Academic journal article
By Lacey, Rachel Saul; Reifman, Alan; Scott, Jean Pearson; Harris, Steven M.; Fitzpatrick, Jacki
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 41, No. 2
The National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS; Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994; Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, & Kolata, 1994) was a landmark research study, known both for its pioneering use of state-of-the-art sampling and interviewing techniques in a national sexuality study and for its substantive findings on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of Americans ages 18 to 59. The present study focuses on one aspect of the NHSLS, namely its measurement and characterization of sexual-moral attitudes. By assessing respondents' attitudes on issues such as homosexuality, pornography, and abortion, the NHSLS researchers were able to develop profiles of different subgroups of Americans who exhibited varying patterns of liberal and conservative views.
Although the National Health and Social Life Survey sexual-moral attitudes framework has now been around for several years, there appears to be little research following up on it (Carpenter, 1998; Laumann & Michael, 2001). We thus propose to extend the study of sexual-moral attitudes by relating them, conceptually and empirically, to two other constructs: love styles (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1986) and attraction criteria (Simpson & Gangestad, 1992). All three constructs are described in greater detail below.
An important reason for attempting to relate sexual-moral attitudes to love styles and attraction criteria is to seek evidence of sexual-moral attitudes' (and the other variables') construct validity via the establishment of a nomological network (Cronbach & Meehl, 1955; Trochim, 2002). A nomological network seeks to relate theoretical constructs to each other, theoretical constructs to observable measures, and observable measures to each other. Cronbach and Meehl (1955) note that "'Learning more about' a theoretical construct is a matter of elaborating the nomological network in which it occurs ..." (p. 290) and that "... 'operations' which are qualitatively very different 'overlap' or 'measure the same thing' if their positions in the nomological net tie them to the same construct variable" (pp. 290-291). In short, nomological analysis can inform us about a construct by showing other constructs to which it is conceptually and empirically related.
The National Health and Social Life Survey administered nine items covering the areas of love and sex, pornography, religion, abortion, and premarital, extramarital, and homosexual sex. It then used cluster analysis to cleave the American public into distinct attitudinal clusters. Three higher order clusters were termed the traditional, recreational, and relational groups. Respondents in the traditional category felt their religious beliefs were the guiding force behind their sexual behavior and were the most conservative on all sexual attitudes. Individuals in the recreational category believed sex does not have to have anything to do with love and were the most liberal in their sexual attitudes. Relational respondents believed sex should be part of a loving relationship but not necessarily in marriage.
The NHSLS researchers further subdivided the three higher order categories into a larger number of lower order ones based on the cluster analysis. They divided the traditional category into conservative and pro-choice; these groups differed on a few of the issues, but most markedly on abortion. Attitudes toward abortion were also the basis for a division in the recreational category into pro-life and libertarian subgroups; with limited exceptions, the latter group had the most liberal responses of any group on all items. The relational category broke down into three subgroups called religious, conventional, and contemporary religious. These three subgroups were a "mixed bag," virtually never all agreeing with each other across the set of issues. Only in their unanimous rejection of the proposition that premarital sex is always wrong did the three relational groups resemble each other. …