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The impact of sexual self-disclosure, sexual compatibility, and sexual conflict on predicted outcome values in sexual relationships.

In this study, predicted outcome value theory (Sunnafrank, 1988, 1990) was applied to sexual interactions to identify the specific types of communication people use to develop predicted outcome values for their sexual relationships. Sexual self-disclosure, sexual compatibility, and sexual conflict were identified from independent lines of research (e.g., Offman & Matheson, 2005) and theoretically linked with sexual predicted outcome values. Data were collected using an anonymous online questionnaire surveying 395 women and men from the United States. The results demonstrated that participants' positive predicted outcome values for their sexual relationships were related to interactions that were high in sexual self-disclosure, limited in sexual conflict, and highlighted areas of sexual compatibility. Additionally, the topics of sexual self-disclosure (e.g., birth control), areas of sexual compatibility (e.g., mutual sexual attraction), and sources of sexual conflict (e.g., anal sex) were also explored.

KEY WORDS: Predicted outcome values, sexual communication, sexual compatibility, sexual conflict, sexual self-disclosure


"Communication is integral to the development, understanding, and consummation of human sexuality" (Metts & Cupach, 1989, p. 139). Although this general truism resonates with most people's sexual experiences, it provides only an abstract idea regarding the role of communication in the development and functioning of sexual relationships. The identification of specific communicative behaviour that leads to positive sexual outcomes has vast theoretical and practical importance. Theoretical tests are useful to replicate hypothesized relationships in various contexts, which adds to the utility of a particular theory and future knowledge generation. Pragmatically, understanding which communicative behaviour inspires positive relational outcomes has far reaching implications for relational therapists aiding couples, sexual partners wishing to improve their sex lives, and researchers studying human sexuality. To accomplish the important task of identifying these specific communicative behaviours, the current study was designed to contribute to extant research in human sexuality by identifying topics of sexual self-disclosure, highlighting areas of sexual conflict, and assessing perceptions of sexual compatibility. How these social sexual constructs function to influence people's assessments of their sexual relationships was also examined. Sexual self-disclosure, sexual conflict, and sexual compatibility play a crucial role in relational and sexual well-being (e.g., Haning et al., 2007; MacNeil & Byers, 2005; Offman & Matheson, 2005). Although typically investigated independendy, the current project is unique in its examination of how these constructs (together) relate to the predictions people develop regarding their sexual relationships.


According to Sunnafrank (1986, 1990), predicted outcome values are expectations people develop and apply to their relationships. Strangers use initial interactions to form impressions about an interactant, and they form forecasts regarding the utility of developing a relationship with that person based on those exchanges. In his description of predicted outcome value theory, Sunnafrank (1988) argues that the maximization principle is the primary motivation in making such forecasts as maximizing future relational outcomes is the ultimate goal when making predictions from initial interactions. These predicted outcome values are used to determine whether future interactions are desirable. When predicted outcome values are positive, individuals will engage in relational escalation behaviours. That is, when participants find an interaction rewarding, they will desire to interact more frequently, evaluate their interactional partner more positively, and anticipate a beneficial relational future. Negative predicted outcome values, by contrast, will lead to relational de-escalation behaviours including withdrawing from the interaction, making negative assessments about an interactional partner, and associating costs with any future interactions. Scholars have shown that positive predicted outcome values are systematically related to increases in a host of positive relational outcomes such as verbal communication, information seeking, intimacy, nonverbal affiliative expressiveness, liking, similarity/homophily, attraction, proximity, responsiveness, commitment, and relational closeness (Horan & Houser, 2012; Kennedy-Lightsey, Madlock, Horan, & Booth-Butterfield, 2008; Madlock & Horan, 2009; Mottet, 2000; Ramirez, Sunnafrank, & Goei, 2010; Sunnafrank, 1988, 1990; Sunnafrank & Ramirez, 2004).

La France and Hall (2012) demonstrated the utility of the predicted outcome value approach in understanding sexual communication in close relationships. Their investigation highlighted the use of sexual humor in intimate relationships, and they found that people's positive predicted outcome values for their sexual relationships were related to the use of positive humor, stimulated feelings of relational closeness, and increased participants' satisfaction with the sexual communication within their relationships. Identifying the specific communication behaviour that contributes to positive and negative outcome values, then, is crucial for understanding how positive (or negative) sexual predicted outcome values are generated.

Sexual Self-Disclosure

Sexual communication is the exchange of verbal messages and nonverbal cues that connotes attributes of human sexuality (Denes, 2012; Hess 8t Coffelt, 2012; La France, 2014; Wheeless, Wheeless, & Baus, 1984). One type of sexual communication that has received considerable empirical attention is the function of self-disclosure in close relationships. Sexual self-disclosure occurs when a person reveals his or her likes, dislikes, and preferences regarding a variety of sexual behaviours to another person (Byers & Demmons, 1999; Snell, Belk, Papini, & Clark, 1989). Sexual self-disclosures are crucial in creating positive relational and sexual outcomes as they function to increase sexual comfort, intensify relational commitment, and promote frequent sexual behaviour (Herold & Way, 1988).

