chapter  9
32 Pages

Understanding Sexuality in Close Relationships From the Social Exchange Perspective

ByE. Sandra Byers, Adrienne Wang

The social exchange framework has been important to our understanding of interpersonal interactions within close relationships but has only occasionally been used to explain sexuality within close relationships. However, the social exchange perspective can be useful in understanding sexuality in close relationships because it takes the interpersonal context into account. In this chapter, we review existing research and theory supporting the utility of the social exchange perspective for understanding sexuality in close relationships. We start by defining the four components that comprise the social exchange framework. To do this we incorporate the components contained in a number of different social exchange models each of which emphasizes some but not all of these components. These four components are: the balance of rewards and costs, equity/equality, comparison level, and comparison level for alternatives. We then examine theoretical and empirical evidence to support the importance of each of these components to four important aspects of sexuality in close relationships: sexual partner selection, sexual frequency, sexual satisfaction, and extradyadic sexual activity. We conclude by suggesting a number of potentially fruitful directions for future research. In particular, future research needs to: (a) be based on the complete social exchange framework; (b) examine the relative contributions of sexual exchanges compared to nonsexual exchanges to sexual relationships; (c) examine developmental changes over the course of the relationship in the exchange components and in the relationships of the exchange components to the sexual relationship, (d) include neglected populations such as gays and lesbians, ethnocultural minority groups, and distressed couples; and, (e) examine neglected topics such as sexual coercion/unwanted sexual activity and sexual communication.