While researching my book (a link for whose purchase is helpfully located below), I came across a 2006 study about sex that was equally fascinating and depressing. Entitled “The heat of the moment: the effect of sexual arousal on sexual decision-making”, the study was compelling not because of any startling revelations contained therein, but for its ability to reinforce an axiom so cobwebbed that even the most hackneyed TV sitcoms rarely employ it anymore:
Men think with their dicks.
So much progress has been made freeing my gender from the life-and-joy draining chains of what a “man” is supposed to be. Today, the ridiculous “Marlboro man” ideal of rugged, hyper-macho stoicism is like the many actors who played him in print and TV ads since the 1950s: dead. So when I found a study testing the effect of sexual arousal on male decision making, I looked forward to another silly cliche being disproven. Unfortunately, the findings didn’t share my optimism.
The study asked a group of male students at the University of California, Berkley, to calmly complete an anonymous survey of their sexual interests. Here are a few of the survey questions, along with the percentage of participants who said “yes” to each:
- Can you imagine being attracted to a 12-year-old girl? (23% said yes.)
- Can you imagine having sex with a 60-year-old woman? (7%)
- Can you imagine having sex with a man? (8%)
- Would it be fun to watch an attractive woman urinating? (25%)
- Can you imagine getting sexually excited by contact with an animal? (6%)
As surprising as these results are, the results of the second survey were absolutely shocking. Researchers conducted the same survey with the same group, but with an important new twist. For the second survey, participants were instructed to arouse themselves nearly to the point of completion (to put it euphemistically) then take the same survey as before. Here’s how the same participants answered the same set of yes/no questions under these unique new conditions:
- Can you imagine being attracted to a 12-year-old girl? (46% said yes, up 23 percentage points)
- Can you imagine having sex with a 60-year-old woman?(23%, up 16 points)
- Can you imagine having sex with a man? (16%, up 6 points)
- Would it be fun to watch an attractive woman urinating?(32%, up 7 points)
- Can you imagine getting sexually excited by contact with an animal? (16%, up 10 points)
The numbers tell the story. High arousal caused men to be twice as likely to consider sex with a minor, more than three times as likely to get carnal with a senior citizen and 25% more likely to enjoy bathroom voyeurism. It also made participants 266% more interested in deflowering the neighbor’s golden retriever.
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If I come off as glib, it’s merely a coping mechanism to deal with the study’s profoundly unpleasant implications about my gender. The only consolation is that the research sample size was too small (under 40 people) to be representative of any demographic other than “college dudes in San Francisco who are willing to pleasure themselves in front of lab-coated strangers for extra beer money”.
Yet even that qualifier can’t erase the nagging sense that this is one cliché about men which may be founded in truth. And while it’s ridiculous to suggest that men are powerless against the demands of their genitalia, the evidence suggests that our capacity for erection-driven, life-wrecking idiocy is too substantial to ignore.
Blue Sullivan is the author of the recently-released dating advice book, Your Ex-Boyfriend Will Hate This, available here via Amazon.