Cupach and Metts (1991) offered two axioms regarding communication and sexuality in close relationships. MacNeil and Byers (2005) formally labeled and tested these axioms as self-disclosure pathways. The instrumental pathway reflects the idea that sexual self-disclosure functions to enable the sharing of sexual attitudes, preferences, and desires regarding sexual activity, which results in rewarding sexual experiences. The expressive pathway suggests that sexual self-disclosure impacts partners' perceptions of relational qualities such as intimacy, commitment, and satisfaction. These positive characteristics of the relationship generally lead to more positive assessments of the sexual relationship specifically. Using Cupach and Metts's (1991) theorizing, Byers and colleagues' (Byers & Demmons, 1999; MacNeil & Byers, 2005) tests of the instrumental and expressive pathways demonstrated that nonsexual self-disclosure and sexual self-disclosure were both crucial in increasing partners' sexual satisfaction and sexual communication satisfaction. Sexual self-disclosure functions to guide interpersonal sexual scripts and provides insight regarding the overall health of the relationship, which is why it is critical for sexually satisfying interactions (Metts & Spitzberg, 1996; Simon & Gagnon, 1986). Because sexual self-disclosures function instrumentally (i.e., to communicate specific desirable behaviours) and expressively (i.e., to communicate positive relational attributes) during interactions, they are expected to relate positively to people's predicted outcome values for their sexual relationship (H1).

Sexual Compatibility

In addition to sexual self-disclosures, sexual compatibility is anticipated to contribute to peoples' predicted outcome values for their sexual relationships. Sexual compatibility is an assessment that one shares similar sexual attitudes, emotions, behaviours, preferences, beliefs, and desires with one's partner (Apt, Hurlbert, Sarmiento, & Hurlbert, 1996; Offman 8c Matheson, 2005). Sexual compatibility is a crucial interactional quality for close relationships (Apt, Hurlbert, Pierce, & White, 1996; Hurlbert, Apt, Hurlbert, & Pierce, 2000). Indeed, Heino and Ojanlatva (2000) urge that sexual compatibility is a requirement for sexually satisfied relationships (p. 172).

Sexually compatible couples tend to find one another more sexually desirable, are motivated to have sex, enjoy sexual fantasies, are relationally and sexually satisfied, and feel less depression, stress, and anxiety (Apt et al., 1996; Hurlbert, Apt, 8c Rombough, 1996; Hurlbert et al., 2000; Mark, Milhausen, 8c Maitland, 2013; Offman & Matheson, 2005). de Jong and Reis (2014, 2015) found that the perception that one's partner is a sexual "kindred spirit" (i.e., they are similar to or complemented each other sexually) produced sexually satisfying relationships. Sexual compatibility, then, is a compelling dyadic attribute that partners would likely consider when developing expectations about their sexual relationships with their partners. As a result, sexual compatibility is expected to be positively related to sexual predicted outcome values (H2).

Sexual Conflict

Perhaps one of the most robust interaction patterns is the destructive impact of high intensity reciprocated conflict. Distressed couples can be distinguished from nondistressed couples based on this kind of conflict pattern, which leads to relational termination and/or relational dissatisfaction (Gottman, Coan, Carrere, & Swanson, 1998; Gottman, Markman, & Notarius, 1977; Gottman, Swanson, & Swanson, 2002; Shapiro 8t Gottman, 2005).

Conflict in sexual relationships occurs when partners disagree about specific sexual matters and has equally deleterious consequences, and partners who experience conflict about sexual matters experience relational stress. Mitchell and Boster (1998) found that couples who were unhappy with the ways they approached disagreements were also dissatisfied with their relationship. Relationship dissatisfaction, in turn, led to negative assessments about their sexual life. Similarly, Haning et al. (2007) found that people who perceived that their intimate relationships included high levels of sexual conflict also reported general sexual dissatisfaction, reductions in feelings of intimacy and especially feelings of sexual intimacy, and women reported a decrease in the likelihood of achieving orgasms. These negative sexual qualities do not bode well for sexual interactions specifically or sexual relationships generally. Conflicts individuals experience within their sexual relationships likely function as cues for people to develop negative expectations about their sexual interactions. Consequently, sexual conflict is anticipated to influence the negative predicted outcome values people have for their sexual relationships (H3).

In their narrative meta-analytic review, Baumeister, Catanese, and Vohs (2001) examined the ways in which men and women were "out of synchrony with each other's sexual wishes and feelings" and experienced "sexual disagreements" (p. 242). Men desired sex more frequently, wished to engage with more sexual partners, and were willing to engage in various sexual practices more than did women. Accordingly, it is predicted that men will report higher levels of sexual conflict than will women (H4).



