Sexual Temptations and Gender Differences

Natasha Tidwell Graduate Research Assistant/Teaching Assistant Department of Psychology Texas A&M University - College Station 208 State Chemistry Building  Texas A&M Interview with:
Natasha Tidwell
Graduate Research Assistant/Teaching Assistant
Department of Psychology
Texas A&M University – College Station
208 State Chemistry Building
Texas A&M Universit What are the main findings of the study?

Answer: Basically, two studies demonstrated that men’s tendency to engage in “off limits” sexual behaviors more than women is linked to sex differences in impulse, not control.

In Study 1, we asked participants to reflect on previous times they succumbed to sexual temptations they felt were inappropriate some way. Based on their responses, we found that men both experienced stronger impulses and engaged in behavior based on these impulses more than women did. However, there was no reported difference in how much men and women exerted self-control.

In Study 2, we asked participants to participate in a laboratory task which allows us to estimate the relative contributions of impulse and control toward a given behavior. In this task, participants viewed photographs of potential romantic partners—some desirable, some undesirable—and were instructed to accept or reject the partners based on a separate cue indicating whether each partner was a good or bad match for them. In some cases, participants were asked to go against their natural tendencies by accepting undesirable partners or rejecting desirable ones; in others, participants were to accept desirable partners and reject undesirable partners. Overall, we found that men performed worse than women on this task in part because they had a stronger impulse to accept desirable partners than undesirable ones. In addition, there were no sex differences in participants’ ability to control their responses, suggesting that impulse strength is the key to men’s and women’s different performance on this sexual temptation task. Were any of the findings unexpected?

Answer: We weren’t exactly surprised, but no one had examined these mechanisms before now which makes this a pretty exciting discovery. Some previous work suggested that sex differences in behavior could be due to control strength, but we predicted that the sex difference was unlikely to emerge on self-control because it evolved fairly recently when sexual selection pressures were weak. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Answer: These findings give us a better understanding of what is going on at the cognitive processing level in times of sexual temptation. There is already a great deal of previous research that suggests that men give in to sexual temptation more than women do; the current studies expand on that work by demonstrating the degree to which this sex difference is due to impulse strength rather than control abilities.

However, we definitely don’t think this research suggests that men “can’t control themselves” in sexual situations; on the contrary, we found that when participants exerted self-control on the task in Study 1, impulse strength didn’t predict how much men or women performed the “off-limits” behavior. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Answer: One interesting future direction could be examining how motivation to engage in sexual self-control influences sexual behavior. Because we only examined “off-limits” sexual behavior, the current results do not provide an explanation for processes that might predict engagement in other types of “acceptable” sexual situations, such as sex with an established partner.


Sex Differences in Succumbing to Sexual Temptations: A Function of Impulse or Control?
Tidwell ND, Eastwick PW.
Texas A&M University, College Station, USA.
Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2013 Aug 22. [Epub ahead of print]


Last Updated on September 23, 2013 by Marie Benz MD FAAD