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Investigating sexual coercion in romantic relationships : a test of the cuckoldry risk hypothesis



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Sexual coercion in romantic relationships is a facet of criminal behaviour requiring psychological investigation. The cuckoldry risk hypothesis, that sexual coercion is a tactic used by some males to reduce the risk of cuckoldry by engaging in sperm competition, was developed to account for such behaviour. From this hypothesis, four predictions were generated and empirically tested: (1) males should be more willing to use sexually coercive tactics when the risk of cuckoldry is high; (2) greater instances of cuckoldry risk in the past should be related to greater instances of sexual aggression; (3) cuckoldry risk and sexual jealousy should positively correlate in men; and (4) among males, rape attitudes and arousal are highest when the risk of cuckoldry is high. Theoretical considerations also suggested the following exploratory questions: (1) are factors currently known to be related to general sexual coercion also related to measures of coercion in romantic relationships; and (2) can the cuckoldry risk measures still predict coercion after controlling for psychopathy? In order to test these predictions, a sample of 82 male and 82 female undergraduate students who were sexually active in a heterosexual relationship completed a survey that collected information on demographics, relationship characteristics, arousal, antisociality, and attitudes. Results found: (1) a significant interaction between cuckoldry risk variables in predicting coercion among male participants and not among females; (2) no relationship between past instances of cuckoldry risk and instances of sexual aggression; (3) those who spend proportionally less time away from their partner were more likely to score higher on sexual jealousy; (4) significant interactions in the anticipated direction were found when predicting scores on the Rape Empathy Scale and Rape Myth Acceptance Scale, a trend in the anticipated direction was found when predicting Adversarial Sexual Beliefs, and nonsignificant results were found when predicting Attraction to Sexual Aggression. Results addressing the exploratory questions found that: (1) only psychopathy significantly predicted partner sexual coercion; and (2) cuckoldry risk variables predicted sexual coercion after controlling for psychopathy. Discussion of these results cover: the importance of finding a sex difference; understanding the interaction between variables; how cuckoldry risk impacts rape-supportive thoughts, attitudes, and arousal; the role of sexual jealousy; the function of a cuckoldry risk psychological mechanism; and lastly, the implications on dynamic risk prediction.



sperm competition, rape, evolutionary psychology, cuckoldry risk, partner sexual coercion



Master of Arts (M.A.)






Wormith, J. Stephen


Wong, Stephen C. P.;Elias, Lorin J.;Dwyer, Philip;Campbell, J. I. D. (Jamie)


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