The sample (N = 395) included both women (56%) and men (44%). Participants' average age was 25 years old (M = 24.66, Mo = 21, Mdn = 22, SD = 8.51). This sample was predominantly heterosexual (94%; 6% of respondents were gay/lesbian, bisexual, or questioning). A majority of the sample identified as Caucasian/ White (70%), but individuals also identified as African-American/ Black (15%), Hispanic/Latino/Latina (9%), or other ethnicities (6%). Most participants were single and dating one person (46%) followed by single and not dating (19%), single and dating multiple people (13%), married/partnered (11%), living with someone (7%), engaged but not living together (2%), divorced (1%), or widowed/er (1%). Individuals who reported being in a romantic relationship had been with their partner for about a year (Mdn = 1.08 years, M = 2.79 years, Max = 26 years, SD = 5.25 years). Participants had experienced about two long-term relationships (M = 2.02, SD = 1.29).


Sixty-six items measuring the four constructs detailed below were subjected to an exploratory factor analysis with principal axis factors and varimax rotation. Items were retained if: (a) inspection of the inter-item correlation matrices revealed significant positive correlations between items (Hunter & Gerbing, 1982); (b) inspection of the residual matrices of the predicted and observed inter-item correlations displayed small residuals; (c) acceptable reliability estimates were achieved; (d) items had a factor loading [greater than or equal to] .50 (Coffelt, 2017; Hall, Carter, Cody, & Albright, 2010); (e) items did not cross-load [greater than or equal to] .40 on another factor, and (f) eigenvalues for each factor were [greater than or equal to] 1.00. This procedure resulted in 51 items being retained to create the final rotated four-factor model, which accounted for 66% of the variance.

Sexual Predicted Outcome Values

Predicted outcome values for people's sexual relationships were measured using an adapted version of Sunnafrank's (1988) 9-item predicted outcome value scale (e.g., The future sexual relationship with my partner will be beneficial for me; I have generally positive expectations regarding my future sexual relationship with my partner.). Participants responded to each item using a 5-point, Likert scale where 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree. Partners were optimistic about their future sexual relationships (M = 4.06, SD = .88, [alpha] = .97, 9 items).

Sexual self-disclosure

Disclosures about sexual matters were measured using Snell's Sexual Self-Disclosure Scale (SSDS, Snell et al., 1989), which consists of 60 items assessing 12 subscales established a priori. The sexual honesty subscale had to be divided into two dimensions: honesty and faking orgasm resulting in 13 subscales. These subscales are second-order unidimensional as they were highly positively correlated and produced small inter-item errors, so therefore they were treated as items (Hunter & Gerbing, 1982). Participants responded to each item using a 5-point, Likert-type scale where 1 = have not discussed and 5 = have fully discussed. Overall sexual self-disclosure was measured by averaging items; participants had average levels of overall sexual self-disclosure (M = 3.10, SD = .96, [alpha] = .98, 13 items).

Sexual Compatibility

Hurlbert's Index of Sexual Compatibility (HISC, Hurlbert, White, Powell, & Apt, 1993) is a 25-item, Likert scale where 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree. It is intended to measure the emotional, cognitive, and behavioural dimensions of sexual compatibility. Two additional items were added (My partner and I are sexually compatible; My partner and I talk about sex in the same way.). Barnette (2000) has noted internal consistency and dimensionality issues associated with negatively worded items, which was the primary reason why many of the items could not be retained for creating the sexual compatibility measure used for the current study. There were 13 items that met the factor analytic criteria (see Table 3 for retained items). These items were averaged to create an overall measure of sexual compatibility. Participants reported high levels of sexual compatibility (M = 3.82, SD = .69, [alpha] = .93, 13 items).

Sexual Conflict

A scale measuring conflicts about sex was created for the purposes of this study. This task was accomplished by generating a fist of 17 topics from extant relevant literature (e.g., Baumeister et al., 2001; Joyal, Cossette, & Lapierre, 2015). Respondents were also provided with an open-ended question in which they could write in "Other type of conflict?" No participant wrote in any additional kind of conflict that could be analyzed. Participants were asked the extent to which they experienced conflict with their sexual partner for each topic using a 5-point, Likert-type scale where 1 = no conflict and 5 = extreme conflict. One topic (preferences about anal sex) did not meet the factor analytic inclusion criteria and was dropped leaving 16 items to form the sexual conflict variable, which was created by averaging scale items. People experienced low levels of conflict about sexual matters (M = 1.72, SD = .88, [alpha] = .94, 16 items).


