Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Sacred or Profane? Emerging Adults' Sanctification and Desecration of their Non-Marital Relational Sexuality and Links to Relational, Psychological, and Spiritual Adjustment

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Annette Mahoney (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Katherine Brodeur (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Joshua B. Grubbs (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman (Committee Member)


This study assessed emerging adults’ beliefs that their sexual behavior with a committed partner was sacred/reflective of divine qualities (sanctification) and as a violation of something sacred (desecration) in a sample of 205 undergraduate students at a public university (66% female; 76% Caucasian) who were in a non-marital committed romantic relationship and sexually active within the past month. Results indicated that sanctification of sexuality (Sacred Qualities) was prevalent for college students in the context of non-marital committed relationships. Stronger beliefs that sexuality has sacred qualities were linked with greater relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, and more frequent sexual behavior with one’s partner. These results were significant both for emerging adults’ personal beliefs and their perceptions of their r/s communities’ beliefs about sanctification of sexuality. These findings confirm the results of initial studies of non-marital sanctification and extend the findings of marital sanctification studies, underscoring the relevance of studying sanctification beliefs about sexuality in non-marital relationships. Regarding negative r/s beliefs about sexuality, prevalence rates of desecration were somewhat low, yet desecration showed significant links to adjustment variables. Stronger personal desecration beliefs were linked to less relationship and sexual satisfaction as well as greater r/s struggles. Stronger perceptions of one’s r/s community’s desecration beliefs were linked with less frequent sexual behavior, greater sex guilt, and greater r/s struggles. These results situate desecration beliefs with similar constructs like moral incongruence about sexual behavior, supporting further research in this area. Together, sanctification and desecration findings show the intersection of helpful and harmful r/s beliefs and relational adjustment.