Responses to Unprotected Extradyadic Sex by One's Partner: Testing Predictions from Interdependence and Equity Theory

Article excerpt

Sexual involvement of one's partner in an extradyadic sexual relationship is usually interpreted as a serious threat to the intimacy and exclusivity of the relationship and evokes strong negative emotional reactions in most individuals (Buunk, 1995). Numerous studies have illustrated that offended partners respond with anger, which generates strained interactions, arguments, threats, and, not infrequently, violence (e.g., Bringle & Buunk, 1991; Buunk, 1995; Daly, Wilson, & Weghorst, 1982). Evolutionary theorists have suggested that these strong emotional responses are due to mechanisms that are the endproduct of human evolution. According to such theorists, human males have an evolved tendency to be upset upon learning of sexual intercourse between their partner and another male because of the risk of investing in another male's offspring. Females in such a situation would especially be concerned with the possibility that their partner might invest resources in the children of another woman (Buss, Larsen, Westen, & Semmelroth, 1992).

However, extradyadic sex of one's partner may also be threatening for other reasons. Such behavior, particularly when it occurs unprotected, may involve the risk of the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The threat of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) especially has added a new dimension to the impact of extradyadic sexual relationships upon the primary relationship. The current study is focused upon the responses to unprotected extradyadic sex of one's partner in a Dutch sample. Despite the fact that people have become more aware of the risks of unprotected sexual contacts with multiple partners, there is no evidence that the frequency of non-monogamous heterosexual relationships in the Netherlands has decreased since the discovery of AIDS. For instance, in a Dutch sample of convenience, Prins, Buunk, and VanYperen (1993) found that the fear of AIDS did not have any impact upon the intention to engage in extradyadic sexual relationships. More importantly, a representative study on sexuality in The Netherlands showed that 5% of all individuals with a steady relationship had in the previous year entered into casual extradyadic sex (VanZessen & Sandfort, 1991). No fewer than three quarters of all participants with extradyadic sexual experience reported having had unprotected vaginal intercourse in these encounters, and they were also having unprotected intercourse with the steady partner.

We assessed a number of behavioral responses that might occur when individuals find out that their partner has had unprotected extradyadic sex. First, as suggested by research on responses to the partner's extradyadic sex (Buunk, 1995), it seems rather obvious that individuals may be so angry and upset that they turn away from their partner and may even consider ending the relationship. We refer to this response as angry retreat. Second, individuals may respond with accommodation, i.e., adapting to the partner, by expressing loyalty and trying to understand the partner's behavior (cf. Rusbult, Verette, Whitney, Slovik, & Lipkus, 1991). Third, an assertive response may occur (e.g., by taking precautionary measures such as demanding condom use within the relationship, requiring that the partner take an HIV-antibody test, and demanding that the partner in the future refrain from unprotected extradyadic sex). The responses may differ, depending on the unfaithful partner's attitude (e.g., whether the partner shows regret, whether the partner wants to end the relationship). Moreover, these responses are probably not mutually exclusive, and individuals may exhibit several responses simultaneously. Nevertheless, the current research is focused upon three variables in the offended individual that may make a particular response relatively more dominant: commitment to the relationship, extradyadic sexual willingness, and the intention to use condoms with new sexual partners. …