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Balancing risk and pleasure: sexual self-control as a moderator of the influence of sexual desires on sexual risk-taking in men who have sex with men
  1. P C G Adam1,2,
  2. I Teva3,
  3. J B F de Wit2,4
  1. 1
    Institute for Prevention and Social Research, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  2. 2
    National Centre in HIV Social Research, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  3. 3
    Department of Psychology, University of Granada, Granada, Spain
  4. 4
    Department of Social Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  1. Professor John B F de Wit, Director, National Centre in HIV Social Research, University of New South Wales, Sydney 2052 NSW, Australia; j.dewit{at}


Objectives: To assess the extent to which sexual risk-taking among men who have sex with men (MSM) is influenced by their sexual desires, as reflected in sexual sensation seeking, and to establish whether men’s sexual self-control moderates the influence of sexual sensation seeking.

Methods: An online survey in the Netherlands recruited 1613 MSM; 1129 men who had sex with casual partners and reported full data were included in this study. Potential sexual risk-taking in the preceding 12 months was indexed by number of casual partners (<10 vs ⩾10), unprotected anal intercourse with casual partners (UAI-C; no vs yes) and sexually transmitted infections (no vs yes).

Results: Potential sexual risk-taking with casual partners was highly prevalent in this online sample of MSM; 51.0% had 10 or more casual sex partners, 38.8% had engaged in UAI-C and 22.9% reported having had a sexually transmitted disease. Multivariate logistic regression analyses showed that sexual sensation seeking was significantly related to more risk-taking according to each outcome variable, while all effects of sexual self-control were significantly protective. As expected, sexual self-control attenuated the effects of high sexual sensation seeking on UAI-C, but not on numbers of partners and infection with a sexually transmitted infection.

Conclusions: Although MSM who are higher in sexual sensation seeking are more likely to engage in sexual risk-taking, some men successfully self-regulate the influence of their sexual desires on UAI-C. While men high in sexual self-control may spontaneously control their sexual desires, men low in sexual self-control may benefit from a generation of prevention tools that promote planning ahead of time.

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  • Funding: This study was funded by a grant from AIDS Fonds, the Netherlands (grant number 7018). The funding source had no involvement in study design; the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; the writing of the report or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

  • Competing interests: None.