Reiss Premarital Sexual Permissiveness Scale (Short Form)

Reiss Premarital Sexual Permissiveness Scale (Short Form)

IRA L. REISS,1 University of Minnesota

This Premarital Sexual Permissiveness scale measures the level of premarital sexual permissiveness that an individual accepts. The scale allows one to precisely place a respondent on the cumulative, low to high, scale of permissiveness. This newer short form focuses on only the measures of coital permissiveness and consists of just four questions (Reiss, 1989; Schwartz & Reiss, 1995).


The short-form scale and the original form are Guttman scales (i.e., they produce a ladder from low to high permissiveness; Reiss, 1967, 1989; Schwartz & Reiss, 1995). The original form consisted of a 12-question scale asking about the person’s acceptance of kissing, petting, and intercourse in relationships involving no affection, strong affection, love, or engagement (Hampe & Ruppel, 1974; Reiss, 1964). That scale met all Guttman scaling criteria in both a nation- ally representative sample and several regional samples. It has been tested in a number of other countries (Huang & Uba, 1992; Sprecher & Hatfield, 1996; Stillerman & Shapiro, 1979). It led to the development of the “Autonomy Theory,” explaining changes in premarital sexuality (Crawford & Popp, 2003; Reiss, 1965, 1967; Weis, 1998; Weis, Rabinowitz, & Ruckstuhl, 1992; Weis & Slosnerick, 1981). I would add here that my use of the term premarital does not involve any assumption that everyone will marry, but rather it indicates that the scale focuses on attitudes toward sexual behavior of young unmarried people.

In 1989, I composed a revision consisting of a simple four-item scale that used three of the original coital questions and added a fourth question (Reiss, 1989). The fourth question was added because the old scale lacked a “moderate” affection category. The focus on only coital relationships in this newer short-form scale derived from the fact that our culture had changed from a minority of young people accepting premarital intercourse to a majority of young people accepting and having premarital intercourse (Reiss, 2006). This short version has been tested both in the United States and in Sweden and found to meet all Guttman scaling requirements (Schwartz & Reiss, 1995). Although this scale focuses on heterosexual penile/ vaginal intercourse, a similar scale measuring the role of affection in same-gender sexual relations could be devised. Doing that could produce some very interesting comparisons.

Response Mode and Timing

The short form of the Premarital Sexual Permissiveness Scale (PSPS) offers three degrees of agreement and three degrees of disagreement with each question (see Exhibit). Respondents circle the degree of agreement or disagreement they have with each item. The four questions take only a couple of minutes for almost everyone to answer.


Because Guttman scaling has been proven to work on both the old form and this newer short form of the scale, respondents could simply be scored by dichotomizing their answers into agree or disagree and assigning one point for each question to which they agreed. Dichotomizing each question’s answers would yield a total permissiveness scale score for each respondent ranging from a low of 0 to a high of 4. But keep the six choices in each question because it does make respondents feel that they can more accurately express their feelings on the questions, and some research- ers may want to use all six categories.

Address correspondence to Ira L. Reiss, 5932 Medicine Lake Road, Minneapolis, MN 55422; e-mail: [email protected]


Reliability is indicated in that both the original and the short form of the scale always met Guttman Scale criteria, such as the coefficient of reproducibility and the coefficient of scalability. This held up in the U.S. and other industrialized countries (Reiss & Miller, 1979; Schwartz & Reiss, 1995; Walsh, Zey-Ferrell, & Tolone, 1976; Whitbeck, Simons, & Kao, 1994).


Construct validity was established by finding the expected differences between parents and college students, Whites and Blacks, and males and females (Crawford & Popp, 2003; Liao & Tu, 2006; Reiss, 1967; Schwartz & Reiss, 1995). In the short form the results fit precisely with what was expected when comparing Swedish and American college students (e.g., Swedish students were much more acceptant of Question 4 than were U.S. students).

Other Information

In the last five decades, the PSPS, in one form or the other, has been widely used. For research today, I would recommend using the newer short form of the scale. It incorporates the theoretical structure of the original scale, and three of its four questions are from the coital part of that scale. It can be compared to earlier results with confidence that it is measuring the same thing as the original. I give my permission to use this scale in any research project, but I would ask that you let me know your results.

Reiss Premarital Sexual Permissiveness Scale (Short Form)

The following four questions concern your personal attitude regarding premarital sexual intercourse. First decide whether you agree or disagree with the view expressed; then indicate the level of your agreement or disagreement by circling the answer that best expresses your view. The six choices below follow each question.









  1. I believe that premarital sexual intercourse is acceptable if one is in a love relationship.

  2. I believe that premarital sexual intercourse is acceptable if one is in a relationship involving strong affection.

  3. I believe that premarital sexual intercourse is acceptable if one is in a relationship involving moderate affection.

  4. I believe that premarital sexual intercourse is acceptable even if one is in a relationship without much affection.

Note. The wording presented above asks what is acceptable for “one” and that term includes both the respondent and others. If you wished to know only what the respondent believes is acceptable for her- or himself, then you could change the wording of each question to a more personalized form. For example change Question 1 to read: “. . . acceptable if I am in a love relationship.” It would be interesting to compare the two different wordings of this scale to see what differences, if any, would be found. My own testing of this with students found very little difference.


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Hampe, G., & Ruppel, H. (1974). The measurement of premarital sexual permissiveness: A comparison of two Guttman scales. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 36, 451–464.

Huang, K., & Uba, L. (1992). Premarital sexual behavior among Chinese college students in the U.S. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21, 227–240.

Liao, P. S., & Tu, S. H. (2006). Examining the scalability of intimacy permissiveness in Taiwan. Social Indicators Research, 76, 207–232.

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Reiss, I. L. (1967). The social context of premarital sexual permissive- ness. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Reiss, I. L. (1989). Is this my scale? Journal of Marriage and the Family, 51, 1079–1080.

Reiss, I. L. (2006). An insider’s view of sexual science since Kinsey.

Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Reiss, I. L., & Miller, B. C. (1979). Heterosexual permissiveness: A theoretical analysis. In W. Burr, R. Hill, I. Nye, & I. L. Reiss (Eds.), Contemporary theories about the family (Vol. 1, pp. 57–100). New York: Free Press.

Schwartz, I., & Reiss, I. L. (1995). The scaling of premarital sexual permissiveness revisited. Test results of Reiss’s new short-form version. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 21, 78–86.

Sprecher, S., & Hatfield, E. (1996). Premarital sexual standards among U.S. college students: Comparison with Russian and Japanese stu- dents. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 25, 261–288.

Stillerman, E. D., & Shapiro, C. M. (1979). Scaling sex attitudes and behavior in South Africa. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 8, 1–14.

Walsh, R. H., Zey-Ferrell, M., & Tolone, W. L. (1976). Selection of reference group, perceived reference group permissiveness, and personal permissiveness attitudes and behavior: A study of two consecutive panels (1967–71; 1970–74). Journal of Marriage and the Family, 38, 495–507.

Weis, D. L. (1998). The use of theory in sexuality research. The Journal of Sex Research, 35, 1–9.

Weis, D. L., Rabinowitz, B., & Ruckstuhl, M. F. (1992). Individual changes in sexual attitudes and behavior within college level human sexuality courses. The Journal of Sex Research, 29, 43–59.

Weis, D. L., & Slosnerick, M. (1981). Attitudes toward sexual and non- sexual extramarital involvements among a sample of college students. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 43, 349–358.

Whitbeck, L. B., Simons, R. L., & Kao, M. (1994). The effects of divorced mothers’ dating behaviors and sexual attitudes on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of their adolescent children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56, 615–621.