Undergraduate students enrolled in communication courses at a mid-sized, Midwestern university in the United States were surveyed via an online questionnaire completed for minimal course credit. Students were sent an email asking for their voluntary participation along with a link to the questionnaire. They were encouraged to solicit participation from other people-including friends and family--outside of the university. The first page of the questionnaire contained all required informed consent information, and respondents were instructed that they would be asked sensitive questions about their communicative behaviour regarding sex. The questionnaire was comprised of items measuring several interactional qualities including the constructs of interest reported in this study. This project was approved by the university's Institutional Review Board.


The term gender is used in the following sections to eliminate the confusion with sex given the context. The correlations between sexual self-disclosure, sexual compatibility, sexual conflict and predicted outcome values for sexual relationships appear in Table 1. As predicted, sexual self-disclosure was positively related to sexual predicted outcome values (HI), and sexual compatibility was also positively associated with sexual predicted outcome values (H2). Conflict about sexual matters was negatively related to sexual predicted outcome values, which was consistent with the prediction (H3). Sexual self-disclosure and sexual conflict were also positively correlated, but sexual conflict was negatively related to sexual compatibility.

Topics of Sexual Self-Disclosure

All 13 topics of sexual self-disclosure were highly and significantly correlated (r = .40 - .85, p < .001). The ranked topics of sexual self-disclosure (from most to least discussed) are presented in Table 2. As can be seen, participants had discussed birth control, honesty, preferred sexual activities, and the degree to which they feel sexually satisfied. Other topics-views about rape, distressing sex, negative feelings about sex, and pretending to enjoy sex--were discussed less often. Women and men did not differ in their perceptions of overall sexual self-disclosure, [M.sub.women] = 3.12, SD = .98, [] = 3.08, SD = .96, t(390)= .410, p = .682, d = .04, 95% CI [-.15, .23],

Areas of Sexual Compatibility

Table 3 shows areas of compatibility participants identified ranked from the most compatible areas to the least compatible areas regarding sex. Participants were sexually compatible with their relational partners when considering sexual attraction and pleasure, comfort, and satisfaction. Partners perceived less sexual compatibility when considering fantasies, frequency of sex, unwillingness to engage in sexual experiences, and overall sex. Women and men did not perceive different levels of overall sexual compatibility, [M.sub.women] = 3.82, SD = .73, M = 3.82, SD = .64, f(390)= .091, p = .928, d = .00, 95% CI [-.13, .14],

Conflicts about Sex

Overall, participants noted that their largest sources of conflicts were about preferences regarding anal sex, frequency of sex, and sexual activity with other people. Conflicts about preferences about vaginal sex, kissing technique, sexting, and quality of sex were not as salient. Men, more than women, reported higher levels of overall sexual conflict, [M.sub.women] = 1.59, SD = .71, [] = 1.89, SD = .97, f(390) = -3.42, p = .001, d = -.35, 95% CI [-.47, -.13]. Table 4 shows what types of sexual conflicts participants identified ranked by largest gender difference as measured using Cohens (1988) d (where d = .20 indicates a small effect). Moderate gender differences occurred for men reporting higher sources of conflict regarding condom use, preferences about vaginal sex, preferences about anal sex, and sexual activity with other people. Taken together, these findings are consistent with the prediction that men would report greater sexual conflict in their relationships than women would report (H4).

Predicted Outcome Values for Sexual Relationships

Sexual self-disclosure, sexual compatibility, and sexual conflict were regressed onto sexual predicted outcome values using ordinary least squares regression. The model was statistically significant, R = .53, [R.sup.2] = .28, F(3,364) = 47.22, p < .001. Both sexual self-disclosure, [beta] = .10, t = 2.05, p = .041, and sexual compatibility, [beta] = .47, t = 9.56, p < .001, were related to sexual predicted outcome values. Sexual conflict, [beta] = -.07, t = -1.43, p = .154, was not related to predicted outcome values for sexual relationships. Given the correlational and regression results, a mediation path model was tested in AMOS. This model specified that sexual compatibility mediated the relationship between both sexual self-disclosure and sexual conflict and sexual predicted outcome values. The results indicated that the model was statistically significant, sexual compatibility, R = .43, [R.sup.2] = .19, sexual predicted outcome values, R = .52, [R.sup.2] = .27, [chi square] (2) = 6.16, p = .046, NFI = .970, RMSEA = .073. Including a direct path between sexual self-disclosure and sexual predicted outcome values improved the fit of the model (see Figure 1). Therefore, these results are consistent with HI and H2 and provide partial support for H3. Both sexual self-disclosures and conflicts about sexual matters contribute to people's judgments about sexual compatibility. Sexual compatibility, in turn, was related to participants' predicted outcome values about their sexual relationships. Furthermore, sexual self-disclosure also had a direct link to participants' sexual predicted outcome values. Individuals who self-disclose important sexual information and avoid conflicts about sex perceive they are compatible with their partners. Compatibility judgements contribute to people's positive sexual predicted outcome values.


