Understanding Human Ambivalence about Sex: The Effects of Stripping Sex of its Meaning

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We offer a theoretical perspective to provide insight into why people are ambivalent about sex and why cultures regulate sex and attach symbolic meaning to it. Building on terror management theory, we propose that sex is problematic for humankind in part because it reminds us of our creaturely mortal nature. Two experiments investigated the effects of reminding people of the similarity between humans and other animals on their reactions to the physical aspects of sex. In Study I, priming human-animal similarities led to increased accessibility of death-related thoughts after thinking about the physical but not romantic aspects of sex. In Study 2, when participants were reminded of similarities between humans and other animals, mortality salience resulted in decreased attraction to the physical but not romantic aspects of sex. In each study, priming thoughts about how humans are distinct from animals eliminated the association between sex and death.

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Journal of Sex Research, v. 39, issue 4, p. 310-320