The sexual adjustment and behavior patterns, often referred to as sexual personality, of human beings are probably more varied and divergent than almost any other aspect of their diversity. Scientific interest has hitherto centered either on abnormalities, which have been exhaustively studied in the form of case histories and anecdotes by psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, or a census-type data collected on large samples, “broken down,” as the saying goes, by age and sex—Kinsey’s work is an example of this type of approach. We learn from published data that Americans on the average have intercourse two to three times a week, but this kind of information is almost useless when it is realized that some people have intercourse once a month, while others have intercourse several times a night—the wife of the “Boston strangler” complained that her husband insisted on having intercourse something like 14 times a day! (“Complained” is the operative word—some women might have welcomed such dutiful attendance.)
While differences in sexual personalities are well documented, there is little knowledge about the causes of these differences, or about the role which personality plays in all this. Kinsey studied social class as a possible causative agent, but did not find this terribly useful. Age accounted for more of the differences found, but apart from the obvious discovery that people are more easily aroused at twenty than at sixty, this variable did not prove very useful either. In the late 60s and early 70s, several studies were made of the relationship between personality and sexual behavior, using interviews and questionnaires; these have produced fairly clear-cut results regarding sexual personality which are of some interest. This article attempts to summarize these studies, and point out the conclusions which can be drawn from them.
On the personality side, three main traits or dimensions have been studied. The first of these is extraversion-introversion. These terms are widely known nowadays, and the popular understanding of them is quite close to their scientific meaning. Extraverts are sociable, impulsive, physically active, playful, outgoing, optimistic, emotionally responsive, changeable, and lively; introverts are quiet, passive, introspective, mentally active, reserved, careful, unsociable, and pessimistic. These are of course extremes; not everybody is a typical extravert or a typical introvert, and there are plenty of people who are “ambivert,” i.e. lie somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, most people tend in one direction or the other, and quite a few are markedly situated near the extremes. Most studies measure the degree of a person’s extraversion, calling the most extreme 33 percent extraverts, the middle 34 percent ambiverts, and the 33 percent at the other extreme introverts; this serves well enough for descriptive purposes.
The second trait or dimension may be called emotional instability, or neuroticism, as opposed to stability. There is no implication here of psychiatric abnormality, or pathology; the people investigated were of course quite normal, in the sense that they were not undergoing psychiatric treatment. Neurotics, however, are not people who differ in some qualitative way from normals; they form the end of a continuum, and there are many “normal” people who are less stable emotionally than the average (BBC television often calls them “nervous persons” when warning them not to see a particularly gruesome play), and it is these we shall be talking about. Again, the 33 percent most “nervous” will be opposed to the 33 percent most “stable,” with 34 percent of very average persons in between. The sort of traits which characterize our “nervous” subjects are anxiety, mood-swings, worries, touchiness, and restlessness, boredom, and the like; “stable” people, on the other hand, are calm, even-tempered, reliable and unemotional. Follow-up studies have shown that these traits can already be diagnosed in children, and when these children are looked at again after 30 years or so it is found that those with high instability scores tend to succumb to neurotic disorders (if they are also introverted), or become criminals (when they are also extraverted).
Psychotic and Psychopathic Behavior
The third trait studied is related to another type of abnormal behavior, although again we are dealing with a continuum not including actually pathological people as far as the experiment is concerned. The abnormality concerned is psychotic and psychopathic behavior, and the traits characterizing our subjects who show this type of behavior are emotional coldness, an impersonal attitude to people, hostility, lack of concern, egotism, cruelty, and a general lack of human feeling altogether. Again people are divided into rough thirds for the purpose of the analysis. We shall call the extremes P+ and P- scorers, in order to avoid the use of possibly misleading psychiatric terms; similarly we shall talk about neurotics as N+ and N- scorers, for the same reason.
The So-Active Extravert
As it happens, we know most about the sexual behavior of extraverts and introverts; several studies have included personality questionnaires dealing with this personality dimension. In one of these, some 6,000 male and female German students were investigated; shall quote some representative data from these unmarried young people. It will become clear that extraverts, as one might have expected, are much more active sexually; this fits in well with information on other habits of theirs. Thus extraverts drink more, smoke more, and eat more; altogether they are more oriented towards the pleasures of the outer world, as indeed the term “extraversion” already implies. The only variable on which introverts score more highly is masturbation; of these unmarried students, 86 percent of the male introverts and 47 percent of the female introverts masturbate, but only 72 percent and 39 percent respectively of the male and female extraverts. (Ambiverts are in between, with 80 percent for the men and 43 percent for the women; in what follows I shall not give figures for the ambiverts as these make it more difficult to follow the argument, without adding anything very much, as they tend to fall between the extreme groups in practically every case). To go on to actual dealings with the other sex, however, extraverts are in every respect in advance of the introverts. Take petting; at 17 years of age, 16 percent of male introverts and 40 percent of male extraverts have started petting, and so have 15 percent of female introverts and 24 percent of female extraverts. By the age of 19 the percentages have increased to 31 percent (male introverts) and 56 percent (male extraverts); for women the figures are 30 percent and 47 percent. Intercourse shows the same picture, but at a lower level of course. At 17, 5 percent of male introverts and 21 percent of male extraverts have had experience of intercourse; 4 percent of female introverts and 8 percent of female extraverts have had intercourse. By the age of 19, the percentages for the men have increased to 15 percent (introverts) and 45 percent (extraverts), and for the women to 12 percent (introverts) and 29 percent (extraverts).
