The Dual Control Model: Current Status and Future Directions

Article excerpt

In a special issue of the Journal of Sex Research, Weis (1998) pointed out that the majority of sex research appeared to be atheoretical and that, although various theoretical models of relevance existed in the literature, they were seldom used. Fifty years earlier, Kinsey, although not explicitly theoretical in his sex research, had recognized the phylogenetic mammalian origins of much of human sexuality. The guiding theme in both his earlier entomological research and his sex research was individual variability, and, for the latter, he developed an exceptionally long and detailed interview to document this variability (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953). More recently, Kinsey Institute researchers introduced a theoretical model of sexual response, the Dual Control Model (Bancroft & Janssen, 2000), based on the interaction of sexual excitation and inhibition in the brain. With this model, we aim to conceptualize individual variability in sexual responsiveness in ways that can be systematically measured in men and women, thus allowing the formulation and testing of a range of hypotheses relevant to human sexual behavior. Although the Dual Control Model has cross-species relevance, the focus of this article is on the human; in particular, we present the development of measures to assess individual variability in propensities for sexual excitation and sexual inhibition and the use of such measures in research over the past 8 years. (For a recent review of the underlying mechanisms, see Bancroft, 2009). We conclude with some suggestions for further development.

The Dual Control Model is an example of "a conceptual nervous system," a phrase introduced by Hebb (1949) to describe a theoretical model of brain function that accounts for observed behavior and precedes a conclusive neurophysiological explanation. Gray's (1987) model of Behavioral Activation and Behavioral Inhibition, which led to a rich body of research on relevant brain mechanisms in the rat, is another good example and of considerable relevance to our Dual Control Model of sexual response. Theoretical models of this kind have two principal purposes. First, they provide a conceptual framework that helps organize thinking about the complexities of human behavior, the underlying psychological and neurophysiological mechanisms, and the way in which those mechanisms interact with social and cultural factors. Second, they allow formulation of testable hypotheses. In these ways, such models may prove to have heuristic value and are likely either to be modified as a result of their use or abandoned for new and better models. The crucial point is that they are models rather than precise descriptions of reality.

It is generally accepted that most brain functions involve both excitatory and inhibitory processes. To understand how this dual process leads to specific behaviors relevant to sexuality, it is useful to distinguish between these processes at a systems level. Bancroft (1999) reviewed the available neurophysiological evidence for the existence of such systems in the area of sexual functioning and behavior. In animal research, more attention has been paid to the excitatory system, reflecting the fact that it involves relatively discrete anatomic structures and pathways that can be studied by lesion experiments, whereas inhibition results from more diffuse and less easily manipulated structures and mechanisms. In research involving humans, particularly in psychophysiological studies of information processing and sexual arousal, attention has also focused on the excitation process and the various ways that excitation may be impaired (e.g., by distraction). However, for various reasons reviewed by Bancroft (1999), it has become apparent that, in addition to excitation, active mechanisms of central inhibition also needed to be considered, leading to our Dual Control concept (Janssen & Bancroft, 1996). …