Sexuality in Marriage, Dating, and Other Relationships: A Decade Review
Christopher, F. Scott, Sprecher, Susan, Journal of Marriage and Family
In this article, we review the major research advances made during the 1990s in the study of sexuality in marriage and other close relationships. More specifically, we provide a critical review of the empirical findings from the last decade on such sexual phenomena as sexual behavior, sexual satisfaction, and sexual attitudes within the context of marriage, dating, and other committed relationships. After highlighting the major theoretical and methodological advances of the 1990s, we focus on the research literatures of: (1) frequency and correlates of sexual activity in marriage; (2) sexual satisfaction, including its association with general relationship satisfaction; (3) sexuality in gay and lesbian committed relationships; (4) trends in sexual behavior and attitudes in dating relationships; and (5) the role of sexuality in dating relationships. We also incorporate brief reviews of the past decade's research on sexual assault and coercion in marriage and dating and on extramarital sex. We end our decade review with recommendations for the study of sexuality into the next decade.
Key Words: close relationships, marital sexuality, premarital sexuality, review of sexuality, sexuality, sexuality in dating.
Sexuality is woven into the fabric of many close relationships. It is sanctioned in marriage; it is often explored in dating; and it is an intricate part of other committed romantic relationships. The past decade saw a marked increase in scholarly interest in sexuality within a relational context. This increased interest posed a challenge for us as we developed the foci of this review. In deciding what areas of research to review, we considered the interests of family scientists balanced with the sexual phenomena explored by scholars from a variety of disciplines, including but not limited to family studies, sociology, psychology, communication, public health, and women's studies. More specifically, the purpose of our review was to identify, summarize, and critique theoretical, methodological, and empirical breakthroughs in sexuality research from the 1990s as they relate to marriage and other relationships that occur prior to or outside of marriage.
We open by identifying major theoretical and methodological advancements in sexuality research of the 1990s that have relevance to marriage, dating, and committed relationships. In the second section, we review the empirical literature from the 1990s on sexuality in marriage and other committed relationships. In the third section, we review the past decade's literature on sexuality in dating (premarital) relationships. Although most of our review concentrates on sexuality's positive aspects, sexuality also has a "dark side" involving sexual coercion and assault. Hence, our review of the literatures on marital and dating sexuality includes findings on this aspect of sexuality. We end the review with recommendations for research on sexuality for the coming decade.
Because of page limits, we could not review all topics relevant to sexuality. For example, we did not include a review of adolescent sexuality, contraceptive use, or teenage pregnancy (for reviews see Gullotta, Adams, & Montemayor, 1993; Moore, Miller, Glei, & Morrison, 1995). Furthermore, although the 1990s saw an increase -in research on risk behaviors and individual and family outcomes related to AIDS, these topics are also beyond the scope of this review (see Kelly, 1995, for a review). Moreover, the topics we were able to cover were limited primarily to research conducted in North America, although advances were also made in sexuality research in other countries and cross-culturally.
ADVANCEMENTS IN THE 1990S
We wish to identify several advancements in sexuality research in the 1990s that have relevance to family science. These can be aggregated broadly into two areas: (1) advancements in conceptualization and theory involving sexuality-related phenomena and (2) advancements in methodology. …