Death, Sex, Love, and Neuroticism: Why is Sex Such a Problem?

Document Type


Publication Date



attitudes toward physical aspects of sex & sexuality in relation to attitudes toward mortality & love & meaning creation, high vs low neurotic 17–46 yr olds

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)



Terror management theory posits that sex is a ubiquitous human problem because the creaturely aspects of sex make apparent our animal nature, which reminds us of our vulnerability and mortality. People minimize this threat by investing in the symbolic meaning offered by the cultural worldview. Because people high in neuroticism have difficulty finding or sustaining meaning, sex is a particular problem for them. In Study 1, mortality salience caused high-neuroticism participants to find the physical aspects of sex less appealing. Study 2 revealed that for such individuals thoughts of physical sex increase the accessibility of death-related thoughts. This finding was replicated in Study 3, which also showed that providing meaning by associating sex with love reduced the accessibility of death-related thoughts in response to thoughts of physical sex. These findings provide insight into why people high in neuroticism have conflicting thoughts about sexuality and why sexuality is so often regulated and romanticized.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, v. 77, issue 6, p. 1173-1187