The Influence of Social Sexual Cues on Sexual Behavior

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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  • JarodBlassingame

    August 3rd, 2012 at 6:22 PM

    To me sex has almost become a non-viewed issues. With the prevelance in society and the prevelance in our media the sexualization of women has reached an apex.

    We are simply desensitized to the humans needs for comfort and compassion viewing women as sexual objects because of swimsuit issues, TV shows.. and on and on. When is it going to stop?

  • Ramon

    August 3rd, 2012 at 7:11 PM

    I hate the fact that sex is everywhere now.From adverts to books to everything else you can think of, sex is everywhere.And the rising sexual crimes are a testimony to the fact that such sexualization in the society can only lead to negative and demeaning things to happen all around.

  • Gibson

    August 5th, 2012 at 4:27 AM

    For a lot of women, we get caught up in what we think we should be like in the bedroom and not necessarily what we WANT to be like. And watching images that facilitate this kind iof keeps us down iun my opinion. I know that we are all be what you want to be and all that jazz, but I still think that women in particular have hard time with that. We think that being in a submissive role when it comes to sex is how our men in our lives want us to be, when actually I think that it is the opposite, that more of our men want us to take a little control every now and again. So I really don’t think that doing anythin that helps perpetuate that is going to do any of us any good.

  • Jade

    August 5th, 2012 at 6:34 PM

    I think all the sexual ‘cues’,or rather overtones around us everywhere it has made us conscious about our sexual selves…although that seems like a good thing in many cases it puts extra pressure on women especially as we are now so much more concerned about our body image and how we perform in bed when compared to our mothers and grand mothers.theres too much pressure to be ‘good enough’

  • Brent

    August 6th, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    I have a hard time with this simply because I think that with or without viewing sexual images, men and women are both kind of apt to fall into the roles of sexuality that we perceive that society expects from us.

  • Christina

    October 26th, 2015 at 4:59 PM

    Hi Brent, I was researching sexual priming and wanted to inquire about your comment. Are you suggesting that men and women should both be able to explore their sexuality outside of what society expects of us? In otherwords, reduce the cognitive dissonance?

  • ElleN

    August 7th, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    when I see these overtly sexual images, it might turn others on but often it just kind of makes me feel kinda sick, sick about who I am and also sick about the unrealistic images that most of then are portraying anyway

  • caroline

    August 8th, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    Okay now girls, let’s get this feminist movement going again and take back a little control of our lives, alright?

    I am tired of letting society and the medi dictate to me what I should look like, what I should wear, how I should style my hair, etc etc etc. I am sick of it!

    I want us to feel good about our bodies, ourselves, and become the strong women that we were meant to be before we started letting others who really in the whole scheme of things don’t mean that much decide what leader we have to follow.

    You need to feel sexy because you are smart., you are beautiful, and you know that you can make a difference in someone’s life, not because of how godd you do or do not look in a bathing suit.

    Let’s tune into what we know we want on the inside instead of only focusing on the show on the outside.

  • Merlin

    September 18th, 2016 at 5:53 AM

    Don’t you think that sexuality and your desires to be ‘independent’ is also an effect of that same culture..?

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