■ It is important to select the right time and place for express­ing sexual concerns. Avoid registering complaints when anger is at its peak.

■ Complaints are generally most effective when tempered with praise. People are usually more motivated to make changes when they are praised for their strengths as well as made aware of things that need improvement.

■ "Why" questions that blame a partner do not further the registering of constructive complaints.

■ It is wise to direct anger toward behavior rather than toward a person’s character. Anger is probably best expressed with clear, honest "I" statements rather than with accusatory "you" statements.

■ Relationships are better served when complaints are limited to one per discussion.

■ Acknowledging an understanding of the basis for a partner’s complaint can help establish a sense of empathy and lead to constructive dialogue.

■ It can be helpful to ask clarifying questions when complaints are vague. Calmly verbalizing the feelings aroused when one receives a complaint often avoids nonproductive, heated exchanges.

■ An excellent closure to receiving a complaint is to focus on what can be done to rectify the problem in a relationship.

to express their confusion and to ask which of the conflict­ing messages they are expected to act on.

Nonverbal Sexual Communication

■ Sexual communication is not confined to words alone. Facial expressions, interpersonal distance, touching, and sounds also convey a great deal of information.

■ The value of nonverbal communication lies primarily in its ability to supplement, not replace, verbal communication.

Communication Patterns in Successful and Unsuccessful Relationships

■ Constructive communication tactics that contribute to relationship satisfaction and longevity include leveling and editing, validating, and volatile dialogue.

■ Destructive communication tactics include criticism, con­tempt, defensiveness, stonewalling, and belligerence. Such tactics lead to increased conflict and negativity, cause an escalation of hostility, and frequently result in relationship failure.

Media Resources

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Also access links to chapter-related websites, including Relationship Issues, Sexual Communication, Communicating About Sex, The Human Awareness Institute, The Couples Place, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

Saying No

■ A three-step strategy for saying no to invitations for intimate involvements is expressing appreciation for the invitation, saying no clearly and unequivocally, and offering an alternative, if applicable.

■ To avoid sending mixed messages, occasionally check for inconsistencies between verbal messages and subsequent actions. Recipients of mixed messages might find it helpful



What are some of the benefits and disadvantages of celibacy?

Erotic Dreams and Fantasy

What are some of the functions of sexual fantasy?

How do male and female sexual fantasies differ?


How have attitudes about masturbation changed since the 1800s?

Sexual Expression: The Importance of Context

What characteristics of sexual behavior lead it in positive or negative directions?

Kissing and Touching

Why is touching important?

Oral-Genital Stimulation

What are the technical terms for oral stimulation of a woman and of a man?

How have attitudes about oral sex changed over time?

Anal Stimulation

How common is anal intercourse? What are important precautions regarding its practice?

Coitus and Coital Positions

What are some different intercourse positions?

What is an important element of Tantric sex?

Marin/PhotoAlto Agency RF/Jupiterimages

My sexuality has had many different dimensions during my life. My childhood masturbation was a secret desire and guilt that I never did admit to the priest in the confessional. "playing doctor" was intriguing and exciting in its "naugh­tiness." The hours of hot kissing and petting of my teenage and early college years developed my sexual awareness. My first intercourse experience was with a loved and trusted boyfriend. It was a profound physical and emotional experience; years later the memory still brings me deep pleasure. As a young adult my sexual expression alternated between periods of recreational sex and celibacy. Within marriage the comforts and challenges of commitment; com­bining sex with an intense desire to become pregnant; the primal experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing greatly expanded the parameters of my sexuality. Now, balancing family, career, personal interests, my sexuality is a quiet hum in the background. I’m looking forward to retirement and time and energy for more than coffee and a kiss in the morning. (Authors’ files)

People express their sexuality in many ways. Sexual expression can vary greatly from person to person, within the contexts of different relationships, and over the course of one’s lifespan. The emotions and meanings that people attach to sexual behavior also vary widely. In this chapter, we discuss the importance of context in sexual expression and describe a variety of sexual behaviors. We consider individuals first and later look at couples’ sexual behavior. We begin with a discussion of celibacy.