Metts and Cupach (1989) declared the importance of communication for understanding human sexuality. The current investigation identified the specific kinds of communication that are crucial for creating positive sexual outcomes for intimate relationships by applying predicted outcome value theory to sexual interactions. Additionally, topics of sexual self-disclosure, areas of sexual compatibility, and sources of sexual conflict were identified.

Predicted Outcome Values for Sexual Relationships

It was hypothesized that sexual self-disclosure (HI), sexual compatibility (H2), and sexual conflict (H3) would be influential in participants' sexual predicted outcome values. These data were largely consistent with these hypotheses. The relationships between sexual self-disclosure, sexual conflict, and sexual predicted outcome values were indirect. That is, sexual compatibility was significantly predicted by both self-disclosures people make about sexual issues and the conflicts they have about sex. Sexual self-disclosure also contributed directly to individuals' assessments about predicted outcome values regarding their sexual relationships. People's perceptions of sexual compatibility were instrumental in creating sexual predicted outcome values. Individuals who are sexually compatible with their partner have engaged in disclosure on a variety of sexual topics, experience relatively low levels of sexual conflict within the relationship, and expect that the future of their sexual relationship will be positive. These results support and extend earlier work on the importance of sexual compatibility for relational, sexual, and individual well-being (Apt et al., 1996; de Jong & Reis, 2014; Heino & Ojanlatva, 2000).

These results also have important theoretical and methodological implications regarding the utility of examining sexual predicted outcome values. Sunnafrank and Ramirez (2004) demonstrated that positive and negative expectations about future relationships influence a host of important interactional qualities (e.g., amount of communication, long-term attraction, proximity, and type of relationship formed). As such, developing positive predicted outcome values is instrumental for establishing and maintaining relational health. Sexual self-disclosure, sexual conflict, and sexual compatibility function to help people make predictions about their sexual relationships. The extent to which people share similar sexual desires, preferences, and attitudes leads to optimism about their future sexual relationship, and these expectations likely motivate people to interact in ways that aid in relationship development. Methodologically, the sexual predicted outcome value measure was highly reliable and demonstrated predictable relationships with other constructs, both of which provide empirical support for the application of the theory in this new context.

Consistent with La France and Hall's (2012) results, sexual predicted outcome values were related to positive relational qualities. Participants' feelings of sexual compatibility assessments were driven both by self-disclosures about sexual matters and conflicts about sex. This finding highlights an ironic conundrum. Sexual self-disclosures are rewarding in their ability to communicate preferred sexual activity to a relational partner as well as provide cues regarding the overall sexual health of one's relationship (Cupach & Metts, 1991; MacNeil & Byers, 2005), but one challenge of self-disclosing sexual information is the possibility of discovering a source of conflict as was evidenced by the positive relationship found between sexual self-disclosure and sexual conflict. Fear is often associated with self-disclosure--fear arising from concerns about the information's impact on the relationship, loss of respect, rejection, and not wanting to hurt the target of the self-disclosure (Derlega, Winstead, Mathews, & Braitman, 2008; Hatfield, 1984). For example, a wife may disclose to her husband that she finds fellatio dissatisfying because she dislikes the taste of semen (Apt et al, 1996). This now articulated sexual preference is compared to her husband's desire for fellatio. A conflict about sex may emerge as a result of her disclosure. However, the results of the model (i.e., the direct and indirect paths between sexual self-disclosure and sexual predicted outcome values), demonstrate the sexual benefits of disclosing sexual information, which statistically edges out the potential danger in discovering a source of conflict. Thus, partners would likely benefit from self-disclosing important aspects of their sexual beliefs, desires, and preferences.

Sexual Self-Disclosures

The most pressing sexual topics partners disclosed concerned birth control, sexual loyalty, and the positivity they associate with sex. One reaction to these top-ranked topics may be to dismiss them in that they are not surprising given the characteristics of the sample. Alternatively, these results inspire optimism. For a variety of psychological, health, and sexual reasons, it is reassuring that relational partners are having discussions about such important matters as safer sex, expectations regarding sexual exclusivity, and expressing their positive affect for specific sexual activity.

MacNeil and Byers's (2005) instrumental and expressive pathways represent Cupach and Metts's (1991) assertions about the functions of sexual communication. Specifically, sexual self-disclosure is how partners convey information about likes, desires, and preferences, which lead to positive sexual outcomes (i.e., instrumental pathway). Sexual self-disclosures also help create and maintain desired levels of important relational qualities such as intimacy, commitment, and solidarity (i.e., expressive pathway). The variety of sexual self-disclosure topics research participants discussed reflects the use of both pathways in sexual relationships.

