Sexual experience, sex guilt, and sexual moral reasoning


  • This study was partially funded by a University of Kansas Graduate Research Fund Grant to the first author. We wish to thank Mary-Ellen Fortini, Judy Levy, and Lisa McCann for their invaluable assistance with the study. Portions of this study were presented at the 1981 APA convention. Requests for reprints should be sent to, Meg Gerrard, University of Kansas, Department of Psychology, 426 Fraser Hall, Lawrence, Kansas 66045.


Two studies are described in which the relations between sexual experience, sex guilt, and sexual moral reasoning were examined. Subjects were asked to articulate their opinions on each of six sexual activities, and then choose one of six statements (corresponding to Kohlberg's six stages of reasoning) that most clearly reflected why they had, or had not, engaged in three of those activities. An analysis of the moral reasoning present in each of the six articulated responses indicated that level of reasoning was inversely related to sex guilt. Analysis of the preference data indicated that subjects endorsed reasoning (statements) at a higher stage than they had articulated, and that this “gap” between articulation and preference was much greater for less experienced subjects. Results are discussed in terms of the utility of using situation-specific moral dilemmas when assessing moral reasoning, and in terms of the possible role that lack of sexual experience plays in inhibiting sexual moral development.