More Partners, More Times
When it comes to average number of times that extraverts and introverts have intercourse per month (taking into account only those who have had intercourse, of course!) we find that this figure is over double for the extraverts as compared with the introverts. So is the number of different partners people have slept with during the past 12 months. Seven percent of introverts, but 25 percent of extraverts have slept with four or more different partners during this time, as far as the men are concerned; for the women the figures are 4 percent and 17 percent! These are very large differences indeed. Differences become rather smaller for various aspects of sexual behavior preceding and during intercourse, and in some cases they disappear altogether for the women. Thus long pre-coital sex play is reported by 21 percent of male introverts, and 28 percent of male extraverts; for women the figures are 21 percent and 18 percent, i.e. almost identical. “Oral sex”, i.e. cunnilingus and fellatio, is reported by introverted men in 52 percent of all cases, by extraverted men in 67 percent of all cases. For the women the difference is between 55 percent and 64 percent, i.e. much smaller, although in the same direction. More than 3 different coital positions are reported by 10 percent of male introverts, 26 percent of male extraverts; for the women there are no differences, the figures being 12 percent and 13 percent.
Women Who Didn’t Enjoy It
Why are the differences between extraverts and introverts so much smaller for women in the case of pre-coital love play, “oral sex,” and number of different positions? The answer lies probably in the fact that it is the man in our society who tends to dictate the course that lovemaking takes; it is the woman who follows. Consequently the personality of the male can express itself in the choice of coital position, use or non-use of oral sex, and length of pre-coital love play; the woman’s personality affects the issue much less. If this were true, then we would expect quite strong differences between men and women when we put the question of whether they enjoyed the particular form of lovemaking which they have been indulging in; men should say “yes” much more frequently than women, because if the men did not enjoy a particular form of lovemaking, then they could stop using it and employ a different kind. Women would not have the same liberty, at least not to anything like the same extent. This is indeed what was found; men enjoyed what they were doing in 98 percent of all cases, women only in less than 50 percent of all cases. These figures should make one think!
The English studies give very similar results to the German one as far as extraversion-introversion is concerned. Extraverts are found to be in favor of promiscuity, to be satisfied with their sex lives, and to be entirely lacking in nervousness with respect to it. There is an emphasis on social facility with the opposite sex, on liking for sexual activity as such, ease of sexual excitement, and endorsement of premarital sex. There is no hint of pathological involvement in all this; the extravert is not particularly interested in pornography, homosexuality offers no problem to him, and he has no sexual worries or troubles. The picture is that of a happy philanderer, gaining satisfaction from his mode of life, and not worried about anything. This picture agrees well with his general active, optimistic, sociable outlook and behavior. Introverts, of course, show the opposite picture. They do not favor promiscuity, do not endorse pre-marital sex, are not anything like as easily aroused sexually, and in general do not attribute such overwhelming importance to sex as the extravert does. In addition, they have difficulties in contacting and dealing with members of the opposite sex. No wonder they masturbate more! However, there is nothing pathological about their reactions either; when they marry these difficulties will iron out, and in fact by the time middle age is reached it may be they who make the better sexual adjustment, with the extraverts suffering from “seven year itch” if married, or laughed at as middle-aged Casanovas if not.
When we turn to high N scorers (our nervous and relatively unstable subjects), we do find rather abnormal and indeed pathological behavior. These people show a strong conflict in their replies; they are strongly excited by sex, but also have strong fears about it. Thus they are simultaneously attracted and repulsed; they very much wish to indulge in sexual adventures, but are afraid of the consequences. When they do indulge in sexual behavior, such as petting or intercourse, they have strong feelings of guilt and worry. Altogether, there is a lack of satisfaction with their sexual exploits; blame is often attached to the inhibiting influence of the parents, of religion, and to “bad experiences.” There are fears and difficulties associated with contacts with the opposite sex, and sexual behavior is seen as both troublesome and disgusting. Homosexuality is a problem for many high N scorers, and they also show a tendency to feel hostile to their sex partners. They like pornography, blue films, and the thought of “orgies”; no doubt these are substitutes for the unattainable sexual contacts with real life partners.
