Fantasies and Arousal

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

Studies reviewed by and conducted for the 1970 Commission examined differences in arousal patterns for sex offenders and nonoffenders. These studies showed either that sex offenders were somewhat less responsive than other adults to erotic stimuli (e.g., Gebhard, P. H.,J. H. Gagnon, W. B. Pomeroy and C.V. Christenson, 1965) or that both groups did not differ in their responses to reading or viewing erotic material (Cook and Fosen, 1970; Walker, 1970; Johnson, W.T., L. Kupperstein, and J. Peters, 1970). The Commission concluded in summary that "the available research indicates that sex offenders do not differ significantly from other adults in their reported arousal or reported likelihood of engaging in sexual behavior during or following exposure to erotica." (p. 284)

Later studies have demonstrated that arousal patterns among sex offenders could in fact differ from non-offenders (Abel, Barlow, Blanchard and Guild, 1977; Barbaree, Marshall and Lanthier, 1979, Quinsey, Chapin and Varney, 1981). The 1970 conclusion can be attributed to a number of factors: first, self-report measures of arousal were used for the most part. The problems with reliance on self-reports as the sole arousal measure have already been discussed. Second, many of the studies used stimuli labeled "erotica" without attempting to discriminate among content cues (stimuli used, for instance, were primarily adult heterosexual activities). Finally, with the exception of the Goldstein, et al. (1970) study, differences among sex offenders categories were not examined.

Subsequent studies have shown the importance of discriminating among various categories of sex offenders, content cues, and utilizing physiological measures of sexual arousal.

While other physiological measures have been used as correlates of sexual arousal (e.g., respiration, galvanic skin response, heart rate), these have been viewed as less desirable than direct erection calibration (Zuckerman, 1971) since increases in these variables have also been recorded for other emotional states not related to sexual arousal.

A key study that attempted to distinguish rapists from nonrapists on the basis of erections was conducted by Abel, Barlow, Blanchard and Guild (1977). This study was also important in its attempt to discriminate responses according to consenting and non-consenting stimuli. The development of a "rape index" was another important element in this study. The index was the quotient of the mean percent erection to rape cues to the mean percent erection to mutually consenting intercourse, a measure which was found to have predictive validity in this study and subsequent ones (see Abel, et. al., 1976; Quinsey and Chaplin, 1982; Quinsey, Chaplin and Varney, 1981; Barbaree, Marshall and Lanthier, 1979). The results showed that rapists respond to both rape and mutually enjoyable intercourse cues while nonrapists exhibited arousal only to the latter.

Other studies have similiarly found that rapists show sexual arousal to rape cues as well as to depictions of consenting sexual activity compared to nonrapists who are usually more aroused to the latter (Abel, Becker, Blanchard and Djenderedjian, 1978; Barbaree, Marshall and Lanthier, 1979; Quinsey, Chaplin and Varney, 1981). The nature of sexual cues was further elaborated by Quinsey and Chaplin (1984) who found that rapists did not discriminate among the various sexually explicit narratives used while nonrapists responded most to the consenting sex narratives, less when the sexual partner did not consent, and least when the victim was shown to experience pain.

In comparing these findings to males in the general population, sexual arousal responses have also been found to be indicative of a proclivity to rape but only in combination with other factors will such a tendency be manifested in overtly aggressive behavior (Malamuth, Check and Briere, 1985, Malamuth, In Press).

Child molesters also have demonstrated significantly different arousal patterns with penile circumference measures than a comparison group of non-sex offender patients (Quinsey, Steinman, Bergersen and Holmes, 1975). Twenty male child molesters confined in a maximum security psychiatric institution exhibited significantly higher penile circumference measures when presented with slides featuring children compared to eleven nonsex-offender patients from the same institution and ten control adults from the community.

Marshall (1985) reported that among his sample of eighty-nine sex offenders, two in five of the heterosexual child molesters, two out of three of the homosexual child molesters, and one in two rapists said they used deviant fantasies "usually" or "always" during masturbation. None of the control adults indicated they had these deviant fantasies "usually" or "always" although forty-six percent said they did so "occasionally" or "rarely."

Seven out of eighteen rapists indicated that "consenting pornography" provided a cue to elicit fantasies of forced sex. Similarly, ten of the eighteen who currently used "consenting sex" stimuli used it to elicit rape fantasies.

Abel, (1985) reported that erotica use increased self-reported arousal (i.e., erotica "increased their deviant sexual arousal") more frequently among rapists than among child molesters, with fifty-six percent of the rapists indicating erotica use increased their arousal compared to forty-two percent of the child molesters. Since there were only sixteen rapists compared to 112 child molesters in this report, these findings have to be viewed with caution. In addition, a number of questions can be raised about these data. First, it is unclear what "erotica use" refers to. It could refer to usage for masturbation, for arousal prior to committing an offense, or, perhaps for child molesters, use during the commission of an offense (e.g., to lower the victim's inhibitions). It is also far from clear whether these arousal changes refer to changes in the offender's arousal patterns or whether these are simply their reported reactions to sexually explicit materials. Current evidence suggests a high correlation between deviant fantasies and deviant behaviors (Marshall, 1984; Abel, Rouleau and CunninghamRathner, 1985). Some treatment methods are also predicated on the link between fantasies and behavior by attempting to alter fantasy patterns in order to change the deviant behaviors (Davison, 1968; Marquis, 1970; Marshall, 1973). What is unclear, however, is the use of pornographic stimuli as a precondition for the generation of such fantasies.