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Gender Differences in Liking and Wanting Sex: Examining the Role of Motivational Context and Implicit Versus Explicit Processing

Abstract

The present study investigated the specificity of sexual appraisal processes by making a distinction between implicit and explicit appraisals and between the affective (liking) and motivational (wanting) valence of sexual stimuli. These appraisals are assumed to diverge between men and women, depending on the context in which the sexual stimulus is encountered. Using an Implicit Association Test, explicit ratings, and film clips to prime a sexual, romantic or neutral motivational context, we investigated whether liking and wanting of sexual stimuli differed at the implicit and explicit level, differed between men and women, and were differentially sensitive to context manipulations. Results showed that, at the implicit level, women wanted more sex after being primed with romantic mood whereas men showed the least wanting of sex in the romantic condition. At the explicit level, men reported greater liking and wanting of sex than women, independently of context. We also found that women’s (self-reported) sexual behavior was best predicted by the incentive salience of sexual stimuli whereas men’s sexual behavior was more closely related to the hedonic qualities of sexual stimuli. Results were discussed in relation to an emotion-motivational account of sexual functioning.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Note that the movie clips were counterbalanced across participants and order of presentation did not yield a significant effect on the subjective rating scores, p > .10.

  2. 2.

    To control for the effect of sexual excitement scores in response to the movie clips, we included level of self-reported sexual and genital arousal as a covariate in our analyses, testing main effects as well as interaction effects between gender and self-reported arousal. This did not affect the pattern of results, neither for men or women, which indicates that the effect of prime condition on the liking-wanting scores did not depend on the extent to which participants were more or less aroused by the movie clips.

  3. 3.

    To explore whether being in a relationship affected the pattern of results, we conducted a 2 (Gender) × 2 (SCIAT type) × 2 (relationship) × 3 (prime) repeated measures ANOVA. The three-way interaction between type of IAT, prime, and relationship yielded significance, F(1, 163) = 3.59, p < .05. Simple effects analyses revealed a significant effect of relationship in the romantic prime condition, indicating that participants in a relationship showed greater implicit liking of sex after watching a romantic film compared to those without relationship, t (50) = 2.53, p < .05. None of the other effects were significant, all ps > .10. The fact that priming with a romantic context has a stronger effect on the sexual outcome of participants that were in a relationship confirms the importance of considering context variables when studying sexual appraisal processes. Remarkably, no gender effects were found.

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Acknowledgments

The research reported in this article was supported by a post-doctoral fellowship grant of the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (Belgium) (F.W.O.).

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Correspondence to Marieke Dewitte.

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Dewitte, M. Gender Differences in Liking and Wanting Sex: Examining the Role of Motivational Context and Implicit Versus Explicit Processing. Arch Sex Behav 44, 1663–1674 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0419-7

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Keywords

  • Sexual appraisal
  • Information processing
  • Gender differences
  • Sexual desire