Reliability and Validity of the Sexuality Scale:
A Measure of Sexual-Esteem, Sexual-Depression,
William E. Snell, Jr.
Southeast Missouri State University
The Ohio State University-Mansfield
Southeast Missouri State University
Acknowledgments. Portions of these data were presented at the 36th annual meeting of the Southwestern Psychological Association, Dallas, Texas. The material in this chapter was originally published in the Journal of Sex Research; gratitude is extended to the Journal of Sex Research Editor (xxx) and two anonymous reviewers for their peer-review commentary on an earlier draft of this material.
Proper citation: Snell, W. E., Jr., Fisher, T. D., & Schuh, T. (2001). Chapter 3: Reliability and validity of the Sexuality Scale: A measure of sexual-esteem, sexual-depression, and sexual-preoccupation. In W. E. Snell, Jr. (Ed.), New directions in the psychology of human sexuality: Research and theory. Cape Girardeau, MO: Snell Publications. WEB: http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/snell/books/sexuality/sexuality.htm.
The Sexuality Scale (SS; Snell & Papini, 1989) was designed to measure sexual-esteem, the dispositional tendency to positively evaluate one's capacity to relate sexually to others, sexual-depression, the chronic tendency to feel depressed about the sexual aspects of one's life, and sexual-preoccupation, the persistent tendency to be absorbed with and obsessed with sexual matters. The purpose of the research described in Chapter 3 was to provide evidence from two separate studies for the reliability and validity of the Sexuality Scale. The results indicated that all three SS subscales had high reliability (both test-retest and internal consistency). Other findings indicated that the dispositional sexual tendencies measured by the Sexuality Scale were related in predictable ways to men's and women's reports of their sexual behaviors and attitudes .
The literature on human sexuality includes a focus on individual
tendencies associated with sexual behaviors, thoughts, and affects (Allgeier
& Allgeier, 1988). Snell
and Papini (1989) have pursued a similar line of research with a focus
on "positive, desirable" psychological tendencies associated
with human sexuality. For
this purpose, they developed the Sexuality Scale, an objective
self-report instrument designed to measure sexual-esteem, the
dispositional tendency to positively evaluate one's capacity to sexually
relate to another individual, sexual-preoccupation, the tendency to be
obsessed with sexual matters, and sexual-depression, the tendency to
feel sad and depressed about the sexual aspects of one's life.
The results from Snell and Papini's (1989) initial investigation
revealed considerable similarity between men's and women's sexual-esteem
tendencies, while also indicating that among both males and females
sexual-esteem was negatively related to the tendency to feel depressed
about the sexual aspects of life.
The present investigation was conducted in order to provide
additional evidence for the reliability and validity of Snell and
Papini's measure of sexual-esteem, sexual-depression, and
was accomplished by examining the relationship between the Sexuality
Scale and people's sexual attitudes (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1987;
Hendrick, Hendrick, Slapion-Foote, & Foote, 1985), their communal
and exchange approaches to sexual relations (Hughes & Snell, 1990),
their chronic empathy toward AIDS victims (Snell & Finney, 1990),
and their use of AIDS discussion strategies (Snell & Finney, in
press). In addition, the
test-retest and internal reliability of the Sexuality Scale were
evaluated in the present investigation.
Several types of convergent validity information were expected
for Sexuality Scale. First,
it was anticipated that people with greater sexual-esteem would be less
likely to endorse manipulative attitudes toward sex and more likely to
believe in idealized sex, as measured by Hendrick and Hendrick's (1987)
measure of sexual attitudes. In
addition, the relationship between the Sexuality Scale and people's
approach to their sexual relations was investigated.
Hughes and Snell (1990) have argued that people may approach sex
from either a communal orientation, which emphasizes interpersonal
concern and mutual caring, or an exchange orientation, where sex is
treated as a commodity to be traded and monitored.
It was anticipated that people with greater sexual-esteem would
approach their sexual relations from a communal rather than an exchange
validity for the measure of sexual-esteem would be established at least
partially by demonstrating the independence of sexual-esteem scores from
a measure of empathy for AIDS-afflicted individuals.
