Sexual arousal increases risk taking — even during Blackjack

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Psychology researchers in Canada have found that sexual arousal can influence a person’s decision-making. In their new study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, they showed that people who are sexually aroused are more likely to take risks — even if the risk involved is not connected to copulation.

Researcher Shayna Skakoon-Sparling and her colleagues recruited 144 college students, telling them they were investigating gender differences in preferences for video clips. The participants were warned they could be exposed to sexually explicit material and were also told they’d be given a number of side tasks in between the clips to keep them busy.

The students were split into two experimental groups. One group viewed four sexually explicit video clips, while a second control group viewed four video clips showing non-explicit interactions between male and female characters.

In between the videos, the participants completed a questionnaire to examine their demographic information and another to measure their level of sexual arousal. A third questionnaire had the participants respond to a number of sexual risk-taking scenarios, but also included “distractor items” that asked about non-sexual situations.

Participants who reported being sexually aroused were more likely to say they would engage in risky sexual behaviors, such as having unprotected sex with a new partner despite not knowing their STI status. This was the case for both men and women, though the average male participants was more willing to engage in risky sexual behavior than the average female participant.

But sexual arousal doesn’t only increase risk-taking when it comes to sex. In a second experiment, the researchers found participants who were sexually aroused were also more likely to make risky choices while gambling.

This second experiment was conducted in a similar same way, with a different group of 122 college students. Instead of completing a sexual risk-taking questionnaire, the participants played a computerized version of the card game Blackjack.

The researchers found that the average percentage of risky plays increased when the participants were sexually aroused “[It] was shown that participants in the experimental group displayed significantly more risk-taking in the card game than the control group — despite this game having nothing to do with attaining sexual gratification,” Skakoon-Sparling and her colleagues wrote.

The researchers noted that the findings have some practical implications.

“Educating individuals to become more aware of how easily their decision-making abilities could be affected in sexual situations will be the first step in helping them to overcome or account for the effects of sexual arousal,” Skakoon-Sparling and her colleagues wrote.

“This may be done by training young people to prepare well in advance of sexual activity: ensuring that prophylactics are easily accessible at all times and by training them to ensure that they discuss safer-sex practices with partners in advance, before their cognition is affected by sexual arousal.”