Positive implications for sexual sensation seeking: an exploratory study.

Author:Flanders, Corey E.


Published research on human sexuality has been and continues to focus predominantly on negatively valenced aspects of human sexuality. A content analysis of 606 sexuality research articles published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Journal of Sex Research, Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the New England Journal of Medicine over the span of five decades revealed that the majority (58%) of these articles focused on the problems associated with sexual behavior, including negative or medial/disease based content, such as mental health problems, sexual dysfunction associated with sex, the dangers of sex, sexual stigma or shame, risky sexual behaviors, sexually transmitted infections, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), teen pregnancy, homophobia, sexual harassment, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, biphobia, transphobia, negative attitudes, and sexual violence/abuse (Arakawa, Flanders, Hatfield, & Heck, 2013).

In contrast, a mere 7% of articles in the content analysis investigated the delights of love, sex, and intimacy, with the remaining 35% of articles on topics of neutral valence. The field of positive psychology has championed the benefits of studying positive aspects of human behavior, arguing that attending to the positive, healthy, and thriving aspects of humanity is just as important as studying dysfunction (Seligman, 2011). For example, researchers have found that human strengths like optimism and perseverance are traits that reliably help prevent mental illness (Seligman & Peterson, 2003). As in the case of clinical psychology, research in the field of human sexuality on positive aspects such as healthy attitudes towards sex, sexual desire, sexual fantasy, sexual excitement, sexual pleasure, sex and happiness, orgasm, sex and intimacy, sexual satisfaction, positive and/or healthy relationships, and the like may benefit our current sexual culture and increase scientific understanding of the variety of human sexual experience.

One concept in sexuality studies that has traditionally been studied as a negative, and even dangerous, trait is sexual sensation seeking (SSS). The sexual sensation seeking scale (Kalichman & Rompa, 1995), or the scale to measure the "tendency to prefer exciting, optimal, and novel levels of stimulation or arousal" (Kalichman et al., 1994, p. 386), was developed to predict involvement in sexual behavior that may put individuals at a high risk for HIV (Gaither & Sellbom, 2003). As such, SSS is often studied in reference to sexual risk and negative social or physical consequences. Past research on SSS has investigated how the trait correlates with the risk for HIV infection (Gullette & Lyons, 2005; Lye Chng & Geliga-Vargas, 2000; Pinkerton & Abramson, 1995), sexual compulsivity (Gullette & Lyons, 2005; Perry, Accordino, & Hewes, 2007), and extra-dyadic sexual involvement (Wiederman & Hurd, 1999), to name a few topics.

However, past research has also indicated that when considered from a positive perspective instead of the normative negative perspective, people who have the SSS trait may also be considered independent, active, and curious, but such individuals are rarely portrayed positively (Apt & Hurlbert, 1992). Indeed, research has shown that SSS is positively correlated with traits such as Openness to Experience and Extraversion, from the Big Five Inventory (Gaither & Sellbom, 2003).

The Present Study

The purpose of the present study was to investigate whether SSS is positively correlated with other attributes and consequences that are typically considered to be positive, specifically curiosity and overall satisfaction with life. Additionally, as women's attitudes towards casual sex have become more liberal (Conley, 2011), we were interested in whether men continue to display higher rates of SSS than do women, a historic gender difference in SSS found among college students (e.g. Gaither & Sellbom, 2003; Gullette & Lyons, 2005). Lastly, we were interested in whether willingness to engage in or experiment with various sexual positions outlined in the Kama Sutra is positively correlated with SSS.

The Kama Sutra and other manuals on sexual positions are pervasive within current western sexual culture, as evidenced by the abundance of traditional and modern sex manuals illustrating sexual positions originally described in the ancient text. A quick perusal of the online bookstore Amazon.com reveals 1,676 book results for the Kama Sutra, and 4,108 book results for "sex manuals." These texts give advice on how to perform sexual positions from the mundane to the seemingly gravity-defying. Since a component of the SSS trait is defined as a desire for novel or varied sexual experiences, it is reasonable to speculate that SSS would be positively correlated with experience with or willingness to try varied and uncommon sexual positions. Thus, measuring willingness and experience with Kama Sutra sexual positions could serve as an indirect measure of some of the more positively valenced aspects of SSS, namely interest in new or novel experiences and explorative tendencies.

Our first hypothesis for the current study is that participants who are high in SSS will possess higher rates of curiosity. Specifically, SSS scale ratings will be positively correlated with the Curiosity and Explorative Inventory (CEI) ratings. Secondly, we hypothesize that participants who are high in SSS will have greater overall satisfaction with life. Specifically, SSS scale ratings will be...

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