Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Sexuality and Personality Correlates of Willingness to Participate in Sex Research

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Sexuality and Personality Correlates of Willingness to Participate in Sex Research

Article excerpt

Sex research is viewed as being particularly susceptible to volunteer bias, especially those studies that involve genital response measurement. Willingness to participate in sex research may be affected by study procedures, including the intrusiveness of devices measuring genital response, but this topic is seldom examined empirically. A community sample of 364 women and 117 men completed an online survey assessing willingness to participate in 15 sex research scenarios as well as measures of sexual attitudes, behaviours, and personality. As hypothesized, the presence versus absence of genital exposure, rather than the degree or type, impacted willingness ratings, such that participants were more willing to partake in studies in which they remained clothed versus studies that involved getting undressed. Erotophilic attitudes were associated with willingness to participate in unclothed and clothed research procedures for women and men, and sexual orientation impacted women's willingness ratings for both types of research. Although some personality factors were correlated with willingness ratings, they generally did not explain additional variance in willingness beyond the associations of other correlates. This study provides a critical update on volunteer bias in sex research and demonstrates that self-selection biases may impact the generalizability of sex research assessing community samples of women and men.

KEYWORDS: Generalizability, personality, research methodology, sexual psychophysiology, volunteer bias


Volunteer bias--also known as self-selection or ascertainment bias--is a systematic data sampling error leading to biased samples, and consequently, to findings that are not necessarily generalizable to the population of interest. Perhaps owing to the sensitive and private nature of sexuality, sex research is thought to be particularly susceptible to volunteer bias (Rosenthal & Rosnow, 1975). Thus, identifying the correlates of willingness to participate in sex research is essential for conducting rigorous and representative studies of sexual attitudes and behaviours, and more broadly, for contextualizing current and future literature in this area.

Two main study designs--single-phase and multi-phase--have been used to assess volunteer bias in sex research. Single-phase studies involve recruiting individuals to complete questionnaires, and those who respond to an advertisement for a sexuality study (versus a personality study) or complete a sexuality questionnaire are considered volunteers (e.g., Bogaert, 1996; Catania, McDermott, & Pollack, 1986; Dunne et ah, 1997). Multi-phase studies recruit volunteers for a sexuality study who complete questionnaires (Phase 1) and then indicate whether they are willing to participate in one or more additional sexuality studies (Phase 2) (e.g., Chivers, Rieger, Latty, & Bailey, 2004; Strassberg 8t Lowe, 1995; Wiederman, 1999; Wolchik, Braver, & Jensen, 1985). In multi-phase studies, individuals are categorized as volunteers and nonvolunteers based on whether they are willing to participate in additional studies.

For the most part, studies have focused on comparing volunteers and nonvolunteers on a number of individual difference variables with the aim of assessing whether they differ systematically. In both single- and multi-phase studies, volunteers tend to have more sexual knowledge, sexual experience (including masturbation), interest in sexual variety, willingness to disclose sexual information, sex-positive attitudes, sexual partners, and exposure to erotica compared to nonvolunteers (e.g., Bogaert, 1996; Catania et al., 1986; Dunne et ah, 1997; Strassberg & Lowe, 1995; Wiederman, 1999; Wolchik et ah, 1985). Taken together, these findings confirm that there are systematic differences in psychosexual characteristics between individuals who choose to participate in sexuality research and those that do not. …

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