Good communication has frequently been identified as important to developing and maintaining a rewarding and problem-free sexual relationship (Chesney, Blakeney, Cole, &Chan, 1981; Ferroni & Taffee, 1997). A number of authors have argued that, specifically, self-disclosing sexual likes and dislikes--that is, desired and undesired sexual techniques--to a partner leads to greater sexual satisfaction and fewer sexual problems (LoPiccolo & LoPiccolo, 1978; Metts & Cupach, 1989; Russell, 1990). Despite the often stated importance of sexual self-disclosure, there has been relatively little research on the topic. The purpose of this study was to investigate dating individuals' self-disclosure about their sexual likes and dislikes to their partner.(1) It is important to investigate sexual self-disclosure in dating relationships, because it is during this period that couples develop mutual sexual scripts and patterns of sexual communication become established.
Disclosure of Sexual Likes and Dislikes
For the most part, research on sexual communication has not investigated the extent of self-disclosure to a partner about sexual likes and dislikes. For example, Yelsma (1986) investigated the frequency, not the extent, of discussion of 13 sexual topics. Other researchers have inferred good sexual communication from couples' agreement on sexual issues and/or understanding of the other partner's viewpoint, but have not investigated the extent of communication directly (Pumine & Carey, 1997; Ross, Clifford, & Eisenman, 1987). Good agreement and understanding may indicate a good initial match between couples' sexual preferences and/or skill at decoding nonverbal behavior, rather than open discussion of sexual likes and dislikes.
Herold and Way (1988) did investigate the extent of college women's sexual disclosure to four target people, including a dating partner, about six specific topics. They found that, on average, the women had talked about sex with their partner in some detail but had not been fully self-disclosing. However, some of the topics that they assessed (e.g., "my personal views on sexual morality") were not specific to the sexual interaction. Further, although respondents indicated the extent of their self-disclosure on "sexual techniques I find or would find pleasurable," they did not indicate their disclosure about the perhaps more difficult topic to discuss, sexual techniques they dislike. Therefore, the first goal of this study was to determine the extent of individuals' self-disclosure to a dating partner about their likes and dislikes with respect to specific sexual activities they engage in. We expanded on Herold and Way by asking men and women about both likes and dislikes regarding five separate aspects of sexual activity. We predicted that participants would report greater self-disclosure about sexual likes than about sexual dislikes.
We also examined gender differences in both nonsexual and sexual self-disclosure. Past research and traditional gender role expectations suggest that women self-disclose more about nonsexual topics than do men (Hendrick, 1981; Vera & Betz, 1992). With respect to sexual self-disclosure, however, the traditional sexual script prescribes that women be sexually naive and that men be directive and assertive about their sexual needs (Byers, 1996). Further, Lawrance, Taylor, and Byers (1996) found that men continue to be more instrumental in sexual situations than are women. Communication about desired and undesired sexual techniques is more of an instrumental than an affective behavior. Therefore, we predicted that men would report being more disclosing of their sexual likes and dislikes than would women. Finally, as talking about sex is often difficult (Fisher, Miller, Byrne, & White, 1980), we predicted that both male and female participants would report greater self-disclosure about nonsexual topics than about …