Negative topics (e.g., sexual anxiety, rape, distressing sexual activity) of self-disclosure were discussed less frequently, and faking orgasm was the least discussed topic. Cooper, Fenigstein, and Fauber's (2014) idea of altruistic deceit illuminates one reason why people would be reticent to self-disclose that they have faked having an orgasm. Interactants likely want to protect their partner's feelings. Thus, negative sexual self-disclosures--especially talking about faking orgasms--may be a topic perceived as especially hurtful and damaging. This kind of altruism may extend to the other negative topics of self-disclosure as well. Simply put, it is difficult to present potentially harmful information to a sexual partner. Taboo topics regarding sexual experiences are common and often reflect relational partners' concern for identity and for the relationship (Anderson, Kunkel, & Dennis, 2011).

Sexual Compatibility

There may be a temptation to assume that sexual conflict is the same as sexual incompatibility or that sexual conflict is the result of perceptions of sexual incompatibility especially given that most definitions of conflict include some reference to incompatibility of goals (cf. Wilmot & Hocker, 2001, p. 41). Instead, the proffered model offers sexual compatibility as a result of conflicts about sex. That is, when relational partners experience conflicts about sex, those interactions lead to assessments of compatibility--or incompatibility. Although these data are cross-sectional, it is worth noting that they are inconsistent with the reversed model. The modest correlation between sexual (in)compatibility and sexual conflict demonstrates that the two constructs share an association, but they are not isomorphic. Furthermore, factor analysis demonstrated that sexual compatibility and sexual conflict are distinctive factors, which are assessed reliably. Indeed, these two distinct constructs make independent contributions to sexual predicted outcome values.

Relational partners who are sexually compatible are sexually and relationally satisfied, are motivated to have sex, and find their mates sexually desirable (Apt et ah, 1996; de Jong & Reis, 2014, 2015; Hurlbert et al., 2000; Mark et al., 2013; Offman & Matheson, 2005). Considering sexual predicted outcome values specifically, the current data provide additional evidence for the importance of sexual compatibility in relationships. Sexual relationships are projected to be fulfilling to the extent that partners co-orient their sexual attitudes, desires, and behaviours. As an interactional quality, perceptions of sexual compatibility are accomplished through the use of verbal messages and nonverbal cues. Although objective levels of sexual compatibility for this sample were high, participants were less compatible regarding fantasies, frequency of sex, and their partners' overall unwillingness to engage in sexual activities.

Conflicts about Sex

Overall, participants experienced low levels of sexual conflict. The top three areas of conflict were about anal sex, sexual activity with other people, and the frequency of sex. Gender differences also emerged whereby men, more than women, identified specific areas of their sexual relationships that were problematic. Men's conflicts were about condom use, preferences regarding types of sex (e.g., vaginal and anal sex), sexual activity with other people, and acting out sexual fantasies. These findings are consistent with previous work regarding differences in men's and women's preferences for sexual behaviour (Baumeister et al., 2001; Byers & Lewis, 1988; Klusmann & Berner, 2012; Oliver & Hyde, 1993). In one of the few studies empirically investigating the frequency and correlates of heterosexual anal sex, McBride and Fortenberry (2010) discuss the taboo status of anal sex, its rising popularity in pornography, as well as differences in the attitudinal and physiological experience of anal sex for men and for women. Unlike other sexual activity, frequency of anal sex was not related to the pleasure experienced with anal sex for women. In fact, a majority of women who have engaged in anal sex (estimated at about 45% when considering the insertion of any object) evaluate it as a negative experience (McBride & Fortenberry, 2010). By contrast, men evaluate anal sex more positively and experience greater pleasure from the act.

Condom use as a source of conflict for men is also noteworthy. Davis et al.'s (2014) exploration of heterosexual men's attitudes toward condom use revealed that although men do readily identify the advantages and disadvantages of condom use, they focus on the loss of physical sensation during sex. Consequently, they use a variety of resistance strategies (e.g., deception, sabotage, persuasion, coercion) to avoid using condoms. So, while women are more interested than men in discussing safer sex practices (Allen, Emmers-Sommer, & Crowell, 2002), men are more invested than women in avoiding condom use. This source of conflict and its specific impact on emotional, behavioural, communicative, and sexual aspects of relational life warrants further empirical investigation.

One last interesting point to note about conflicts regarding sexual matters. Sexual conflicts, per se, did not contribute directly to participants' sexual predicted outcome values. Rather, the degree to which people make compatibility judgements using their experiences with conflicts about sex influenced their predicted outcome values for their sexual relationships. This finding suggests that experiencing a sexual conflict (or perhaps a pattern of conflicts about sex) does not necessarily contribute to negative expectations about one's sexual relationship. Rather, it is the effect that sexual conflict has on perceptions of sexual compatibility that (ultimately) affects sexual predicted outcome values.


