Sex is the greatest pleasure for women

: Psychology of death and sex: Fear of death makes us receptive to eroticism

It happened in the Warsaw Ghetto, on January 21, 1940, around noon. “I saw several neighbors in the yard, about eight or ten in number. They gestured vigorously. Something must have happened… ”The 19-year-old narrator was to find out the reason for the excitement a little later: Mr. Langnas, a merchant who fled Lodz, hanged himself. Rushing to the apartment of the Langnas family, the narrator finds the suicide's daughter in tears, and then he remembers his mother's order: “Take care of the girl.” He takes the task seriously. “I was aware of the drama of the moment, but I couldn't think of anything else than to stroke the desperate woman's head and kiss her tears.” It doesn't stop there. “I suddenly grabbed her, grabbed her chest, trembling. She winced, but she didn't resist. ”This is how he met his wife Teofila, reports Marcel Reich-Ranicki, who died in 2013, in his autobiography“ Mein Leben ”.

The author himself found it strange behavior. Courageous that he still did not hide or retouch the anecdote. It is certainly neither custom nor gallant to hold a mourner by the chest. But even those who rightly forbid such an attack will perhaps be able to understand the impulse from which it arose. After all, who cannot confirm from personal experience how hungry we are to embrace life - and each other - in the face of death.

There is a strange connection between death and sex in our world of experience. For a long time now, psychological research has repeatedly come across traces of them. In 1975, Louis Dickstein of Wellesley College near Boston asked 185 female test subjects to describe a series of images depicting ambiguous interpersonal scenes. At the same time, the women answered a questionnaire designed to record how much each of them was afraid of death. As it turned out, the more concerned they were about death, the more often the participants gave the depicted scenes a sexual interpretation (including “suggestive” or even criminal practices).

The Israeli psychologist Orit Taubman-Ben-Ari from Bar-Ilan University found in 2004 that her test subjects - at least in their minds - tended to engage in riskier sex practices as soon as they reminded them of their mortality. A larger number of potential sexual partners then promptly found the participants' interest, and they more often pleaded, for example, for sex on the first date, sex without a condom or sex with several playmates.

Confrontation with death leads to a longing for eroticism

So from the thought of death some kind of associative path leads to sexuality and desire. Perhaps because both are fundamental principles that govern our lives and remind us of the “creatural mortal nature” of our existence, as social psychologist Jamie Lynn Goldenberg of the University of South Florida suggests. Even with contemporaries who are more reserved about erotic adventures in real life, the associative connection between death and sex is active. Communication researcher Laramie Taylor from the University of California at Davis recently demonstrated this in an experiment.

At random, 76 female and 34 female students were divided into two groups. Some served as comparison persons and answered an everyday questionnaire. With the others, however, it was down to business. "What do you think", they were asked, "will happen to you when you die and as soon as you are physically dead?" of your own death in you. "

All participants then received a list of all programs that ran regularly during prime time and in the night programs of the six largest American TV stations. For each of these series or shows, they should mark how much they would like to see them now. A jury had previously assessed each of the formats according to the proportion of sexual content, so that the researchers received a total value for each test person that expressed their current interest in erotically enriched television programs.

The result confirmed the suspicion: Those test participants who had been confronted with the thought of death later had a stronger tendency to watch TV programs with an erotic element. And surprisingly, this also applied to the more sexually reserved among the test subjects. The researcher, whose curiosity knew no bounds, asked all of them about their love life. So first, how many partners have you had sex with in the past year?

Second, how many sex partners have you had so far? And third, how many partners do you intend to have sex with in the next five years? The data analysis showed that even the wallflowers and virtuous among the participants were more drawn to TV shows that featured sex when they thought of death.

TV series like “Sex and the City” show how it is done

But was that really specific to the thoughts of death? Or is sex just a general distraction from unpleasant sensations? Taylor pursued this question in his second experiment. This time some of the participants did not have to think about death, but about a time in their lives when they were tormented by severe physical pain. Result: Only preoccupation with death, but not with pain, increased TV voyeurism. And vice versa, as the data analysis showed: The thought of death only stimulated the need for erotic-tinged programs, but not for crime novels or dramas, which also grab attention and thus create distraction.

By the way: to the surprise of the examiner, the female participants showed a stronger preference for erotic TV formats than the men - although the latter is generally said to be more likely to have the associative sex module in standby mode. And now the women. Taylor attributes this study result to the fact that television series aimed at a female audience are increasingly relying on dialogues and scenes that are a little slippery - but rarely explicit. It could already be seen at “Desperate Housewives” or “Sex and the City”. Keeping an eye out for erotically stimulating things on television is no longer a male privilege.

However: Clearly “animal” sex still seems to be the domain of male fantasies - and in turn the thought of death is a trigger that shakes these fantasies awake in them. This is what a study led by the psychologist Gurit Birnbaum from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, suggests. Birnbaum and her colleagues made 36 women and 40 men from Israel think about either their death or a visit to the dentist. They were then asked about their willingness to go to a one-night stand with a hypothetical acquaintance they should have met in a relevant tow bar. As it turned out, the dentist's vision had no influence on whether the respondents would embark on this love affair. The thought of death was different: it had an aphrodisiac effect on men - but not on women - and increased their desire for casual sex. According to Birnbaum, this could be explained, for example, by the fact that sexual conquest puffs up male self-esteem. And the ego strengthened in this way may serve them as protection from the threatening thought of the finiteness of their own life, which is always lurking in the basement of the psyche.

Romance-free sex fuels the fear of death

And the women? Even a slight change to the question ensured that they too benefited from erotic fantasies in order to protect themselves from the latent fear of death: In a second experiment, this time with US test subjects, Birnbaum's team gave the match-up scenario a slightly more romantic touch, with candlelight. Light dinner, long conversation prelude and all that fuss. And lo and behold: now women also tended to push aside the thought of death with the help of a non-binding love adventure. This was all the more the case when - as mentally played through in a third experiment - the encounter did not result in bare physical sex, but in tender lovemaking with a steady partner. Incidentally, this applied to both genders. Perhaps the desire for protection in a loving couple bond is the reason why people seek sex in the face of death threats.

On sensitive people, pure, romance-free sex even seems to fuel the fear of death rather than curb it. In a classic series of experiments from 1999, a team led by the above-mentioned US researcher Jamie Goldenberg found that the thought of death is quite disgusting for people who are thin-skinned, worried and fearful in their personality. Women and men who had a high level of this personality trait called neuroticism lost noticeably less interest in physical (but not romantic) sex after being asked to contemplate their own death. In contrast, in emotionally resilient test subjects with low neuroticism scores, the interest in explicit sex tended to increase.

For the faint-hearted, the connection between death and sex is also frightening in the opposite direction. Goldenberg and her fellow researchers discovered this when they confronted test subjects with strong neuroticism with a catalog of questions that was not about flowers and holding hands, but about the tangible aspects of sexuality. This worked in them, as a subsequent association test revealed: The sensitive people who had been treated with nonsense promptly came up with more and more words that had to do with death and impermanence. For her, sexual ecstasy was really something like la petite mort, the little death.