How we manage our emotions could impact our sex drive, suggests a new study, which finds that those of us adept at cognitive reappraisal – a popular emotion regulation strategy – may also have heightened sexual desire.
Cognitive reappraisal involves changing how you think about a given situation, reframing it in order to reduce the negative emotions you may feel. For example, if someone criticizes you, instead of feeling angry or upset, you might try to consider why the person said what they said or think about taking their feedback as constructive. This ability, according to the new research, could have other benefits too, including for our sex lives.
Sexual desire is not just important in our relationships, but also for our quality of life – it can be an indicator of sexual health, functioning, and general well-being – and yet we still know very little about what influences it. Previous research has suggested that sexual desire may be enhanced by ultraviolet light and has hinted at possible genetic factors that might play a part in regulating it, but sociocultural influences have been overlooked, particularly regarding female sexuality.
To redress this, the researchers investigated whether emotion regulation could predict sexual desire. To do so, they looked specifically at expressive suppression, cognitive reappraisal, and sexual shame in a cohort of 218 Norwegians aged 18 and over. Participants were largely female, between 18-23 years old, single, and monogamous.
Each person completed a questionnaire containing demographic questions and three further surveys designed to assess their emotional regulation, sexual desire, and sexual shame.
Statistical analysis revealed that cognitive reappraisal appeared to boost desire, particularly for women, suggesting that those with a greater tendency to think about and unpick their feelings may experience stronger sexual desire. The same result was not found for sexual shame or expressive suppression, however. Gender was also not found to be linked to sexual desire.
“The use of cognitive reappraisal in everyday life was found to be associated with increased sexual desire, at least in women,” the study authors write. This, they add, “indicates that the inclination toward cognitive reappraisal as a preferred emotion regulation strategy may positively affect the strength of sexual desire.”
The team also considered where this desire was directed, whether that be toward a partner or someone else, or a desire to have sex by oneself. Cognitive reappraisal positively predicted partner-focused and general dyadic sexual desire, but not solitary desire. Sexual shame, meanwhile, did predict solitary sexual desire.
The study was limited by its small and not very diverse sample, meaning that results can’t be generalized to older or non-Norwegian populations. However, the authors are optimistic that future research could rectify this.
“The average person reading the study will hopefully learn something new about sexual desire as a phenomenon, and that it could be related to how we regulate our emotions in our everyday lives,” study author Kristian Westbye Sævik told PsyPost. “Hopefully, [it] facilitates future studies to at least consider including other factors such as cognitive reappraisal in evaluating and measuring sexual desire; to either support or critique the findings of the study,” Sævik added.
The study is published in Scientific Reports.