The impact of sexual arousal on elements of sexual decision making: Sexual self-restraint, motivational state, and self-control


Sexual arousal has been shown to have an impact on risk-taking and intentions to engage in risky sexual behaviour (e.g., Ariely & Loewenstein, 2006; Shuper & Fisher, 2008; Skakoon-Sparling, Cramer, & Shuper, 2016); however, the mechanisms underlying this effect are not well understood. To further investigate the effects of sexual arousal on sexual health decision-making, the current study was designed to examine the associations among self-control, sexual self-restraint, and motivational state, as well as the impact of sexual arousal on these factors. Forty-nine female and 26 male participants viewed either sexually arousing (experimental condition) or control video clips and responded to inventories designed to measure their self-control, sexual self-restraint, and meta-motivational state balance (within the Rules domain of Reversal Theory). A moderate positive correlation was found across all participants between self-control and self-restraint. Participants in the sexual arousal condition scored significantly lower on measures of self-control and sexual self-restraint; no effect was found for the meta-motivational state measure used. The results of this study suggest that sexual arousal either functions to deplete individuals’ internal reserves of self-control or that it creates conditions that make it difficult to access the cognitive capacity to engage in self-control. This effect, combined with the correspondingly low score on our measure of sexual self-restraint, suggest that this may be an avenue through which sexual arousal negatively impacts sexual health decision-making.