Despite the fact that some individuals appraise their sexual cognitions
negatively and/or experience negative affect in association with their
sexual fantasies, for the most part sexuality researchers have not differentiated
between positively and negatively experienced sexual thoughts and fantasies.
I have collaborated with a number of colleagues on research designed
to better understand positive and negative sexual cognitions. The first
study, conducted with Dr. Christine Purdon (University of Waterloo)
and Dr. David Clark (Psychology, UNB) compared the sexual and nonsexual (negative)
intrusive thoughts of 171 university students.
For her doctoral thesis, Dr. Cheryl Renaud developed the Sexual
Cognitions Checklist in order to compare positive and negative sexual
cognitions. We found that overall respondents reported more frequent
and diverse positive sexual cognitions than negative sexual cognitions.
However, men reported both more frequent and more diverse positive and
negative sexual cognitions than did women. Further, compared to
negative sexual cognitions, positive sexual cognitions were associated
with more positive affect, less negative affect, more frequent
subjective general physiological and sexual arousal, and less frequent
self-reported upset stomach. Further, while a higher frequency of
positive sexual cognitions was related to better sexual adjustment for
men and women, the frequency of negative sexual cognitions was not
related to sexual adjustment. Christie Little followed up on these
findings for her Honours thesis. She investigated factors that
influence individuals to appraise their experience of the same sexual
cognition on one occasion and negative on another occasion. Taken
together, these findings highlight the importance of distinguishing
between positive and negative sexual cognitions in research.
more recent work has focused on cognitions of sexual dominance and
cognitions of sexual submission. With respect to cognitions of sexual dominations, we found that compared
to women, men reported a significantly greater frequency of negative
cognitions of sexual dominance but a lower frequency of positive cognitions of
sexual dominance. Both men and women who
had used sexual coercion reported more positive sexual dominance cognitions
than did participants who had not used sexual coercion. Sexual violence was not uniquely associated
with negative sexual dominance cognitions when the frequency of positive sexual
dominance cognitions was controlled.
With respection to cognitions of sexual submission, we found that when overall frequency of sexual cognitions was
controlled, compared to men, women reported a significantly greater
frequency of both positive and negative cognitions of sexual submission. Submission cognitions were more often
negative for women and were more often positive for men. Men and women who had experienced sexual
abuse in childhood reported more frequent positive sexual submission cognitions
but not more negative sexual submission cognitions. Conversely, men and women who had experienced
sexual coercion in adulthood reported more frequent negative sexual submission
cognitions but not more positive sexual submission cognitions. Having used sexual coercion was associated
with more frequent positive cognitions of sexual submission for both men and
Currently I have a
project with Krystelle Shaughnessy investigating the extent to which
these positive sexual cognitions represent sexual interests
and/or sexual experiences.
I also have a project
with Nieves Moyano and Juan-Carlos Sierra of the University of Granada
in Spain investigating sexual cognitions in Spain and their
association with sexual functioning.
The following publications are based on this work:
Renaud, C. A., & Byers, E. S. (2006). Positive and negative
cognitions of sexual submission: Relationship to sexual violence.
Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 483-490.
Renaud, C.A. & Byers, E. S. (2005). Relationship between sexual violence and
positive and negative cognitions of sexual dominance. Sex Roles, 53, 253-260.
Renaud, C. A. & Byers, E. S. (2001). Positive and negative sexual
cognitions: Subjective experience and relationships to sexual adjustment.
The Journal of Sex Research, 38, 252-262.
Little, C. A. & Byers, E. S. (2000). Differences between positive
and negative sexual cognitions. Canadian Journal
of Human Sexuality, 9, 167-179.
Clark, D. A., Purdon, C., & Byers, E. S. (2000). Appraisal and
control of sexual and non-sexual intrusive thoughts in university students.
Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38, 439-455.
Renaud, C. A., & Byers, E. S. (1999). Exploring the frequency,
diversity, and context of university students’ positive and negative
sexual cognitions. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality,
8, 17- 30.
Byers, E. S., Purdon, C., & Clark, D. A. (1998). Sexual intrusive
thoughts of college students. The Journal of Sex
Research, 35, 359-369.