The convergent validity of the sexual-depression subscale was
also examined by studying the relationship between this subscale and a
measure of AIDS discussion strategies.
Snell and Finney (in press) found that people use a variety of
interpersonal techniques to persuade an intimate partner to discuss
AIDS. These included
rational (e.g., using reason), manipulative (e.g., doing some fast
talking), withdrawal (e.g., refraining from sexual contact), charm
(e.g., being especially sweet, charming and pleasant), subtlety (e.g.,
dropping subtle hints), and persistence (e.g., continuing to try to
discuss AIDS) strategies. Because
sexual-depression is concerned with the tendency to feel negative, sad,
and depressed about the sexual aspects of oneself, it was expected that
people with greater sexual-depression would be more likely to use
manipulative, withdrawal, and charm types of strategies to persuade
their partners to discuss sex. In
addition, it was anticipated that sexual-depression would be associated
with a less interpersonal and a more indirect approach to sexual
relations (i.e., with an exchange approach).
Evidence for the discriminant validity of the sexual-depression
subscale, by contrast, should be demonstrated by showing that it is
independent of people's sexual attitudes about responsible as well as
casual, guilt-free sex (cf. Fisher & Hall, 1988).
Preliminary evidence for the validity of the measure of
sexual-preoccupation was also examined in the present investigation.
Since individuals who are preoccupied with sex should have a less
than realistic attitude toward sexual relations in which they fantasize
about care-free, casual, and highly interpersonal sex, it was
anticipated that the sexual-preoccupation subscale would be positively
correlated with attitudinal measures reflecting a belief in idealized
and casual guilt-free sex, as well as with scores reflecting a communal
approach to sexual relations. By
comparison, the discriminant validity of this subscale would be
partially established by showing that sexual-preoccupation is
independent of scores on a measure of empathy for AIDS victims (Snell
& Finney, 1990), since this SS subscale was designed to measure
obsessive cognitive tendencies associated with sex, not empathy for
those afflicted with AIDS.
males and females at a small Missouri university were asked to volunteer
to participate in a survey project concerned with human sexuality (117
males; 265 females; 4 gender-unspecified). The number of subjects
occasionally varies in the following analyses due to missing data on a
All subjects initially completed an informed consent sheet and
then after responding to the Sexuality Scale completed the instruments
described below. Approximately
four weeks later the subjects completed an abbreviated version of the
measures of sexual-esteem, sexual depression, and sexual-preoccupation.
At the end of second testing all subjects were completely
debriefed about the purpose of the investigation.
1. The Sexual
Relationship Scale (SRS; Hughes & Snell, 1990) was designed to
measure a communal approach to sexual relations, defined as being
concerned with relating sexually to another person based on mutual
caring and concern for the other's sexual satisfaction and based on a
concern for that person's sexual needs and desires; and an exchange
approach to sex, defined as one that involves a quid pro quo approach to
sex where sexual partners keep "tabs" on the sexual activities
and favors they do for their partner, expecting to be repaid in an
exchange fashion at some future time in the relationship.
Higher scores corresponded to greater communal and exchange
approaches, respectively, toward sex.
2. The Sexual
Attitudes Scale (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1987) is a new
multidimensional measure of the following sexual attitudes (Bailey,
Hendrick, & Hendrick, 1987): permissiveness,
defined as a belief in casual, guilt-free sex (e.g., casual sex is
acceptable); sexual practices, defined as a belief in responsible but
nonjudgmental sex (e.g., birth control is part of responsible
sexuality); communion, defined as a belief in idealized sex (e.g., at
its best, sex seems to be the merging of two souls); and
instrumentality, defined as a belief in manipulative sex (e.g., the main
purpose of sex is to enjoy oneself).
Higher scores indicated greater agreement with each attitude.
