Visual sexual stimuli can motivate sexual behaviors that can risk or enhance health. How one allocates attention to a sexually motivating stimulus may be important for predicting its effect on sexual feelings, sexual risk behaviors, and sexual problems. A large sample (N = 157) of men and women rated the similarity of all possible pairs of photographs of women, which had been pretested to vary in their sexual and affective content. Multidimensional scaling was used to extract two dimensions of sex and affect, including the extent to which each person relied on each dimension in making their similarity judgments. These individual weights were then used to predict sexual variables of interest. Participants who relied more on the affect information judging photograph similarity were more likely to be female, viewed erotica less frequently, reported fewer sexual partners, reported less sexual desire, and more sexual problems. Those who relied more on the erotic content in making their similarity judgments were more likely to be male, viewed more erotica weekly, experienced higher sexual desire, and were more likely to have taken an HIV test. The “double edge sword” of attention weight to affect in sexual cues is discussed for its potential to both enhance and harm sexual health.
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We thank numerous undergraduates for their assistance with running participants for this study. We also thank Robert Nosofsky, Ph.D., for guidance implementing the MDS model.
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Prause, N., Moholy, M. & Staley, C. Biases for Affective Versus Sexual Content in Multidimensional Scaling Analysis: An Individual Difference Perspective. Arch Sex Behav 43, 463–472 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0128-7
- Sexual motivation
- Sexual risk taking
- Sexual functioning