It is worth noting that although the language of regression and model testing identifies independent and dependent variables and the discussion of the results of those analyses are presented using that nomenclature, these data are cross-sectional rather than longitudinal. Thus, the true causal chain in how sexual predicted outcome values are created should be assessed by future studies using time series data.

Although the correlations (and paths) between the interactional qualities investigated in this study would likely remain consistent when considering non-college aged samples, the overall levels of the variables may change. For example, sexual compatibility for a 20-year-old likely depends upon a substantially different set of criteria when compared to middle-aged sexual partners. Likewise, individuals who participate in a study investigating aspects of sexual communication are--by definition--more sexually expressive than are individuals who are unwilling to participate in such a study. It is an empirical question as to how this (and likely other) individual attribute influences study outcomes.

Further measurement work should be performed on the sexual compatibility and sexual conflict measures. As is customary, Hurlbert et al.s (1993) sexual compatibility scale includes negatively worded items. These items were problematic as their interpretation seemed to change the underlying meaning of the construct. This finding is not unique (cf. Barnette, 2000), but it necessitates a renewed refinement of the original items. Additionally, some of these negatively worded items refer to disagreement about sexual behaviour such as the frequency of sex. That particular reference seems to assess a specific conflict about sex. Future scholarship would benefit from empirically testing the conceptual dimensions of sexual compatibility and sexual conflict in terms of the boundary that distinguishes each construct.


The importance of this study lies in its contribution to the larger corpus of research investigating the central role communication plays in sexual relationships. Specifically, important topics of sexual self-disclosure were identified, sources of sexual conflict were highlighted, and areas of sexual compatibility were assessed. These specific verbal messages and nonverbal cues provide concrete examples of Metts and Cupach's (1989) assertion privileging communication in the development of healthy sexual relationships. Furthermore, predicted outcome values were usefully applied in a sexual context establishing the utility of Sunnafrank's (1986, 1990) theory. How sexual predicted outcome values are created was described, and these forecasts about future sexual relationships are instrumental in creating positive sexual and relational outcomes.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Betty La France, Department of Communication, Northern Illinois University, 11 Reavis Hall, DeKalb, Illinois 60115, United States. E-mail:



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Betty La France (1)

(1) Department of Communication, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL

Caption: Figure 1. Path model for sexual predicted outcome values
Table 1. Correlations between Constructs

                           Sexual       Sexual        Sexual
                          Predicted     Self-      Compatibility
                           Outcome    Disclosure

Sexual Self-Disclosure     .20 **
Sexual Compatibility       .52 **       .24 **
Sexual Conflict            -.22 **      .09 *         -.34 **

* p < .05, ** p < .001, N = 395.

Table 2. Sexual Self-Disclosure Topics Ranked by Extent of

Self-Disclosure Topic                               M      SD

Birth Control (5 items, [alpha] = .91)             3.68   1.16
What t think about birth control.
How 1 feel about abortions.

Honesty (2 items, [alpha] = .79)                   3.66   1.22
What 1 think about sexual disloyalty.
How 1 feel about sexual honesty.

Sensations (5 items, [alpha] = .93)                3.64   1.05
The things that sexually arouse me.
The sexual activities that "feel good" to me.

Positive sexual affect (5 items, [alpha] = .91)    3.49   1.11
How satisfied 1 feel about the sexual
aspects of my life.
How much joy that sex gives me.

Meaning of sex (5 items, [alpha] = 90)             3.43   1.12
What sex means to me.
What 1 think and feel about having sex
with someone.

Responsibility (5 items, [alpha] = .92)            3.34   1.23
My private notion of sexual responsibility.
The responsibility one ought to assume for
one,s sexuality.
Attitude (5 items, [alpha] = .90)                  3.18   1.15
The sexual behaviours which 1 think people
ought to exhibit.

Behaviour (5 items, [alpha] = .88)                 3.18   1.19
My past sexual experiences.
The types of sexual behaviours I've engaged in.
Fantasy (5 items, [alpha] = .92)                   2.86   1.23
My imaginary sexual encounters.
My private sexual fantasies.

Rape (5 items, [alpha] = .96)                      2.61   1.40
My private views about rape.
Women's and men's reactions to rape.

Concerns (5 items, [alpha] = .88)                  2.57   1.17
Times when sex was distressing for me.
Times when 1 was pressured to have sex.

Negative sexual affect (5 items, [alpha] =.86)     2.37   1.14
How guilty 1 feel about sex.
How anxious 1 feel about my sex life.

Faked orgasm (3 items, [alpha] = .85)              2.33   1.27
The times 1 have faked orgasm.
The times 1 have pretended to enjoy sex.