3. The AIDS
Discussion Strategy Scale (ADSS; Snell & Finney, in press) was
designed to measure six specific types of discussion tactics that people
can use to persuade a partner to discuss AIDS:
rational strategies, defined as straightforward, reasonable
attempts to discuss AIDS in a forthright manner; manipulative
strategies, defined as deceptive and indirect efforts to persuade an
intimate partner to engage in conversation about AIDS; withdrawal
strategies, defined as attempts to actually avoid any extended
interpersonal contact with an intimate partner until this individual
agrees to a discussion about AIDS; charm strategies, defined as acting
in pleasant and charming ways toward an intimate partner in order to
promote a discussion about AIDS; subtlety strategies, defined as
involving the use of hinting and subtle suggestions in order to elicit a
conversation about AIDS; and persistence strategies, defined as
persistent and continuous attempts to try to influence an intimate
partner to discuss AIDS. Higher
scores indicated greater potential use of the particular types of AIDS
4. The AIDS Empathy
Scale (AES; Snell & Finney, 1990) was designed to measure the extent
to which people report feeling empathy for those afflicted with AIDS.
Higher scores correspond to AIDS empathy, the tendency to adopt
the perspective of those with AIDS, to feel sympathetic with their
plight, and to feel concern and compassion for their affliction.
Results and Discussion
Correlational analyses were conducted to determine whether men's
and women's scores on the Sexuality Scale would be related in
predictable ways to the measures of sexual attitudes, AIDS discussion
strategies, communal and exchange approaches to sex, and AIDS empathy.
Since a large number of correlation coefficients were computed, a
conservative error rate was chosen for use in the present investigation;
correlations were interpreted only if the probability level was less
than .01 (p < .01).
Cronbach Reliability. The
Cronbach alpha coefficients are presented in Table 1 for males and
females separately and combined. An
inspection of this table indicates clear evidence for the reliability
for the sexual-esteem (range = .91 to .92), sexual-depression (range =
.85 to .93), and sexual-preoccupation (range = .87 to .91) subscales.
Test-Retest Reliability. Test-retest
correlations were also computed for all three SS subscales.
The results provided clear preliminary evidence of the stability
for the sexual-esteem (range = .69 to .74), sexual-depression (range =
.67 to .76), and sexual-preoccupation (range = .70 to .76) subscales
(all ps < .001).
1 also presents the subscale correlations for the Sexuality Scale.
This table shows that sexual-esteem was strongly correlated in a
negative direction with sexual-depression among both women and men.
Two other gender-specific correlations were also statistically
significant. Among women,
sexual-preoccupation was positively correlated with sexual-depression,
whereas among men sexual-preoccupation was positively correlated with
sexual-esteem. No other
significant correlations were found.
Gender Effects. A
two-group (females and males) MANOVA was conducted on the three SS
subscales to determine whether women and men would report different
levels of sexual-esteem, sexual-depression, or sexual-preoccupation (see
Table 1). The overall
gender effect was highly significant, Wilks' lambda = .91, F(3,
375) = 12.96, p < .001. Univariate
analyses revealed a significant gender effect for only the
sexual-preoccupation subscale, with males reporting higher levels of
sexual-preoccupation than females.This table also shows that males and
females were quite similar in sexual-depression, and that there was a
tendency for males to report greater sexual-esteem than females (p
Sexual Attitude Correlates. The
correlations between the Sexuality Scale and the Sexual Attitudes Scale
are presented in Table 2. The
results indicated that, as predicted, males with greater sexual-esteem
agreed with attitudes concerned with sexual sharing-involvement
(communion) and expressed disagreement with a manipulative,
self-centered view about sex (instrumentality).
Sexually-depressed males, by contrast, held more manipulative,
self-interested (instrumental) attitudes about sex.
In addition, an inspection of Table 2 indicates that males who
reported being preoccupied with sex agreed with a sharing (communion)
and casual (permissive) perspective on sexual relations.
Table 2 also reveals that, as predicted, females with higher
levels of sexual-esteem expressed greater agreement with communal
attitudes about sexual relations (i.e., a sharing and involved
perspective). In addition,
females who reported feeling depressed about the sexual aspects of their
lives were more likely to hold manipulative (instrumentality) attitudes
about sexual relations. Lastly,
it can be seen in this table that women's sexual-preoccupation
tendencies were positively correlated with all four attitudinal
(casual, guilt-free sex), sexual practices (responsible but
nonjudgmental sex), communion (sharing, idealized sex), and
instrumentality (manipulative, biological sex).
