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The Sexual Behavior Sequence
Sexual Stimuli--Sexual Arousal--Sexual Behavior
According to the Sexual Behavior Sequence, individuals who come into contact with erotic stimuli and who are sufficiently sexually aroused for a sufficient period of time are motivated to engage in preparatory sexual behavior that will increase the likelihood of overt sexual behavior. Preparatory sexual behaviors which increase the likelihood of overt sexual behavior can involve actions such as locking one's bedroom door and plugging in a vibrator, making sexual overtures to an opposite-sex or same-sex partner, or seeking sexual companionship in a singles bar or in an Internet chat room. If preparatory sexual behaviors are successful, sexual behavior will result, and sexual behaviors have outcomes that may be experienced as subjectively positive or negative events. Outcomes are assumed to feed back into the system to condition the future greater or lesser likelihood of the chain of events that led to the sexual behavior and outcome in question.
Considering only the erotic stimulus--physiological arousal--preparatory behavior--sexual behavior--outcome level of the Sexual Behavior Sequence, let us turn to the example of a neophyte male Internet user. Having discovered JJJ's Thumbnail Post (http://www.pornno.com.gallerypost.shtml) in the course of idle surfing, our Internet user has viewed text, images, and video clips depicting a variety of stimulus themes--including consensual heterosexual intercourse, bondage and discipline, interracial anal intercourse, urination, and cumshots, all depicted as discriminable stimulus accompaniments of unconditioned erotic stimuli such as copulatory behavior and breast and genital imagery. Our Internet explorer settles on a stimulus theme that he finds idiosyncratically to be arousing--cumshot still and moving images of a male ejaculating onto the face, hair, breasts, and vulva of a female. Over time, the Internet user finds that cumshot themes in general have become a conditioned erotic stimulus with the capacity to elicit high levels of physiological sexual arousal and with the ability to motivate preparatory sexual behaviors, sexual behaviors, and outcomes. Whether or not the acquisition of the cumshot theme as a conditioned erotic stimulus will ever be translated into covert fantasy or overt behavior involving ejaculation onto a woman's face or body will be a function of affective and cognitive responses which are simultaneously evoked by the sexually explicit Internet stimulus category in question and whose roles are also specified by the Sexual Behavior Sequence.
Sexual Stimuli--Affective Responses--Sexual Behavior
From the perspective of the Sexual Behavior Sequence, individuals acquire affective and evaluative responses to erotic stimuli as a function of the association of erotic stimuli with rewarding or punishing experiences over the life span (Fisher, 1986; Fisher et al., 1988). An individual who has experienced predominantly rewarding experiences in association with sexuality is expected to develop a generalized trait disposition of erotophilia and should respond to sexual cues with positive affect and evaluations. An individual who has experienced predominantly punishing experiences in association with sexuality is expected to develop a generalized trait disposition of erotophobia and should respond to sexual cues with negative affect and evaluations. Positive affective and evaluative responses to sexual stimuli should incline the individual to engage in preparatory sexual behavior and sexual behavior and to experience the outcome of this sexual behavior as subjectively positive. Such a positive outcome will strengthen the future likelihood of further contact with similar sexual stimuli, the future likelihood of similar arousal and affective and evaluative responses, similar preparatory and oven sexual behaviors, and similar outcomes. In contrast, negative affective and evaluative responses to sexual stimuli should motivate the sexually stimulated individual to avoid the sort of preparatory sexual behavior and oven sexual behavior suggested by the sexual stimulus and to experience the sexual stimulus, and any arousal or behavior which it eventuates, as hedonically negative events that will condition future avoidance of sexual stimulation of the sort that triggered this sequence of responses.
According to the Sexual Behavior Sequence, then, experience with Internet sexually explicit materials will be a self-regulated activity that will take place in part as a function of an individual's erotophobic or erotophilic disposition to respond to Internet sexuality with positive or negative affect and evaluations. Erotophilic individuals should seek out and enjoy Internet sexually explicit materials, and may incorporate what is acquired from Internet sexually explicit materials into their preparatory and overt sexual behaviors, and should enjoy these behaviors, all else being equal. This sequence of responses, involving additional pairings of sexuality with positive affective responses, should also strengthen the erotophilic disposition which provoked it in the first place. Erotophobic individuals, in contrast, will experience contact with Internet sexually explicit materials as an emotionally negative event and will evaluate such materials negatively and avoid contact with them. By extension, erotophobic individuals will also avoid preparatory and overt sexual behaviors related to Internet sexually explicit materials. This sequence of responses, involving additional pairing of sexuality with negative effect, should strengthen the individual's erotophobic disposition and his or her inclination to avoid Internet sexually explicit materials in the future.
