The Relationship between Negative Mood and Sexuality in Heterosexual College Women and Men

By Lykins, Amy D.; Janssen, Erick et al. | The Journal of Sex Research, May 2006 | Go to article overview
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The Relationship between Negative Mood and Sexuality in Heterosexual College Women and Men


Lykins, Amy D., Janssen, Erick, Graham, Cynthia A., The Journal of Sex Research


It is well-recognized that clinical depression is associated with a reduction in sexual interest and response (Beck, 1967; Kennedy, Dickens, Eisfeld, & Bagby, 1999; Schreiner-Engel & Schiavi, 1986), an association that may be more marked in women than in men (Angst, 1998). A few studies have looked at the possibility that in some individuals, paradoxical increases in sexual interest might occur with depression. In a group of 57 clinically depressed men and women, Mathew and Weinman (1982) found that whereas 31% had loss of sexual interest, 22% reported increased sexual interest as compared to their non-depressed state. Similarly, Angst observed that among depressed men, 26% reported decreased and 23% increased sexual interest, compared to 11% and 7%, respectively, of their non-depressed group. In comparison, 9% of the women reported increased interest when depressed, compared to 35% decreased sexual interest (in comparison with 2% and 32%, respectively, of the non-depressed group). This suggests that there are individual differences in the impact of depression on sexual interest, with a reduction in sexual interest for some, but no change or increased interest for others.

Research on the relationship between anxiety disorders and sexual interest and response, by comparison, has been sparse. In the Angst (1998) study, loss of sexual interest was related to generalized anxiety disorder but not to other anxiety disorders (e.g., panic disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia). In a study by Ware et al. (1996), 61 male and 92 female patients with anxiety disorders had higher rates of sexual dysfunction, as compared to 37 control participants.

In addition to studies on clinical anxiety disorders, there is some experimental evidence that induction of anxious mood and physiological arousal in the laboratory has effects on sexual response. In men, Barlow and colleagues have carried out a series of studies on the relationship between anxiety and sexual functioning (for a review, see Cranston-Cuebas & Barlow, 1990), showing that in sexually functional individuals, anxiety may facilitate sexual arousal. A small number of comparable studies on women have demonstrated similar effects (Beggs, Calhoun, & Wolchik, 1987; Hoon, Wincze, & Hoon, 1976; Palace & Gorzalka, 1990).

Little research has investigated the relationship between more normal fluctuations in mood and sexual interest and arousal. Two recent studies set out to assess the possibility that individuals differ in the effects of more normal variations in mood on sexual interest and response (Bancroft, Janssen, Strong, Carnes, Vukadinovic, et al., 2003; Bancroft, Janssen, Strong, & Vukadinovic, 2003). To investigate the relationship between mood and sexual interest and response, the Mood and Sexuality Questionnaire (MSQ) was developed. The MSQ is a self-report measure that asks respondents to indicate what typically happens to their sexual interest and response when they feel depressed or anxious. In these two studies, Bancroft and colleagues explored to what degree the "dual control model" of sexual response (Bancroft, 1999; Bancroft & Janssen, 2000) could help explain variability in the relation between mood and sexuality. This model postulates that individuals vary in their propensity for both sexual excitation and inhibition. A questionnaire developed to measure these propensities (Janssen, Vorst, Finn, & Bancroft, 2002a) involves three scales: (a) propensity for sexual excitation (SES); (b) propensity for sexual inhibition due to the "threat of performance failure" (SIS1); and (c) propensity for sexual inhibition due to the "threat of performance consequences" (SIS2). In samples of heterosexual and gay men, considerable inter-individual variability was found in how negative mood (i.e., depressed or anxious mood) affected self-reported sexual interest and response. Although the majority of respondents indicated that negative mood states had either no effect or a negative effect on their sexual interest and response, a substantial minority reported an increase in sexual interest and response.

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The Relationship between Negative Mood and Sexuality in Heterosexual College Women and Men
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