AIDS Discussion Strategy Correlates. The
correlations between the Sexuality Scale and the AIDS Discussion
Strategy Scale, presented in Table 2, are consistent with the earlier
predictions. As can
be seen in this table, males with greater sexual-depression were more
likely to indicate that they would use manipulation and charm to foster
a discussion about AIDS with a partner.
Table 2 also shows that females with greater sexual-depression
scores indicated that they would be more likely to use withdrawal and
subtle types of social influence strategies to discuss AIDS with a
potential sexual partner. Sexually-preoccupied
women, by contrast, indicated that they would be likely to use
manipulative and charm strategies to start an intimate conversation
Communal and Exchange Correlates. The
correlations between the Sexual Relationship Scale and the measures of
sexual-esteem, sexual-depression, and sexual-preoccupation tendencies
are shown in Table 2. The
results indicated that, as predicted, both males and females with higher
levels of sexual-esteem were more likely to take a communal,
interpersonal approach to their sexual relationships, and that in
addition males with greater sexual-esteem were less likely to approach
sex from an "exchange" basis.
Also, females who were more depressed about the sexual aspects of
their lives took a stronger exchange approach to their sexual relations.
In addition, sexually-obsessed males and females were more likely
to take an exchange approach to their sexual relations, and
sexually-preoccupied females were also more likely to take a communal
AIDS Empathy Correlates. Other
results indicated that the three subscales on the Sexuality Scale were
uncorrelated with the AIDS Empathy Scale (see Table 2).
The purpose of the present investigation was to provide
additional evidence for the reliability and validity of the Sexuality
Scale, a measure of psychological tendencies associated with
sexual-esteem, sexual-depression, and sexual-preoccupation.
The findings provided preliminary evidence for the Sexuality
Scale as a measure of these three sexual tendencies by identifying
predictable associations with measures of sexual attitudes,
interpersonal approaches to sexual relations, and AIDS-related
Additional Evidence for
the Convergent and Discriminant Validity of the
Although the first investigation reported in this article
provided evidence supporting the reliability and validity of the
Sexuality Scale, still there was a need to conduct further research that
focused more closely on this instrument's correlates with personality
and other sexual-related tendencies.
For this purpose, a second study was conducted in which the
Sexuality Scale was administered to males and females along with several
personality instruments and other measures of sexual affects, attitudes,
and behaviors. This
research provided not only the opportunity to obtain additional evidence
for the Sexuality Scale's validity, but also the opportunity to
cross-validate the reliability of the three subscales on the Sexuality
Scale. In addition, a
second set of norms were also obtained, thereby providing another
examination of the relationship between gender and the Sexuality Scale.
The Sexuality Scale was administered to undergraduate psychology
students (47 males and 126 females; 2 gender unspecified) from a
regional campus of The Ohio State University who volunteered to
participate in a study on human sexuality.
The students averaged 22.06 years of age (SD = 7.39) and
participated in the study as one option in fulfilling a research
requirement for a General Psychology course.
After participating in the project, all students were completely
Instruments, and Hypotheses
In addition to the Sexuality Scale, the participants in this
second study were asked to complete several other instruments that have
been previously established as having reliability and validity:
1. The Locus of
Control Scale (LOC; Lefcourt, 1976, 1980; Lefcourt, Miller, Ware, &
Sherk, 1981) was designed to measure 1) people's perceptions that they
themselves control the events that transpire in their lives (internal
locus of control), 2) the belief that powerful others exert control over
one's life (powerful-other locus of control), and 3) the belief that
luck and chance explain the events in peoples' lives (chance-luck locus
Self-Monitoring Scale (SMS; Snyder, 1974, 1979, 1987) was designed to
measure the tendency to be aware of one's social surroundings and
peoples' reactions to oneself and to modify the impressions one creates
in public settings. Higher
scores on this scale indicate greater self-monitoring tendencies.
