Sexual narcissism and hypersexuality are linked to sexual coercion perpetration during hookup encounters, according to new research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The findings provide valuable insights into the dynamics of sexual behavior among college students and offer a foundation for future research.
Previous research has indicated that sexual narcissism and hypersexuality are independently associated with sexual violence. However, there has been a lack of comprehensive research into the factors contributing to sexual coercion specifically within the context of casual hookups, a prevalent social phenomenon among college students.
Given the high prevalence of sexual coercion and its adverse outcomes, there is a pressing need to investigate risk factors associated with sexual coercion perpetration. Additionally, gender differences in sexual coercion prevalence and risk factors remain a relatively unexplored area of research.
“I’m interested in examining predictors of intimate partner violence in its myriad forms and contexts (e.g., sexual coercion in hookups),” said study author Evan Basting, a clinical psychology Ph.D. student at the University of Tennessee working in Greg Stuart’s Relationship Aggression and Addictive Disorders (RAAD) Lab.
“In particular, sexual coercion is normalized and highly prevalent in young adult sexual relationships and few have examined risk factors specifically in hookup contexts. Therefore, we were interested in extending the existing literature to these contexts and identifying if there were gender differences in sexual coercion risk factors.”
The researchers recruited 793 undergraduate students from a large, public southeastern university over three years. To be eligible, participants had to be enrolled in college, aged between 18 and 25, and have engaged in some form of sexual activity within the past six months, including kissing, fondling, petting, and various levels of penetration. They also needed to have experienced a hookup, defined as a sexual encounter with someone without mutual expectations of a romantic commitment.
Demographic information, including age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and average monthly sexual activity, was collected via a questionnaire.
The study assessed sexual narcissism using the Sexual Narcissism Scale, which measures cognitive aspects of narcissism in sexual contexts. It includes four subscales: sexual exploitation, sexual entitlement, low sexual empathy, and a grandiose sense of sexual skill. Hypersexuality was measured using the Hypersexual Behavior Inventory, a 19-item assessment that explores various facets of hypersexuality, such as using sex to cope with stress, difficulty controlling sexual thoughts and behaviors, and negative consequences resulting from sexual behavior.
To assess sexual coercion perpetration, the researchers used the Coercive Hookups Scale, which includes 22 items measuring the frequency of coercive tactics used after a hookup partner expressed disinterest in sexual activities. Tactics were categorized into arousal tactics, emotional manipulation, intoxication tactics, and threats or use of physical force.
A significant proportion of participants (64.3%) admitted to perpetrating sexual coercion during a hookup experience at least once in the past year, with no statistically significant difference between men and women. “The prevalence of past-year sexual coercion was remarkably high in this sample,” Basting said.
Additionally, the researchers found strong positive correlations between sexual narcissism, hypersexuality, and sexual coercion perpetration, indicating that higher levels of sexual narcissism and hypersexuality were associated with a greater likelihood of engaging in sexual coercion within hookup contexts.
These traits appear to influence how individuals respond when faced with rejection after initiating a sexual encounter. Those with elevated sexual narcissism may be more likely to respond to rejection with coercion rather than terminating their advances. They may do so to protect their self-esteem and preserve their self-perception of sexual prowess. Moreover, individuals with sexual narcissism may believe that their sexual skills can still benefit their partner, even if the partner initially rejects their advances.
“The average person should know that sexual coercion during hookups is a prevalent concern,” Basting told PsyPost. “Additionally, certain dispositional factors (i.e., sexual narcissism, hypersexuality) in people may increase the likelihood that they perpetrate sexual coercion, regardless of gender.”
Men, on average, had higher scores on the sexual narcissism “exploitation” subscale and all hypersexuality subscales compared to women. However, the research found that the effects of sexual narcissism and hypersexuality on sexual coercion perpetration were consistent across both male and female university students.
“I was surprised that gender did not moderate these associations and that sexual coercion and hypersexuality were sexual coercion risk factors for both men and women,” Basting said.
While this study offers valuable insights, it is essential to acknowledge its limitations. The sample predominantly consisted of White, heterosexual, cisgender women, limiting the generalizability of the findings. Future research could aim for greater diversity in participant demographics, including gender, sexual orientation, and racial/ethnic identities. Future research could also explore the specific psychological mechanisms linking sexual narcissism and hypersexuality to sexual coercion.
“Further research is needed on moderators and mediators of these associations,” Basting said.
The study, “Sexual Narcissism and Hypersexuality Relate to Sexual Coercion in Hookups among U.S. University Students“, was authored by Evan J. Basting, Maya E. Barrett, Alisa R. Garner, Autumn Rae Florimbio, Jacqueline A. Sullivan, Alyssa M. Medenblik, and Gregory L. Stuart.