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Does Moodiness Put You in the Mood?

A new Institute project explores the links between mood and sexuality

Take two elusive phenomena-our moods and our sexual interests, put them under the same microscope, and what do you have?

A steamy French novel or a bold new area of research at The Kinsey Institute under the
Institute under the auspices of its director John Bancroft.

The Institute has embarked on a project that seeks to discern the impact of certain emotional states on sexual interest and responsiveness, using interviews and a short questionnaire, posing questions about how depression and anxiety affect a subject's sexual desire and response. The results so far have been surprising.

Bancroft explains: "Conventional wisdom maintains that when an individual feels anxious or depressed, his or her sexual desire goes down. There are, however, a few pointers in the literature to suggest that for some, the opposite happens. In our survey we found that for a significant minority of about 15-25%, sexual interest and responsiveness goes up when they are in a nagative mood. This phenomenon has not previously received attention."

The researchers are also interested in whether an individual's propensity for sexual excitation and inhibition, the theme of much of the Institute's current research, helps to account for this paradoxical response. To some extent they call predict that the relationship between negative moods and sexual interest is more likely in men who are prone to high excitation and low inhibition.

David Strong, a research associate at the Institute, conducted the interviews that contained some of the initial questions on mood and sexuality. He describes the interview process and some of the challenges of the new topic. "We are interested in the relationship between mood, arousal, and control, both self-control and control in the context of interpersonal dynamics," he explains.

"The goal of the project," he further reflects, "is to see if there are different types of relationships between negative moods and increased sexual interest. Certain types could be relevant, for example, to the prevention of sexually transmitted disease. Individuals who take sexual risks often do so because of a negative mood, not a lack of knowledge. To reach these people, we must address issues of mental health."

Erick Janssen, a research scientist at the Institute also working on the project, outlines some of the project's intricacies. "What we're really looking at is the relationship between different emotions, how different emotions interact with one another in different people. How, for example, can two seemingly incompatible emotions go together? And how does physical arousal relate to both cognitive and emotional processes?"

He further points out, "The topic fits neatly into the history of research at the Institute. Kinsey himself continually sought to account for individual variation within a population. This can be rare in experimental research which often focuses on norms at the expense of variation."

To look at this issue more closely, researchers at the Institute are working on more sophisticated methods of measuring the relationship between moods and sexual behavior. So far, Bancroft explains, the data reveal that the tendency for negative moods to increase sexual interest is age- and gender-related. Young men are most likely to report this effect.

All three researchers convey that the new project has broad practical and theoretical implications. "I wish I had started earlier on the topic," says Bancroft. "I could foresee working on it for the next fifteen years, if I was around that long."

Kinsey Today, Spring/Summer 2001, Vol. 5, No. 1

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