Great to have you back! Now, back to business …
From my previous posts, we know that the presence of sexual competition can invoke an erection in people who typically suffer from a poor self-image – whether such people want to admit it or not. This cause, however, is not the only reason why somebody may experience a proactive erection. In fact, there are mainly two other reasons why a person may suddenly find themselves aroused, despite not being anywhere near anyone else of the opposite gender. Those two reasons are due to:
- fear of sudden and inescapable death, and
- conditioning or sub-conscious learning.
Here’s a bit more detail, on each.
-Fear of sudden and inescapable death:
That’s right! Instinctual fear of sudden death may cause sexual arousal, provided that the one who is afraid cannot see any way of escaping such a situation. In the event where instinct perceives a possible escape from such danger, instinct activates itself into the so called “fight or flight” mode, which causes more blood to flow into the legs so that a bolt to safety can be more easily made. Consequently, sexual arousal is typically not possible when in this “fight or flight” mode.
Some of you reading this may like to think that this is simply wishful thinking. Hence, I will remind you that humans have always known this, it’s just that they’ve probably never looked at this type of situation from the perspective I’m presenting it in. Anyone who knows anyone who has spent time in an (old fashion) abattoir, for example, may have noticed how the animals about to be slaughtered suddenly “mount” each other. Such animals know they are about to die and they also know that there’s nothing they can do about it so they start “humping” each other. The same kind of thing also happens to people, even in this day and age, with the proof coming in the form of the so called “blizzard baby boom” – that is, a sudden wave of childbirths happening 9 months after a severe blizzard, such as in Peoria (Illinois), after the February blizzard of 2011. Of course, one could argue that those blizzard baby booms are simply due to too many people not knowing what else to do while being trapped indoors, without electricity. Such an argument, however, overlooks how fear can take over when one’s environment suddenly transforms from something familiar to something alien. Besides that, there are plenty more examples which justify the link between fear and arousal and these will be looked at in future posts.
For the scientifically minded readers among you, I know knowing the purpose of something is always very important. Obviously, the purpose behind sexual arousal motivated by a fear of sudden death is preservation of one’s genetic legacy and species or community. How? You may be wondering? Remember, instinct does whatever it can to preserve its genetic legacy. So, in the lead up to an apparently cataclysmic or catastrophic event, instinct encourages sexual reproduction in the “hope” that survivors, if there are any afterwards, will soon experience a baby boom that is meant to suddenly revive population numbers. Again, humans have always known this probably without ever realizing it – this is why you see a “make-out” scene in some action movies – just before the climax (pun intended) of the film, e.g. The Terminator (1984), Rapid Fire (1992), Fast and Furious (2009), to name a few.
I think I covered that well enough. Let’s move on!
-Conditioning or sub-conscious learning:
Have you ever become sexually aroused simply by smelling a specific perfume, or listening to a specific piece of music or simply by reading the word “SEX?” If so, then you have experienced a proactive erection due to conditioning. That is, when you sub-consciously associate certain things with sex so that the next time you come across those things, your instinct anticipates sex to follow soon after – hence, the arousal. Even the most abstract things, like letters of the alphabet, can be interpreted by instinct as a sign of imminent sex. This is part of the reason why erotic, picture-less novels arouse their readers or why some people can develop fetishes over even the most non-sexual objects around them. This is also the reason why intimate conversations or massages help some people get “in the mood” for sex.
Nobody is born pre-programmed to be aroused by such specific things, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, however, nature allows us to learn – typically through repetition – how to anticipate sex at the sub-conscious level so that we can become aroused more easily so as to encourage us to have reproductive sex more often. In this way, we can reproduce more often and thus, improve the survival chances of our species. This is the obvious evolutional advantage of being sexually aroused in this way. This “learning,” by the way, is picked up indirectly from various means, such as: the movies we watch, the books we read, the pictures we look at, the conversations we have, etc.
-Updating Our Model
Before finishing for today, I thought it would be worth updating our model on sexuality. So, remembering from Post 8 [ADAM’S ENVIRONMENT AND PROACTIVE ERECTION], we discussed how all counts of sexual arousal are either opportunistic or proactive. Now, we can add to this model by saying that proactive erections can, in turn, be due to the instinctual recognition of either:
- anxiety due to sexual competition,
- anxiety due to unavoidable mortal danger, or
This is summarized in the following diagram [see Tree 11.1].
O.K., I guess that’s enough for another post. Next time, I plan on finishing up on proactive erections and then taking a closer look at opportunistic erections. Until then, take care.
D. Barlow, D. Sakheim, J. Beck, ‘Anxiety increases sexual arousal’, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, vol. 92(1), February 1983, pp. 49-54.
D. Dutton & A. Aron, ‘Some Evidence for Heightened Sexual Attraction Under Conditions of High Anxiety’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 30(4), 1974, pp. 510-517.
D. H. Barlow, ‘Causes of sexual dysfunction: the role of anxiety and cognitive interference’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 54, 1986, pp. 140-148.
I. P. Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes, Dover Publications, New York, 2003, pp. 33-47.
E. B. Foa, M. J. Kozak, ‘Emotional processing of fear: Exposure to corrective information’, Psychological Bulletin, vol 99(1), January 1986, pp. 20-35.
J. Wolpe, ‘Psychotherapy by reciprocal inhibition’, Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, vol. 3(4), pp. 243-240.