People can recall their sexual activity from the past 30 days fairly well, but that recall may be affected by gender and mood, researchers have found.
In clinical and research situations, patients are often asked to reflect on the past 30 days when answering questions about sexual activity. However, it has been unclear whether this recall was accurate.
To learn more, American researchers from Duke University School of Medicine, Stony Brook University, and the Medical College of Wisconsin conducted a study involving 202 participants (101 men and 101 women). About two-thirds of the participants were age 40 or younger. All of them had regular sexual partners.
Participants were asked to submit a daily record of their sexual behaviors for 30 days, including information on sexual interest, specific activities (such as kissing, touching, and masturbation), erectile function, orgasm, discomfort, and use of therapeutic aids like lubricants.
At the end of 30 days, the participants completed a final recall assessment for the entire period. This assessment included the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), a tool that evaluates mood.
After compiling and comparing the results, the research team found that most participants could accurately remember their sexual activities from the past thirty days. Their most accurate recall involved sexual activities, vaginal discomfort, erectile function, and the therapeutic aids used most frequently.
Their recall of sexual interest, affectionate behaviors (like kissing), and orgasms was not as accurate.
Both gender and mood affected their recall.
For example, the men overestimated the frequency of their sexual interest more than the women did. This might be explained by gender. Men may “fill in the gaps” of incomplete memory by “using some theory about what their experience should have been, given who they are.” Men are often considered to be highly interested in sex. This notion may have influenced their responses.
Mood at the time of the final assessment may have affected recall regarding frequency of masturbation and vaginal intercourse, erectile function, and orgasm.
The researchers offered two possible explanations in relation to mood. First, a person’s mood may cause a “selective search” for sexual memories that match the mood. For example, participants in good moods may have focused more on their pleasurable sexual experiences.
Mood could also cause people to remember sexual activities to be better than they actually were. “In this case,” the authors wrote, “mood does not restrict access to all sexual experiences in memory, but, rather reinterprets what happened during a given sexual experience.”
These findings may have implications for future studies. “Researchers should be aware that mood can affect the accuracy of people’s reports of sexual function,” said study author Kevin P. Weinfurt, PhD of Duke Medicine in a news release.
“To help interpret clinical studies of sexual health, researchers might consider measuring mood alongside the sexual outcomes,” he added.
The study was first published online in June in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
DukeHealth.org (Duke University Health System)
“Study evaluates factors that affect patients’ ability to recall their sexual function and activity”
(June 26, 2013)
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Weinfurt, Kevin P., PhD, et al.
“Accuracy of 30-Day Recall for Components of Sexual Function and the Moderating Effects of Gender and Mood”
(Full-text. First published online: June 26, 2013)