Scientists test a novel scale for quantifying sexual desire and erotic fantasies

In a recent study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research, researchers in Italy developed and tested the psychometric properties of the Sexual Desire and Erotic Fantasies questionnaire - Part 1 Sexual Desire (SDEF1) in 1,773 Italian participants. They found that the SDEF1 has a robust six-dimensional factorial structure, good psychometric properties, and can be useful to differentiate sexual desire levels across genders and between individuals with and without sexual difficulties.

Study: Sexual desire and erotic fantasies questionnaire: development and validation of the sexual desire scale (SDEF1). Image Credit: Aloha Hawaii / ShutterstockStudy: Sexual desire and erotic fantasies questionnaire: development and validation of the sexual desire scale (SDEF1). Image Credit: Aloha Hawaii / Shutterstock

Background

Sexual desire, a complex psychological state influenced by internal and external stimuli, motivates sexual behavior. Traditional measures often overlook the multidimensional nature of desire, focusing instead on desire outputs like frequency of sexual activity. Existing tools do not consider different sociocultural contexts and tend to represent diverse sexual identities and expressions inadequately. In the present study, researchers aimed to validate the Sexual Desire and Erotic Fantasies questionnaire - Part 1 Sexual Desire (SDEF1), a tool designed to assess various dimensions of sexual desire, including spontaneous and responsive aspects, in a sex-positive and inclusive manner. They evaluated SDEF1's psychometric properties, such as internal reliability, construct validity, and discriminant validity. They also investigated the associations between sexual desire dimensions measured by SDEF1 and sociodemographic variables, sexual functioning, gender, and sexual orientation differences within a cohort from the Italian general population. The aim was to provide a comprehensive tool for clinical assessment of sexual desire and related disorders.

About the study

A total of 1,773 participants (645 men, 1,105 women, 3 transgender, 9 non-binary, and 11 other genders) were randomly divided into two groups for exploratory (n = 887) and confirmatory factorial analyses (n = 886), balanced by age, gender, and sexual orientation. The mean age of the participants was 29.31 years. Data were collected via an online survey between February 2019 and December 2020. The survey included a sociodemographic questionnaire and the SDEF1. Additionally, participants completed the Sexual Desire Inventory-2 (SDI-2), International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), and Marlowe–Crowne Social Desirability Scale-Short Form (MCSDS–SF) to assess validity and reliability. While the SDI-2 measures dyadic and solitary sexual desire, the IIEF and FSFI assess overall sexual function and specific domains, and the MCSDS–SF measures social desirability bias. It is important to note that the Italian version of the IIEF used in the study had not been previously validated. Statistical analysis involved the use of principal component analysis, confirmatory factor analysis, Cronbach's alpha coefficient, composite reliability, average variance extracted, Pearson's correlation, and multivariate analyses of covariance.

Results and discussion

Six factors were identified from the initial 43 items in SDEF1, retaining 28 items. The six factors were: Sexual desire (F1), negative feelings about sexual desire (F2), autoerotic desire (F3), regular partner desire (F4), attractive person desire (F5), and responsive desire (F6). "Sexual desire" reflected the overall self-perceived level of sexual arousal, encompassing various activities such as kissing and intercourse. "Negative feelings to sexual desire" captured distress and attempts to control or reduce sexual desire, indicating higher levels of associated distress. "Autoerotic desire" focused on satisfaction with solitary sexual activities like masturbation. "Regular partner desire" measured satisfaction with sexual activities involving a consistent partner or friend-with-benefits. "Attractive person desire" gauged desire for sexual activities with someone other than a regular partner, emphasizing attraction dynamics. Further, "responsive desire" reflected receptivity to a partner's sexual advances and the ability to transition from neutral to aroused states with sufficient stimuli, aligning with responsive sexual desire concepts. Higher scores implied a greater level of self-reported sexual desire or responsiveness in those domains.

The structure was validated, confirming good model fit and internal consistency. Factors showed significant correlations, except between F3 and F4, and demonstrated adequate convergent and discriminant validity with other sexual assessment tools. Sociodemographic factors like age and relationship status correlated with different dimensions of sexual desire. SDEF1 dimensions also differentiated between clinical and non-clinical sexual function scores. Gender and sexual orientation differences were evident. Compared to women, men showed significantly higher desire in all factors except for the desire for a regular partner, where both genders showed comparable scores. The desire for autoerotic activity was the factor most able to differentiate among genders, accounting for 11.7% of the variance explained.

The study highlights SDEF1's reliability in measuring sexual desire across diverse populations, confirming its robustness and relevance for clinical and research applications. However, the study's limitations include a non-representative sample, potential falsification by respondents, lack of test-retest reliability, need for further invariance exploration, use of an unvalidated measure (IIEF), and the potential impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdown on sexual experiences. The influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on participants' sexual experiences is an important context to consider.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the study advances our understanding of sexual desire by examining its specific areas and connections with sexual functioning across genders and orientations. The results confirm the utility of SDEF1 as a valid and reliable measurement tool, comparable to other common questionnaires. The SDEF1 is recommended for use in clinical and research settings to assess various dimensions of sexual desire.

Journal reference:
  • Sexual desire and erotic fantasies questionnaire: development and validation of the sexual desire scale (SDEF1). Nimbi, F.M. et al., International Journal of Impotence Research (2024), DOI: 10.1038/s41443-024-00942-2,  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41443-024-00942-2 
Dr. Sushama R. Chaphalkar

Written by

Dr. Sushama R. Chaphalkar

Dr. Sushama R. Chaphalkar is a senior researcher and academician based in Pune, India. She holds a PhD in Microbiology and comes with vast experience in research and education in Biotechnology. In her illustrious career spanning three decades and a half, she held prominent leadership positions in academia and industry. As the Founder-Director of a renowned Biotechnology institute, she worked extensively on high-end research projects of industrial significance, fostering a stronger bond between industry and academia.  

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