The Role of Classical Conditioning in Sexual Compulsivity A Pilot Study (2014)

Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention

Volume 21, Issue 2, 2014

DOI: 10.1080/10720162.2014.895460

Heather Hoffmanna*, David Goodrichb, Molly Wilsona & Erick Janssenb

pages 75-91

  • Published online: 05 Jun 2014


While a number of hypotheses exist on the origins of sexual compulsivity, few empirical studies have examined underlying mechanisms. The current research examined if sexually compulsive individuals are more sexually conditionable. Men who have sex with men (MSM) with high or low scores on the Sexual Compulsivity Scale (Kalichman et al., 1994) were presented with an odor that was (experimental group) or was not (control group) paired with brief erotic film clips. We assessed the effects of the olfactory stimulus on genital response and on a behavioral measure of risk taking. We also assessed changes in odor preference, using explicit and implicit measures, to explore the role of evaluative conditioning. There was a trend for high compulsive men to show greater conditioned genital arousal and for conditioned cues to increase sexual motivation in high but not low compulsive men.

The strongest support for sexual learning was found with our behavioral measure: High compulsive men showed greater intent to engage in sexual behavior in the presence of the olfactory cues. Results also suggest that high compulsive men experienced increased implicit liking for odors paired with erotic film. Overall, the findings suggest that conditioning processes play a role in sexual compulsivity.