Sex Talk Part 1: Hormones Impair Judgment

Everything revolves around sex. The biological “meaning in life” for every animal is to pass on its genes. So it makes perfect sense that human hormones drive us to complete this objective. There is a problem with this evolutionary imperative. We are no longer on the savannahs of Africa trying to survive on a daily basis, nor are we trying to have as many kids as possible hoping that one will survive. We find ourselves in the 21st century where our environments are much different than the ones in which we evolved. Unfortunately we still have to deal with the fact that our brains are pretty much the same brains that our ancestors possessed in a very different time.  We are hardwired for sex.


Question: Does anyone here lose all critical thinking capability when they see a hot guy/girl? I do… And I know I am not alone.


Dan Ariely, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT, published a study entitled The Heat of the Moment: The Affects of Sexual Arousal on Decision Making. In the study, Ariely takes a group of young male heterosexual college students and has them answer a series of yes or no questions concerning sexual activity, and moral judgment. Some of the questions included:

  •  Can you imagine being attracted to a 12-year-old girl?

  • Would you encourage your date to drink to increase the chance that she would have sex with you?
  • Would you keep trying to have sex after your date says “no?”

Ariely then asked the college students to retake the test, this time while they were sexually aroused.


“The results showed that sexual arousal had a strong impact on all three areas of judgment and decision making, demonstrating the importance of situational forces on preferences, as well as subjects’ inability to predict these influences on their own behavior.” (Ariely’s study)


I was troubled when I read that the subjects were not aware that their decision making skills would be impaired while sexually aroused. I always thought that through critical thinking and skepticism I could make good decisions. I also thought that drugs, alcohol, strong emotions, and lack of sleep were really the only things that could impair judgment. Therefore, I figured that if I keep myself healthy and kept my emotions in check, I would be at the top of my game when it came to my judgments. As a result, I could make good decisions. It never occurred to me that my brain, which is hard wired to have sex, might pose a problem.


This study shows how important it is for teens to learn critical thinking skills. Young adults are faced with the pressures of sex all the time whether it is by their hormones, peers and/or culture. There are always consequences to one’s actions. The consequences of sexual activity can put a major dent in one’s life and maybe even shorten one’s life. The outcome of a decision to have sex can be fun and beautiful or it can endanger a person’s life. (Ewwwwww! I sound like my mother… Disregard that last sentence.)


So, my question is, if teens and adults understood that their judgment can be weakened by sexual arousal, would it make a difference in the rate of STDs and unwanted pregnancies? Methinks yes, but I want to hear what you think too.

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  1. shinrai
    December 30, 2008 at 5:54 pm —

    Uh…how, exactly, do you guarantee that the subjects in your controlled environment are sexually aroused? (Ethically, mind you.)

  2. December 30, 2008 at 6:17 pm —

    I’m not sure it would have much of an impact. Kids already know the same about, for example, alcohol, but they continue to drink, get drunk, and do stupid things because of it. It would do something, probably, because there are some kids who try hard to avoid doing stupid things, but most don’t worry about it very much.

  3. December 30, 2008 at 7:49 pm —

    I kind of do. ^_^ I seem to act sillier when I see a girl I like.

  4. December 30, 2008 at 8:08 pm —

    As for the answer to the last question, I don’t think it would do much difference. If your judgment is affected, then all your mind will do is to listen to the devil in your mind (ya know, like in the cartoons, angel and devil vying for your decision ^_^)

  5. vreify
    December 30, 2008 at 9:54 pm —

    I think it would make an impact–most teens, I would say, aren’t aware of how badly their judgment is impaired by hormones and sexual arousal. Then they can start to make rules for themselves to guard against their impaired judgment: that is, it’s never okay to keep coercing a date if she says no, et cetera.

  6. Cassie
    December 30, 2008 at 10:31 pm —

    Shinrai- read the study. I linked to it in the post. Rebecca might get mad at me if I explain in detail how the test subjects were aroused.

    IBY, Philip – I am just saying that the knowledge of impaired judgment might be eye opening for some teens. Enough so that maybe they would consider having protection at hand.

  7. December 30, 2008 at 11:35 pm —

    It is possible. ^_^

  8. December 31, 2008 at 5:49 am —

    I think Rebecca you should explain in detail how the test subjects were aroused.

    Also, I don’t want to teach the class where this is taught. Not that it isn’t important, but…

  9. FFFearlesss
    December 31, 2008 at 11:09 am —

    I don’t know that it would help very much. Certainly not for guys anyway. Even after years of firsthand experience where you SEE how sexual arousal causes you to make bad decisions, you still keep making those same bad decisions over and over again. Why? Because the hot chick might say yes this time?

  10. shinrai
    December 31, 2008 at 11:20 am —

    @cassie: I did go back and read the study after I made that comment, actually. I think my initial response was “…oh. College students really /are/ desperate for a quick buck.”

  11. Dread Polack
    January 6, 2009 at 11:09 am —

    I would guess that it would help, yes. As G.I. Joe always said “Knowing is half the battle.”

    An interesting side-note: you should listen to the podcast by “RadioLab” titled “Testosterone.”

    This episode interviews a man who, for a few weeks, stopped producing testosterone, and it had a very interesting effect on his personality. It also interviews a man who underwent sexual reassignment surgery (used to be a woman), and he was also profoundly affected by the change in his hormones.

    They make the point in the episode that we all like to think that there are profoundly unchangeable aspects of our very “soul”, and the idea that a simple change in hormone levels can affect our behavior so completely.

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