Let us return to our example of the Internet user who has acquired a sexual arousal response to the theme of ejaculation on a woman's face or body. Let us further assume, in accord with the Sexual Behavior Sequence, that the individual in question is erotophilic and that in fact it is his affective and evaluative positivity to sexuality which brought him to surf Internet sex sites and to acquire conditioned sexual arousal to cumshots in the first place. Sexual arousal and positive affective and evaluative responses to cumshot stimuli should, according to our model and all else being equal, affect the individual's preparatory sexual behavior, sexual behavior, outcomes, and future probability of the sequence of events that provoked them. In the current case, the erotophilic individual likely has an erotophilic partner (for a review of evidence of assortative mating by erotophilic and erotophobic men and women, see Fisher et al., 1988), and the individual may be motivated to engage in a preparatory sexual behavior which involves discussion with a partner of incorporating an arousing new sexual activity--say, ejaculation onto her breasts--during sexual intercourse. Such discussion could be instrumental in the occurrence of a sexual behavior of this sort and could provoke a positive personal and dyadic outcome that would strengthen the future likelihood of this entire sequence of events. Alternatively, and almost certainly more realistically, the individual who is sexually aroused and affectively positive to the prospect of ejaculation on a partner's body might receive such a negative interpersonal reaction to either the discussion or performance of this behavior that the outcome would be profoundly negative and result in the future unlikelihood of anything remotely associated with cumshot activity. Or, the individual in question who is sexually stimulated by the cumshot theme might chose a preparatory behavior such as a generic sexual overture to a partner which results in a conventional sexual behavior such as sexual intercourse, accompanied by a covert sexual fantasy of cumshot activity. This personally rewarding outcome would condition the increased likelihood of this sequence of events in the future without involving potentially negative partner responses. For the individual who is aroused by the prospect of ejaculation onto a partner's body and who is affectively and evaluatively positive concerning this activity, the question of whether the oven or coven version or any version of this scenario will be enacted will depend heavily on the individual's cognitive responses to this category of sexual behavior, as specified by the Sexual Behavior Sequence and discussed following.
Sexual Stimuli--Cognitive Responses--Sexual Behavior
From the perspective of the Sexual Behavior Sequence, information, expectancies, and imaginative responses will heavily affect an individual's experience with Internet sexually explicit materials. Consider our example of the erotophilic Internet surfer who has acquired sexual arousal responses to the stimulus category of ejaculation onto a female's face or body. From the perspective of the Sexual Behavior Sequence, the individual's informational, expectative, and imaginative responses to the prospect of ejaculation on a partner's face or body will determine the nature of his preparatory sexual behavior, sexual behavior, and outcomes. Assume, for example, that our protagonist is sexually aroused and affectively positive about the possibility of engaging in sexual activities that include ejaculation onto his partner. Assume as well that (a) the surfer in question believes that ejaculation onto his partner's breasts is a relatively reserved form of this behavior, as suggested by depictions he has seen on the Internet (an informational response); (b) the surfer in question believes that his partner would probably respond tolerantly to discussion of this activity and to its actual occurrence, as suggested by past experience with the partner (an expectative response); and (c) the surfer in question can imagine a sequence of cumshot activity behaviors producing a positive outcome for himself and his partner (an imaginative response). In such a case, contact with Internet sexually explicit stimuli may trigger overt experimentation with behavior and possibly a positive outcome and increased future likelihood of such behavior. If, in contrast, the individual's informational, expectative, and imaginative responses suggest that ejaculation onto the partner's breasts would almost certainly provoke negative responses which are vividly imagined, the individual might chose to confine his cumshot activity to covert fantasy accompaniment of conventional sexual activity as discussed earlier. Or, the surfer in question might choose to redirect his sexual fantasy to what he imagines to be a more acceptable behavior. In either case, it is the avoidance of an overt sexual behavior that would have a positive outcome and that would continue in the future.
All Together Now: Arousal, Affective, Cognitive, and Behavioral Responses to Internet Sexually Explicit Materials
The Sexual Behavior Sequence can also be applied as a conceptual guide for clinical interventions designed to assist individuals who have self-designated or socially-designated problems with Internet sexuality, including excessive and interfering preoccupation with Internet sexually explicit materials, inappropriate behavior stemming from contact with Internet sexuality, or personally or socially problematic replacement of sexual activity on the Internet for sexual activity with a partner (Barak & King, 2000; Cooper, Putnam, Planchon, & Boies, 1999; Putnam, 2000; Schwartz & Southern, 2000). In such cases, diagnostic focus on arousal, affective, and cognitive factors that provoke or permit dysfunctional behavior might prove useful in understanding the problem and in formulating an intervention plan. Is the individual who is preoccupied with Internet sexually explicit materials in a way that is interfering with his or her work and relationships and finances involved in such maladaptive activity because Internet sexuality is more arousing to the individual than competing, noninterfering sources of sexual arousal? Is the individual more affectively positive to Internet sexuality than he or she is affectively negative to the consequences of excessive involvement? Is the individual unable to anticipate and imagine the individual consequences and social stigma occasioned by his or her behavior? And would interventions targeted at augmenting access to adaptive sources of sexual arousal, at increasing affective negativity to the consequences of his or her activity, and at encouraging the individual to imagine the negative reactions of employers and partners (e.g., Orzack & Ross, 2000; Putnam, 2000), be effective in assisting the individual to avoid excessive and interfering use of Internet sexually explicit materials?
Reflection Exercise #9
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