How Emotions Impact Sexual Desire and, Its Converse, Sexual Dysfunction

Mehrabian and Stanton-Mohr (1985) studied sexual desire and dysfunction as correlates of the PAD (Pleasure-Displeasure, Arousal-Nonarousal, and Dominance-Submissiveness) dimensions of emotion. Factor analysis of a sexual desire and sexual problems questionnaire yielded a single factor with sexual desire as one pole and sexual problems as the opposite pole. This finding in itself is quite revealing in that it shows sexual desire to be negatively related to sexual dysfunction. Thus, for instance, if someone shows a generally low level of sexual desire, it is also probable that the individual suffers from sexual problems.

Sexual desire was greater when participants felt pleasure rather than displeasure, unaroused rather than aroused, and dominant rather than submissive. Note that these emotional conditions (e.g., low vs. high arousal) can be induced by events or conditions unrelated to the sexual partner. Thus, for instance, pleasure can be induced by happy events at work, a generally pleasant home decor, or listening to favorite music. Additionally, desire increased with increasing arousal in pleasant states and decreased with increasing arousal in unpleasant states (Pleasure * Arousal interaction). Also, desire increased with increasing dominance in pleasant states and decreased with increasing dominance in unpleasant states. In unaroused states, submissiveness attenuated the polarization of sexual desire as a function of pleasure-displeasure.

The highest levels of sexual desire and freedom from sexual problems were associated with pleasant and dominant feelings (e.g., feeling admired and vigorous or relaxed and leisurely); the lowest levels were reported for unpleasant and aroused feelings (e.g., hostile and hateful or pained and embarrassed). Except fot the uniformly greater sexual desire of males than of females across all conditions, all findings were applicable equally to both genders.

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