Note. 1 = have not discussed; 2 = have slightly discussed; 3 = have
moderately discussed; 4 = have mostly discussed; 5 = have fully

Table 3. Ranked Areas of Sexual Compatibility

Area                                                     M      SD

I think my partner is sexually attracted to me.         4.27   .72
I am sexually attracted to my partner.                  4.26   .83
My partner sexually pleases me.                         4.18   .83
I feel comfortable during sex with my partner.          4.17   .83
I think I sexually satisfy my partner. (a)              4.08   .85
When it comes to sex, my partner and I get              4.08   .81
  along well. (a)
My partner and I are sexually compatible. (a)           4.01   .84
I think my partner understands me sexually. (a)         3.94   .88
My partner and I talk about sex in the same way. (a)    3.90   .91
My partner and I enjoy the same sexual                  3.88   .87
  activities. (a)
It is hard for me to accept my partners' views          3.86   .99
  on sex.
My sexual beliefs are similar to those of my            3.86   .93
  partner. (a)
My partner and I share the same sexual likes and        3.80   .90
dislikes. (a)
I do not think I meet my partner,s sexual needs.        3.78   1.01
I have the same sexual values as my partner.3           3.78   .89
My partner and I share about the same level of          3.75   1.00
  sexual desire. (a)
In our relationship, my partner places too much         3.74   1.07
  importance on sex.
My partner and I share the same level of interest       3.65   1.03
  in sex. (a)
I feel uncomfortable engaging in some of the            3.60   1.16
  sexual activities that my partner desires.
I think my partner desires too much sex.                3.60   1.13
When it comes to sex, my ideas and values are           3.56   1.09
  different from those of my partner.
My partner enjoys doing certain sexual things           3.54   1.09
  that I dislike.
My partner and I argue about the sexual aspects         3.51   1.17
  of our relationship.
When it comes to sex, my partner is unwilling to        3.50   1.17
  do certain things that I would like to experience.
My partner is unwilling to do certain sexual things     3.50   1.18
  for me I would like to experience.
My partner and I disagree over the frequency in         3.48   1.16
  which we should have sex.(R) (a)
My partner and I share similar sexual fantasies. (a)    3.47   .96

Note. 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neutral,
4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree.

(a) Items used to create construct.

Table 4. Conflicts about Sex Ranked by Largest Gender Difference


                                      M        Women          Men
Conflict Topic                                N = 219       N = 173

Condom use                           1.71    .53 (.94)    .97 (1.30)
Preferences about vaginal sex        1.52    .36 (.86)    .73 (1.25)
Preferences about anal sex (a)       2.24   1.03 (1.40)   1.50 (1.56)
Sexual activity with other people    1.90   .71 (1.27)    1.15 (1.53)
Acting out sexual fantasies          1.77   .62 (1.05)    .97 (1.24)
Kissing technique                    1.62   .47 (1.00)    .82 (1.30)
Sexting                              1.62   .48 (1.03)    .81 (1.27)
Use of pornography or erotica        1.78   .65 (1.13)    .97 (1.36)
Importance of sex within larger      1.65   .53 (1.02)    .81 (1.21)
Preferences about oral sex           1.84   .71 (1.15)    1.01 (1.26)
How sex is started                   1.69    .58 (.94)    .84 (1.21)
Frequency of sex                     1.94   .82 (1.10)    1.10 (1.37)
Sexual attitudes                     1.66    .56 (.91)    .79 (1.10)
Quality of sex                       1.62    .53 (.94)    .74 (1.16)
Turning down (saying no to) sex      1.89   .79 (1.09)    1.02 (1.28)
Expression of affection during       1.65   .56 (1.06)    .77 (1.16)
  sexual activity
Duration of sex                      1.65    .56 (.95)    .76 (1.19)

                                      d        95% Cl
Conflict Topic

Condom use                           -.38   [-.58, -.18]
Preferences about vaginal sex        -.33   [-.54, -.13]
Preferences about anal sex (a)       -.31   [-.51, -.11]
Sexual activity with other people    -.31   [-.51, -.11]
Acting out sexual fantasies          -.30   [-.50, -.10]
Kissing technique                    -.29   [-.49, -.09]
Sexting                              -.27   [-.47, -.07]
Use of pornography or erotica        -.25   [-.45, -.05]
Importance of sex within larger      -.25   [-.45, -.05]
Preferences about oral sex           -.25   [-.45, -.05]
How sex is started                   -.24   [-.44, -.04]
Frequency of sex                     -.22   [-.42, -.02]
Sexual attitudes                     -.22   [-.42, -.02]
Quality of sex                       -.20   [-.40, .00]
Turning down (saying no to) sex      -.20   [-.40, .00]
Expression of affection during       -.19   [-.39, .01]
  sexual activity
Duration of sex                      -.19   [-.38, .01]

Note: 1 = no conflict; 2 = mild conflict; 3 = moderate
conflict; 4 = strong conflict; 5 = extreme conflict.

(a) Item was removed when creating construct.
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Author:La France, Betty
Publication:The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2019
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