Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


The Relation of Unwanted Consensual Sex to Mental Health and Relationship Variables: The Role of Motivations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Eric Dubow (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Jeanne Novak (Other)

Third Advisor

Anne K. Gordon (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Joshua B. Grubbs (Committee Member)


Unwanted consensual sex, when a person willingly consents to sexual activity that is unwanted in some way, is a largely understudied sexual behavior despite its relatively common prevalence. Many researchers have conceptualized unwanted consensual sex to be a negative sexual experience and even to lie on the spectrum of sexual coercion and violence. Previous research has demonstrated associations between unwanted consensual sex and poorer relationship quality and sexual satisfaction, but no research has investigated its potential association with psychological functioning. Additionally, there has been a lack of research on the role of motivations for unwanted consensual sex, though initial evidence suggests that reasons for having unwanted consensual sex may be differentially related to certain outcomes. Using an approach-avoidance motivational framework, I tested moderation models exploring how frequency of unwanted consensual sex relates to mental health and relationship variables, with either approach or avoidance motivations as moderators. A sample of 704 sexually active adults of varied age, gender, sexual orientation, and relationship status were surveyed using Amazon Mechanical Turk. Forty-four percent of the total sample endorsed engaging in unwanted consensual sex in the past year. Frequency of unwanted consensual sex was positively associated with mental health symptoms and negatively associated with well-being (marginally significant) and relationship quality. Results indicate that approach motivations for unwanted consensual sex did not moderate the relation between frequency of unwanted consensual sex and relationship quality as hypothesized. There was modest support for avoidance motivations for unwanted consensual sex as a moderator of the relation between frequency of unwanted consensual sex and mental health symptoms as well as well-being. Taken together, the findings provide initial support for the use of a motivational framework to understand unwanted consensual sex. Overall, results suggest that engaging in unwanted consensual sex may predict negative outcomes, and that motivations for the behavior can play an important role in predicting risk.