Sexual Healing: Daily Diary Investigation of the Benefits of Intimate and Pleasurable Sexual Activity in Socially Anxious Adults

Abstract

A growing literature attests to deficits in social and romantic life quality in people with elevated social anxiety, but no research to date has explored how intense intimate encounters influence social anxiety symptoms. This study investigated whether the presence and quality of sexual activity on a given day predicted less social anxiety and negative cognitions on a subsequent day. We also explored whether the benefits of sexual activity would be stronger for more socially anxious individuals. Over 21 days, 172 undergraduate students described the presence and quality of sexual activity, social anxiety symptoms, and use of social comparisons on the day in question. Time-lagged analyses determined that being sexually active on one day was related to less social anxiety symptoms and the generation of fewer negative social comparisons the next day. Furthermore, more intense experiences of pleasure and connectedness during sex predicted greater reductions in social anxiety the next day for people high in trait social anxiety, compared to those low in trait social anxiety. These results were similar regardless of whether sex occurred in the context of romantic relationships or on weekdays versus weekends. The results suggest that sexual activity, particularly when pleasurable and intimate, may mitigate some of the social anxiety and negative comparisons frequently experienced by people with high trait social anxiety.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We organized our dataset with sexual episodes aggregated within days nested within participants. For the constructs and research questions of interest, we failed to find statistically significant differences for sexual episodes reported prior to the end of the day compared with late night sexual escapades.

  2. 2.

    Research has shown that gender is relevant to understanding sexual views and behavior (Baumeister, 2000; Baumeister, Catanese, & Vohs, 2001). Thus, besides attending to gender main effects in the “Results” section, we examined the possible moderating influences of gender on sexual activity. Gender failed to moderate any of the effects of the frequency and quality of sexual activity on social anxiety symptoms.

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Acknowledgments

The first author received funding from the Center for Consciousness and Transformation, George Mason University. We are grateful to William Breen for his involvement in earlier stages of this research.

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Correspondence to Todd B. Kashdan.

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Kashdan, T.B., Adams, L.M., Farmer, A.S. et al. Sexual Healing: Daily Diary Investigation of the Benefits of Intimate and Pleasurable Sexual Activity in Socially Anxious Adults. Arch Sex Behav 43, 1417–1429 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0171-4

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Keywords

  • Social anxiety
  • Social comparison
  • Sexuality
  • Daily diary methodology