Aaron T. Beck, the "father" of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, defines automatic thoughts as images or thought patterns present in an individual that result from core beliefs that are activated by a particular event or situation. These images, or thoughts, reflect the meaning that the individual attributes to the event and is deeply connected with an emotional and behavioral response in the individual (Pinto-Gouveia, 2008). Pinto-Gouveia (2008) conducted a study to compare the content of these automatic thoughts between sexually healthy individuals and individuals with a DSM-IV diagnosis of sexual dysfunction.
The study surveyed 491 individuals. One hundred sixty-three women and 232 men in the study did not have a sexual dysfunction while 47 women and 49 men had a current DSM-IV diagnosis of a sexual dysfunction. His hypothesis is that sexually healthy individuals focus their attention during sex on sexual and erotic material while individuals with sexual dysfunction focus their attention on non-sexual thoughts (Pinto-Gouveia, 2008).
The men in the study were assessed with The International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), and the women were assessed with The Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI). Both men and women were further assessed with the Sexual Modes Questionnaire (SMQ) that measures the thoughts, emotions, and sexual responses of individuals during sex. This latter scale has three subscales: Automatic Thoughts, Emotional Response, and Sexual Response (Pinto-Gouveia, 2008).
Pinto-Gouveia (2008) used a multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) to analyze the results of the study. He found that overall the individuals with diagnosed sexual dysfunction had more negative thought patterns during sexual activity than did those who had healthy sexual functioning. Men with a diagnosed sexual dysfunction reported more thoughts related erectile concerns, anticipation of failure, and lack of erotic thoughts/images. Women with a diagnosed sexual dysfunction reported more thoughts related to failure and disengagement, sexual abuse (ex. “he only wants to satisfy himself”, etc.), and lack of erotic thoughts/images. These results in both the men and women were significantly stronger than those reported by individuals with healthy sexual functioning.
Pinto-Gouveia (2008) noted that both women and men reported significantly more negative thought patterns during sex as well as thoughts of failure and a lack of erotic thoughts/images. He states that “cognitive distraction from erotic cues is strongly associated with sexual dysfunction”. He also recommends Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and a positive treatment for individuals with sexual dysfunction. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves closely looking at these automatic thoughts and connecting them to the core beliefs they are associated with. These automatic thoughts are looked at in depth as they relate to the emotions and behaviors that they elicit. Clients are helped to make connections between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and are guided to explore how these thoughts help them and how they may hurt them. Often clients come to new thoughts and adjustments in their core beliefs which directly impacts their emotions and behaviors.
Pinto-Gouveia, José 1, J. (2008). Differences in Automatic Thoughts Presented During Sexual Activity Between Sexually Functional and Dysfunctional Men and Women. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(1), 37-49.
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