3. The Beck
Depression Inventory (BDI) measures the chronic tendency to feel
depressed about oneself (Beck, Ward, Mendelson, Mock, & Erbaugh,
1961; Beck, 1976). Higher
scores on this inventory corresponded to greater chronic depression.
4. The Survey of
Heterosexual Interaction (Leary & Dobbins, 1983) is a modification
of the original SHI developed by Twentyman and McFall (1975).
In the updated form, subjects are asked to report how nervous
they would feel engaging in various heterosexual interactions.
Higher scores indicated greater heterosexual anxiety.
5. The Sexual
Opinion Survey (SOS; Fisher, Byrne, White, & Kelley, 1988) was
designed to measure erotophilic (positive) versus erotophobic (negative)
emotional responses to sex.
6. The Sex-Guilt
Scale (SGS; Mosher, 1966, 1973, 1979; Mosher & O'Grady, 1979) was
designed to measure people's tendency to feel guilty about the sexual
aspects of themselves (cf. D'Augelli & Cross, 1975; Gerrard, 1987).
7. The Rosenberg
Self-Esteem Scale (SE; Rosenberg, 1965) is a 10-item instrument designed
to measure feelings of global self-worth.
8. The Sex Anxiety
Scale was developed by
Janda and O'Grady (1980) to measure sex anxiety, defined as a
generalized expectancy for nonspecific external punishment for the
violation of perceived normative sexual standards (p. 169).
9. The Personal
Attributes Questionnaire (PAQ; Spence & Helmreich, 1978) was
designed to measure socially desirable instrumental (e.g., can make
decisions easily) and expressive personality attributes (e.g., very warm
in relations with others). Higher
scoring corresponded to greater instrumentality and expressiveness.
10. The Sexual
Awareness Inventory (SAQ; Snell, Fisher, & Miller, 1990) was
designed to assess attention to: internal
private bodily sensations associated with sexual arousal and motivation
(referred to as sexual-consciousness); external public concern with
other's impressions about one's sexuality (referred to as
sexual-monitoring); and individual alertness to others' perception that
one is sexy (referred to as "sexiness"-consciousness).
In addition, it includes a subscale measuring
sexual-assertiveness, the dispositional tendency to act and behave in an
independent, self-reliant fashion concerning one's own sexuality.
The convergent validity of the sexual esteem subscale was
expected to be demonstrated by a series of negative correlations between
it and the measures of sex-guilt, sex-anxiety, chronic depression and
heterosexual-anxiety; and positive correlations between it and the
measures of self-esteem, instrumentality, sexual-assertiveness, and
sexual-awareness (all types). These
predictions were based on the notion that sexual-esteem provides people
with a positive approach to sex, accompanied by an outlook that
precludes feelings of sex-guilt, sex-anxiety, depression, and
Likewise, evidence for the convergent validity of the
sexual-depression subscale would be supported by the demonstration of
positive relationships with clinical depression and heterosexual
anxiety; and a negative relationship with self-esteem.
This prediction was based on the notion that sexually depressed
people have considerable global depression and anxiety about their
lives, and also feel less positive about themselves (e.g., the syndrome
assessed by the BDI includes aspects of sexual-depression).
Finally, the convergent validity of the sexual-preoccupation
subscale was examined in the present investigation.
Since persons who are sexual-preoccupied possess an extreme
obsession with the sexual aspects of their lives, these individuals
should report less sex-guilt and sex-anxiety, as well as greater
erotophilia, sexual-assertiveness, and sexual-awareness (all types).
Because sexual-esteem concerns the tendency to have positive
self-regard about one's sexuality, the person high in sexual-esteem
should not be similar to individuals who tend to monitor themselves in
public settings, nor to individuals who perceive the events in their
lives to be controlled by chance-luck.
Also, because sexual-depression deals with the tendency to feel
sad and depressed about the sexual aspects of one's life, the more
sexually-depressed individual ought not to resemble people who monitor
and moderate their public impressions.
