Premarital Sexual Aggressors: A Multivariate Analysis of Social, Relational, and Individual Variables

By Christopher, F. Scott; Madura, Mary et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, February 1998 | Go to article overview

Premarital Sexual Aggressors: A Multivariate Analysis of Social, Relational, and Individual Variables


Christopher, F. Scott, Madura, Mary, Weaver, Lori, Journal of Marriage and Family


Grounded in social learning theory, this study investigated sex differences in and correlates of premarital sexual aggression using two operational definitions of sexual aggression. Analyses of survey responses from 380 single males and 241 females revealed convergent validity for the two measures and consistency in findings across tests of the three hypotheses. Sexual aggression was more common in men's than in women's dating relationships. Multivariate analyses revealed significant positive associations between premarital sexual aggression and past acts of sexual aggression for women only, between premarital sexual aggression and accepting rape myths for men only, and between premarital sexual aggression and relationship conflict for both men and women.

Key Words: dyadic conflict, premarital sexuality, rape myth, sexual aggression, sexual experiences survey, social learning theory.

Premarital sexual aggression is a problem that merits serious concern. When sexual aggression occurs in a dating relationship, it is usually not expected, and the aggressor is someone the victim likely trusted. Being a victim of premarital sexual aggression can result in experiencing depression and anxiety at levels comparable with those experienced by victims of sexual assault by a stranger (Koss, Dinero, Seibel, & Cox, 1988). Victims may encounter long-term problems with relationships and sexual functioning (Muehlenhard, Goggins, Jones, & Satterfield,1991).

These outcomes, in part, have motivated social scientists to investigate correlates of premarital sexual aggression. Most investigators have focused on individual traits and experiences associated with being sexually aggressive (e.g., Burkhart & Stanton, 1988). A smaller number of scholars have examined how the social environment is related to sexual aggression (e.g., Stets & Pirog-Good, 1989), and even fewer have considered the role of relationship phenomena (e.g., Christopher, Owens, & Strecker, 1993a). Although these investigative directions have been fruitful, most studies have been atheoretical, and only a few have simultaneously considered variables from more than one of these domains (cf. Christopher et al., 1993a; Malamuth, Sockloskie, Koss, & Tanaka, 1991). Moreover, even though premarital sexual aggression occurs with both single men and women (Christopher, Owens, & Stecker, 1993b; Muehlenhard & Cook, 1988; Struckman-Johnson, 1988), scholars have focused almost exclusively on male aggression.

This study addresses these weaknesses in the literature. We used social learning theory to inform our investigation of the correlates of premarital sexual aggression, correlates that included peer, relational, and individual-level variables. In this way, we replicated past research by including variables previously found to be associated with premarital sexual aggression in dating, but we also extended past efforts by simultaneously considering the association of variables from the individual, social-environmental, and relational domains to premarital sexual aggression. Moreover, we included single men and women in our sample.

SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY

Social learning theory provides a useful framework for studying sexual aggression. According to this theory, learning occurs through modeling and by experiencing the consequences of one's behavior (Bandura, 1973, 1977). These two concepts are important for several reasons. First, modeling allows individuals to enlarge their behavioral repertoires. Through what is called the informative function (Bandura, 1977), the observer gains knowledge about the behavior by experiencing the context in which the behavior occurs and how others react to it. Second, by attending to the consequences of one's behavior, a motivational function either strengthens or weakens inhibitions about performing certain behaviors. This allows individuals to experience reinforcement at a vicarious level. …

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