Neurotics and Frigidity
This is not the end of the troubles of the high N scorer. If the person concerned is a man, he is liable to suffer from impotence and from ejaculatio praecox; if a woman, from lack of orgasm and from frigidity. It is interesting to note that these are precisely the complaints which are made by very many neurotics who come for treatment to the psychiatrist (even though the main reason for their visit may be quite a different set of symptoms); neurotics are extremely prone to sexual disorders of this kind, and there are good reasons for the association. The sexual parts of men and women are governed in their reactions by the autonomic system, which is also concerned very much in the expression of the emotions, and the over-reactivity of the autonomic, which is responsible for the many anxieties and worries which are characteristic of the neurotic, as well as for his mood-swings, also plays havoc with his or her sexual reactions. Masters and Johnson, in their book entitled Human Sexual Inadequacy, have shown that appropriate psychological treatment can be given for these conditions, with good success; ejaculatio praecox yielded to treatment in well over 90 percent of all cases, through the use of a very simple physical method making use of a little known penile reflex. Psychoanalytical treatment, on the other hand, has proved pretty useless; Freudian notions in this as in other fields simply do not correspond to reality. Unfortunately few physicians, in the UK at least, are trained in the appropriate treatment of these sexual difficulties, and there is still social opposition to the setting up of proper clinics serving both training and treatment functions. Until they are set up there will continue to be much unnecessary suffering by N+ men and women whose troubles could so easily be cured.
High P scorers also show a pathological picture, although it is quite different from, and in some ways opposite to, that presented by high N scorers. Superficially, high P scorers might seem to resemble the typical extravert; like him, the high P scorer is promiscuous (even more so than the extravert), enjoys premarital sex, is not concerned with, or interested in, virginity, and has a strong liking for impersonal sex (i.e. he is only concerned with his own satisfaction, and is quite ready to derive this from prostitutes, or anyway women he cares nothing about outside the sexual sphere). His strong sexual excitement emerges also in his liking for pornography, voyeurism, blue films and “orgies,” but unlike the high N scorer these do not serve as substitutes for live sex, but as additions to it. This is one slightly pathological feature which sets the high P scorer off from the extravert; but the main difference comes when we turn to the degree of satisfaction he derives from his sex life. Where the extravert is happy and contented, the high P scorer considers himself deprived sexually, and is very dissatisfied with his sexual life; such dissatisfaction shows clearly that something is very wrong in such a person’s adjustment. High P scorers also often feel hostility to their sex partners (sex criminals were found in another study to have exceptionally high P scores), and they are troubled by perverted thoughts; of all the groups they are most likely to indulge in perverted practices. However, such persons are not troubled by the neurotic difficulties of frigidity and impotence; they seek only biological sex, and they function quite adequately at that level. Their trouble derives from the fact that for human beings biological sex alone does not seem to bring happiness.
We thus find that there are two “normal” and two “pathological” types of adjustment, as far as sex is concerned. The “permissive” adjustment of the extravert and the “restrictive” adjustment of the introvert are both quite normal and viable; one may prefer one to the other, depending on one’s character and temperament, but one cannot say that the other type of behavior is “wrong” in any meaningful sense. Both the N+ and the P+ types of adjustment, however, are clearly pathological—not in the sense that society disapproves of the types of conduct indulged in by persons of that type, but simply because clearly high N scorers and high P scorers are very unhappy with the life they lead, feel dissatisfied and deprived, and may even be carried into strictly pathological fields—impotence and frigidity in the one case, sexual criminality in the other. It is for these reasons that I call these types of adjustment pathological; they do not lead to personal satisfaction.
Is Impotence Inborn?
One last point should be stressed. Personality traits like extraversion or neuroticism are largely innate; they are physiological and neurological structures within our nervous system and our cortex which predispose a person to one or other kind of personality, and hence one or other kind of sexual adjustment. Education and other environmental influences do of course play a part, but they are far less powerful than is often thought; heredity contributes something like 75 percent, environment something like 25 percent to the sum total of what we call our “personality.” Hence, it would be pointless to blame a person for suffering from impotence, or frigidity—one might just as well blame him or her for suffering from asthma, or tuberculosis. And equally it would be asking too much to expect a person to show a miraculous change in his sexual behavior—women often marry men in the hope of changing them, but this sanguine expectation is seldom successful. We tend to regard human nature as far more malleable than it really is; change is not impossible, but it is difficult and rare. If any advice can be given on the basis of the facts discussed here, it would be to look good and hard at your prospective sexual partner before you enter into any long-lasting relationship; you might be able to see the cloven hoof and the forked tongue of the high P scorer!
Knowing your own sexual personality and being able to identify the sexual personalities of your potential mates is the key to ensuring a successful match. Learn the foundational aspects of identifying and pairing your sexual personality with others in Sexual Styles by John Michael Berecz.
Sexual Styles by John Michael Berecz
Learn more about your lover and yourself with the unique and fresh point of view in Sexual Styles. The book explores everyday problems all individuals and couples struggle with, and identifying seven different personalities and their ways of coping with these problems. Identifying your personality and that of your partner can enhance your relationship both in and out of the bedroom.