Individual Differences

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

Not everyone reacts in the same way to sexually explicit materials. Researchers have examined various individual explanatory variables which might explain more fully why individuals respond in different ways. We do not intend an exhaustive summary of the variety of individual attributes examined but merely wish to illustrate that observed effects are mediated by a number of factors. Three sets of factors will suffice for discussion.

One characteristic which has been examined is gender. It has often been asserted that females are less interested in sex than males. Some of the early studies in sexual behavior (Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin and Gebhard, 1953) concluded that females were disinterested in pornography and were less aroused by it. The same sex differences were reported in the national survey of the 1970 Commission (Abelson, et al., 1970).

Experimental findings, however, seem to suggest otherwise. Males and females in laboratory-exposure situations reported the same levels of arousal in response to sexually explicit stimuli (Sigusch, et al., 1970; Byrne and Lamberth, 1971; Griffit, 1973). Females, however, are also more apt to report negative affect toward erotic stimuli, that is, they report more shock, disgust, and annoyance than males (Schmidt, et al., 1973). These differences, not surprisingly, are even more pronounced when aggressive sexual themes such as rape portrayals are employed (Schmidt 1974). The context of the portrayal is also significant as Stock (1983) demonstrated. Female subjects exposed to an eroticized version of a rape exhibited high arousal levels while a version which emphasized the victim's fear and pain elicited negative affective reactions and lower arousal levels. Krafka's (1985) female subjects did not exhibit the same negative effects that Linz's (1985) males did after exposure to R-rated slasher films which the former attributed to some emotional distancing because the victim in these films was invariably female.

Personality differences also mediate effects. One personality dimension which has been examined is "psychoticism" (Eysenck and Eysenck, 1976) which Barnes, Mamaluth and Check, 1984a, 1984b) found to be positively related to the enjoyment of force and unconventional sexual activities. Linz (1985) and Check (1985) similarly found psychoticism scores to be highly correlated with the acceptance of rape myths.

Finally, experiential factors also help explain response differences. Those with more previous experience with sexually explicit materials also tend to be less inclined toward restrictions (Newsweek-Gallup Survey, 1985) and also tend to exhibit more sex-calloused attitudes (Malamuth and Check, 1985) and more self-reported sexually aggressive behavior (Check, 1985).