Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 20, Issue 7, pp 2269–2289 | Cite as

Global, Relational, and Sexual Motivation: A Test of Hierarchical Versus Heterarchical Effects on Well-Being

  • Emilie E. GravelEmail author
  • Elke D. Reissing
  • Luc G. Pelletier
Research Paper


The quality of sexual motives is an important predictor of sexual well-being. However, how sexual motives are integrated to psychological functioning beyond the sexual domain remains poorly understood. In this study, we used self-determination theory, the hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and principles of heterarchical conceptual modeling to investigate motivational antecedents and well-being consequences of autonomous and controlled sexual motivation at three levels of psychological functioning: sexual, relational, and global. University students (N = 853; women = 684, men = 169 men; Mage = 19.93, SD = 4.14) completed validated measurement of motivation and well-being at these three levels of psychological functioning. Results revealed that motives for performing everyday behaviors in general (i.e., global motivation) and motives for being in a committed relationship (i.e., relational motivation) predicted the quality of sexual motives. In turn, the quality of sexual motives predicted differences in well-being. Specifically, high autonomous and low controlled sexual motivation were associated with an overall pattern of optimal psychological functioning. Sexual motives predicted global and relational well-being beyond the contribution of global and relational motivation. These results reflect a heterarchical structure, in which sexual motives can operate independently from relational processes, as opposed to a hierarchical structure, in which sexual motives fully depend on relational processes to operate. Thus, the quality of sexual motives is associated with broad personality dispositions, relationship processes, and well-being beyond the sexual domain in complex ways. These results help illuminate for whom and when sexual experiences result in benefits or costs to well-being.


Sexual motivation Self-determination theory Well-being Sexual satisfaction Relationships 



We wish to thank Myriam Pomerleau, Raphaëlle Robidoux, and Karolina Stajerowska for their assistance with data collection, and Veronika Huta, Nafissa Ismail, Martin Lalumière, and Frédérick Philippe for their helpful feedback on earlier versions of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10902_2018_47_MOESM1_ESM.docx (25 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 25 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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