Finally, since the sexual-preoccupation subscale assesses the
tendency to be obsessed about sex, it was expected that
sexually-preoccupied individuals would not bear a resemblance to people
who possess instrumental or expressive personality characteristics, nor
to people who view their lives as controlled by powerful others.
Results and Discussion
Reliability, Intercorrelations, and Norms
Cronbach alphas were computed for the three SS subscales
(separately for females and males).
These measures of internal consistency were all sufficiently high
to warrant their use in subsequent analyses (see Table 1):
sexual-esteem (range = .91 to .91), sexual-depression (range =
.93 to .93), and for sexual-preoccupation (range = .90 to .91).
An inspection of Table 1 also indicates that sexual-esteem and
sexual-depression scores were strongly and negatively correlated.
Also, sexual-esteem correlated positively with
sexual-preoccupation, whereas sexual-depression scores were unrelated to
the measure of sexual-preoccupation.
A two-group (males and females) MANOVA was also conducted on the
three SS subscales. Table 1
presents the SS subscale means and standard deviations.
The overall multivariate effect was statistically significant,
Wilds' lambda = .91, F (3, 162) = 5.21, p < .002.
An inspection of this table reveals that males reported greater
sexual-esteem and sexual-preoccupation than did females.
It can also be seen that both males and females reported
relatively low scores on the measure of sexual-depression.
Additional evidence for the convergent validity of the SS was
tested by computing correlations between the SS and the instruments
described earlier. The
results, presented in Table 3, are highly supportive of the predictions.
Among females and males significant positive correlations were
found between the sexual-depression subscale and both heterosexual
anxiety and clinical depression; and negative correlations were found
between sexual-depression and instrumental personality attributes,
sexual-assertiveness, and sexiness-consciousness. For women, the sexual-depression scale was also positively
correlated with sex-anxiety and
both a chance-luck and powerful-other locus of control, as well as
negatively correlated with the measures of expressive personality
attributes, self-esteem, and sexual-consciousness.
both females and males, a consistent pattern of positive correlations
was found between sexual-preoccupation and the measures of erotophilia,
sexual-monitoring, and sexual-assertiveness.
Additional results indicated that among females
sexual-preoccupation was negatively correlated with sex-guilt and
sex-anxiety. By contrast
males, sexual-preoccupation was positively correlated with
Evidence for the discriminant validity of the SS would be
demonstrated, at least partially, by finding that the SS subscales were
independent of several other instruments.
As can be seen in Table 3, sexual-esteem was unrelated to
self-monitoring (among females) and locus of control tendencies (among
males). Also it can be seen
in this table that, as expected, sexual-depression was independent of
there was evidence for the discriminant validity of the
sexual-preoccupation scale in that this SS subscale was unrelated to the
measures of locus of control (males) and instrumental (females) and
expressive (females) personality characteristics.
The purpose of this second investigation was to provide further
evidence for the reliability and validity of the Sexuality Scale.
Preliminary evidence indicated that the subscales on the
Sexuality Scale were all highly reliable.
The SS's validity was evaluated by examining its relationship
with a series of self-report instruments concerned with personality and
sexuality. The findings were consistent with the overall pattern of
predicted results. Both
sexual-esteem and sexual-preoccupation were more associated with a
positive (e.g., sexual-assertiveness) than a negative (e.g., sex-guilt,
sex-anxiety) orientation toward sex.
By contrast, sexual-depression was accompanied by greater anxiety
and depression and less self-esteem and sexual-assertiveness.
These findings would seem to attest to the benefits of a
chronically high level of sexual-esteem and the drawbacks of greater
dispositional sexual-depression, while also suggesting that
sexual-preoccupation may coincide with a less negative outlook on sexual
The present two investigations offer strong preliminary evidence
for the reliability and validity of the Sexuality Scale as a measure of
dispositional tendencies associated with sexual-esteem,
sexual-depression, and sexual-preoccupation.
Future research is now needed to determine the social and
developmental antecedents and consequences of these sexual tendencies
(e.g., Abbey, 1982). In
research currently underway in our own lab, we are examining the
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