that relationship partners should behave in ways to mitigate the increased perceived threat associated with sexual communication, leading to observable differences in how couples navigate sexual versus nonsexual relationship conflicts. We recruited a sample of 115 couples in established relationships and asked each couple to engage in two recorded interactions: one sexual and one nonsexual conflict discussion. Subsequently, each partner was coded continuously on the two dimensions of warmth and dominance. We found a number of differences in how couples discussed sexual versus nonsexual conflicts. Further, couples reported higher levels of anxiety in advance of sexual, as compared to nonsexual, conflict discussions. However, anxiety did not mediate the observed differences in communication. The theoretical and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.
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Objective: Most women with vulvodynia-a prevalent, chronic, vulvovaginal pain condition-engage in intercourse with their partners despite experiencing pain. Their motivation for doing so appears to be interpersonally oriented (e.g., to meet their partners' sexual needs), but the costs and benefits of such motivations are unknown. We tested whether sexual communal strength (being responsive to a partner's sexual needs) and unmitigated sexual communion (focusing on a partner's sexual needs to the exclusion of one's own needs) were associated with sexual function, and sexual and relationship satisfaction in couples with coping with vulvodynia. Method: In an 8-week daily experience study, 95 women diagnosed with vulvodynia and their partners reported on sexual communal strength, unmitigated sexual communion, sexual function, and sexual and relationship satisfaction on days when sexual activity occurred. Results: On days when women reported higher sexual communal strength, both they and their partners reported greater sexual function and satisfaction, and their partners reported greater relationship satisfaction. When women's partners reported higher sexual communal strength, both they and the women reported better sexual function, partners reported greater sexual satisfaction, and women reported greater relationship satisfaction. On days when women reported higher unmitigated sexual communion, they reported poorer sexual function and lower sexual satisfaction, and both the women and partners reported lower relationship satisfaction. When women's partners reported higher unmitigated sexual communion, they reported poorer sexual function. Conclusions: These novel aspects of sexual motivation should be targeted in psychological interventions aimed to improve the sexual and relationship well-being of affected couples. (PsycINFO Database Record
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How do people believe they can best maintain sexual satisfaction in their romantic relationships? In the current research, we draw upon the literature on implicit theories of relationships to develop and validate a scale examining 2 types of lay beliefs about how sexual satisfaction can be maintained over time. Individuals high in sexual growth beliefs think that sexual satisfaction is attained from hard work and effort, whereas individuals high in sexual destiny beliefs think that sexual satisfaction is attained through finding a compatible sexual partner. Across 6 studies (2 cross-sectional online studies, a 21-day daily experience study, 2 dyadic studies, and an experimental manipulation; N � 1,896), we find evidence that those higher in sexual growth beliefs experience higher relationship and sexual satisfaction, and have partners who are more satisfied. Conversely, the effects of sexual destiny beliefs on satisfaction are contingent upon signs of partner compatibility: When individuals high in sexual destiny beliefs experience greater sexual disagreements in their relationship, they experience lower relationship quality. These results are independent of general relationship implicit beliefs, providing evidence for the uniqueness of these 2 constructs and the importance of examining implicit beliefs in the domain of sexuality. Overall, these results provide novel evidence that individuals’ lay beliefs about maintaining sexual satisfaction are important for understanding the quality of their sex lives and relationships.
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One important but challenging aspect of maintaining a satisfying romantic relationship is keeping the sexual spark alive. Research suggests the importance of a couple's sexual connection in the maintenance of their relationship, but sustaining high levels of desire for a partner over the course of time can be difficult. In the current review, we argue that one novel approach to understanding how couples might maintain desire and satisfaction over the course of time in their relationships is applying theories of communal motivation to the domain of sexuality. In this line of research, we have demonstrated that people high in sexual communal strength – those who are motivated to be non-contingently responsive to their partners' sexual needs – are able to sustain higher sexual desire over the course of time and navigate sexual disagreements in a way that maintains both partners' relationship quality. Future research directions include broadening the view of sexual needs to include the need to decline or reject a partner's sexual advances and investigating how partners manage unmet sexual needs.
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Several prominent models of relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction imply directional relationships between these constructs (e.g., attachment theory, social exchange models of relationship satisfaction, the interpersonal exchange model of sexual satisfaction). Previous research has demonstrated that sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction are distinct but correlated constructs, but relatively few studies have examined how they are related over time. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine this association. A sample of heterosexual couples (N = 113) completed a longitudinal study spanning 2 years. At Times 1 and 2 they completed measures of relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction. Data were analyzed according to the principles of the actor-partner interdependence model using structural equation modeling. Significant actor effects were detected such that, for both men and women, one's own earlier sexual satisfaction predicted one's later relationship satisfaction. In contrast, one's own earlier relationship satisfaction did not significantly predict one's subsequent sexual satisfaction. Sexual satisfaction was a stronger predictor of subsequent relationship satisfaction for men than women. There were no significant partner effects. These results contribute to our theoretical understanding of sexuality and sexual satisfaction in the context of long-term relationships by providing support for theories that conceptualize sexual satisfaction as one factor that contributes to relationship satisfaction. (PsycINFO Database Record
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This chapter revolves around the kind of rejection accompanied by special feelings toward the person who initiated the refusal of an aspiring lover's proposal. Discussed here are the perception differences of the rejected and the rejector, as well as their corresponding implications. Unreciprocated feelings result in self-degradation, despair, and lack of enthusiasm to engage in future relationships. Maintenance of a certain level of friendship or acquaintance can be hindered by the awkward aftermaths of mismatched affections. Recognition of the fact that not all emotions are mutually rewarded all the time will enable people with heartbreaking experiences to move on. Additional tips to soothe the getting-over phase are as follows: understanding the reasons of unrequited love, diverting attention to other aspects (mainly the future), as well as appreciating time alone and the presence of families, friends, and others who care.
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This article presents findings about problematic issues from a national study of couples married five years or less. It argues that the top 10 issues identified as problematic suggest key content areas for premarital education and makes suggestions for both program development and existing program evaluation. The top three issues reported by this sample are balancing job and family, frequency of sexual relations, and financial issues. For each of the 10 issues, comparisons by gender, parental status, cohabitation status, and age are also reported.