Handling sexual interactions in a competent manner is a key skill for young adults, which is linked to positive aspects of sexual and general well-being. Several research conceptualizations of sexual competence have been proposed in the literature, but little is known about how young adults define sexual competence and what consequences they consider low sexual competence may have.
In this qualitative study conducted in 2019, 571 university students (365 women, 206 men) from Germany with a mean age of 22.6 years provided open-ended answers to two questions: (Q1) What do you consider to be sexual competence? (Q2) What consequences can low sexual competence have? Combining thematic analysis and qualitative content analysis, responses were coded into 264 categories that were then condensed into 30 latent themes, with 14 themes referring to Q1 and 16 themes referring to Q2. All categories showed strong inter-coder agreement.
Participants defined sexual competence in a multi-faceted way and in partial overlap with research definitions. Gender differences emerged in four themes (needs/desires, communication, skills/abilities, and setting boundaries/limits). Participants’ statements about the consequences of low sexual competence corresponded closely with their definitions of sexual competence. Gender differences emerged in five themes (risk of sexual victimization and sexual aggression, problems in sexual communication, problematic [sexual] risk behavior, negative influence on [sexual] satisfaction, and lack of skills).
Conclusions and Policy Implications
The implications of the findings for research conceptualizations of sexual competence, for designing interventions to promote sexual competence, and for policy measures designed to reduce sexual aggression are discussed.