Sex is everywhere in our culture. Television, print, movies, and multimedia venues are overflowing with overt and subtle sexual cues. Even programs and advertising aimed at children have hidden sexual innuendos that grab the attention of older viewers. Sexual stimuli can shape the way in which people view themselves and others. This fact has been established in numerous research studies. However, until recently, few studies have looked at how exposure to sexual content affects the self-image, sexual attitude, and sexual behavior of men versus women. To explore this issue, Tania Hundhammer of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cologne in Germany recently led a series of studies that assessed sexual attitude and behavior of men and women who were primed with various sexual cues.
Hundhammer used both verbal and visual sexual cues in the studies and found that this form of priming had a significant influence on how the men and women identified with their sexuality. For instance, after being exposed to visual and verbal cues, the participants associated with gender-typical ideals more strongly than did the control participants who had not been sexually primed. This was expressed by more submissive behaviors in the female participants and more aggressive and dominant behaviors from the male participants. Specifically, the women were timid and hesitant to interrupt the facilitator’s verbal prompting, even though it made them feel uncomfortable, while the men were more rebellious and more openly noncompliant during the verbal exchanges.
The results of this study demonstrate a distinct and different response for the male and female participants. The fact that the male participants chose more controlling and aggressive behaviors while the women responded in more submissive ways suggests that sexual priming can directly affect sexual behavior and attitude. Because our modern culture is saturated with sexual stimuli, individuals exposed to this type of sexual priming may be vulnerable to these behaviors. Hundhammer said, “These findings indicate that sex priming causes self-perception and social behavior to become ‘attuned’ to gender stereotypes.” Further, these findings could shed light on patterns of sexual violence and sexual victimhood in some individuals and could provide an avenue of exploration for clinicians working with people experiencing psychological difficulties as a consequence of sexual identity behaviors of aggression or submission.
Hundhammer, T., Mussweiler, T. (2012). How sex puts you in gendered shoes: Sexuality-priming leads to gender-based self-perception and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 103.1: 176-193.
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