Sexual Deception as a Social-Exchange Process: Development of a Behavior-Based Sexual Deception Scale

Article excerpt

Prevalence of lying and deception within our society is found in countless forms, including literature, movies, self-help books, advice columns, and websites. According to Buller and Burgoon (1994), deception involves "controlling information to alter the target's beliefs or understanding in a way that the deceiver knows is false" (p. 192). Empirically, multiple facets of deception have been investigated, including definitions, how and why it is used, its detection, and possible consequences (Burgoon, Buller, White, Afifi, & Buslig, 1999; Camden, Motley, & Wilson, 1984; DePaulo, Kashy, Kirkendol, Wyer, & Epstein 1996; Frank & Ekman, 1997; Lippard, 1988; Miller, Mongeau, & Sleight, 1986). People typically engage in deception by telling outright lies, trying to mask personal attributes such as feelings, plans, knowledge, or whereabouts, in order to benefit themselves. In other circumstances, deception allows people to gain something desirable that they cannot get or do not believe they can obtain through their own power (Hample, 1980), or avoid unpleasant situations, hurt feelings, and conflicts (Camden et al., 1984).

The purpose of the current study is to develop a scale assessing sexual deception practices, with the focus on the lies individuals have used in order to have sex with prospective or current partners. The need to develop such an assessment is paramount given that sexual deception could contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which in the year 2000 alone saw an incidence of 18.9 million cases in the United States (Weinstock, Berman, & Cares, 2004). Beyond failures to disclose one's current or past STD status to prospective/current partners or outright lying about one's serostatus (for examples, see Clark, Brasseux, Richmond, Getson, & D' Angelo, 1997; Desiderato & Crawford, 1995; Green et al., 2003; Kalichman & Nachimson, 1999; Keller, Von Sadovszky, Pankratz, & Hermsen, 2000; Marks et al., 1994; Newton & McCabe, 2005; Perry et al., 1994; Sullivan, 2005), deceptions regarding one's sexual history including number of sexual partners and one-night stands, multiple sex partners, dating and marital affairs, and risky sexual exploits all may contribute to the spread of STDs through pronounced exposure. Further, given that individuals tend to be poor judges of whether potential partners may be at risk for STDs (Drumright, Gorbach's, Holmes, 2004; Malloy, Fisher, Albright, Misovich, & Fisher, 1997; Stoner et al., 2003), or, more importantly, lying in general (Ekman, 1997), a scale assessing sexual deception practices could contribute to disease prevention efforts.

Lying and deception within intimate relationships can be explained using classic social exchange theory (Homans, 1961; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). Sexual deceptions may be utilized to gain or maintain various resources, including sexual intercourse, intimacy, and other relationship-related rewards. Indeed, Ekman (1997) has noted that lying often is used to obtain rewards. Both personality theory and psychoevolutionary psychology suggest that individuals have an innate need or motivation for sex (e.g., Buss, 1994; Murray, 1938), and will devise various plans and actions in order to fulfill the need (Miller & Read, 1987). Further, if sex (as a reward or gain) is perceived to be blocked, lies may be used in order to circumvent the interference, with such deceptions viewed as costs given the negative consequences if discovered (Hample, 1980; Shibbles, 1985).

There are circumstances, however, when sex is utilized as a resource exchanged for another reward or gain. In other words, sex is a cost (along with deception), with the reward being gain or maintenance of various relationship resources. As noted by Sprecher (1998, p. 38) in her review of social exchange and sexuality, "Partner A may give more sexual resources than Partner B, but Partner B may reciprocate with services, presents (goods), or love and gratitude. …