The Dark Triad of Sex: Psychopathy, Deviant Sexual Interests, and Gender

The Dark Triad of Sex: Psychopathy, Deviant Sexual Interests, and Gender

The present study examined associations between psychopathic traits and deviant sexual interests across gender in a community sample. The results reflect that there was a stronger association between the antisocial facet of psychopathy and deviant sexual interests in women, compared to men. Furthermore, the associations between the interpersonal facet of psychopathy and voyeuristic interests and between the lifestyle facet of psychopathy and sadistic interests were stronger in men. These findings suggest that, in the realm of deviant sexual interests, psychopathic traits may manifest differently in men and women. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | International Journal of Forensic Mental Health | 2018, Vol. 17, No. 3, 256-271

Psychopathic Traits and Deviant Sexual interests: The Moderating Role of Gender

Authors

Rob van Bommel, Department of Developmental Psychology, Tillburg University, Tillburg, The Netherlands
Kasia Uzieblo, Department of Applied Psychology, Thomas More University College, Antwerp, Belgium; Department of Experimental-Clinical & Health Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
Stefan Bogaerts, Department of Developmental Psychology, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands; Kijvelanden-Fivoor, Poortugaal, The Netherlands
Carlo Garofalo, Department of Developmental Psychology, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands

Abstract

The present study examined associations between psychopathic traits and deviant sexual interests across gender in a large community sample (N = 429, 24% men). Correlation analyses supported the positive link between psychopathic traits and deviant sexual interests. Regression analyses indicated that the unique variance in the antisocial facet of psychopathy predicted all six deviant sexual interests. The interpersonal facet predicted voyeuristic and exhibitionistic interests, whereas the affective facet predicted pedophilic interests. Moderation analyses revealed that gender moderated most of the relations between the antisocial facet of psychopathy and deviant sexual interests, such that those positive associations were stronger among women. On the contrary, the associations between the interpersonal facet and voyeuristic interests, as well as between the lifestyle facet and sadistic interests, were stronger among men. Findings appear to suggest that deviant sexual interests represent a domain in which the manifestation of psychopathic traits may differ across gender. These findings emphasize the relevance of psychopathic traits for the understanding and risk assessment of sexual deviance, while suggesting the need for gender-sensitive considerations.

Keywords

Psychopathy, sexual deviance, sexual fantasies, gender differences, paraphilia

Summary of the Research

“While sexual offenders generally report more deviant sexual interests than non-offenders…deviant sexual interests are also frequent in community samples…Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by a pervasive pattern of interpersonal, affective, and behavioral dysfunctions…Many studies on psychopathy have been conducted among detainees and forensic psychiatric patients, due to the relatively higher prevalence of psychopathic traits in such populations. Although the prevalence of clinically significant levels of psychopathy in the general population is relatively small, there is substantial evidence that psychopathy is best conceptualized as a dimensional construct and that individual differences in psychopathic traits are also present in the general population…” (p.256-257).

“In general, the associations between psychopathic traits and a variety of externalizing behavior (e.g., aggression, substance abuse, and impulsivity) seem quite similar for men and women…However, prior studies have also highlighted meaningful gender differences in the associations between psychopathy and specific forms of aggression, with women being more likely to use relational (or social) aggression, and men being more prone to use physical aggression…In the realm of externalizing behavior, psychopathy is also associated with deviant sexual behavior…although the association between psychopathy and deviant sexuality has been relatively understudied so far and also has produced mixed findings…In an attempt to advance research in this area, we examined associations between psychopathy facets and deviant sexual interests in a community sample, as well as the possible moderating effect of gender in these relations” (p.257-260).

“Overall, the present study extends prior findings that have mostly been focused on the more violent declensions of sexual deviance. Consistent with other recent studies…we showed that psychopathic traits are related to a broad range of sexual interests, in keeping with earlier research showing that offenders with psychopathic traits exhibited a more diverse profile of deviant sexual behavior compared to non-psychopathic offenders…Further, the present study provided novel findings on gender differences in the association between psychopathic traits and deviant sexual interests. Taken together, the main pattern appeared to show that associations between the antisocial facet of psychopathy and deviant sexual interests were significantly stronger among women, compared to men…suggesting that psychopathic traits may be related to greater interests about deviant sexual behavior among women, compared to men” (p.267).

“First, only in women, pedophilic, exhibitionistic, and rape sexual interests were related to the antisocial facet of personality. This may suggest that these deviant sexual interests particularly characterize the nomological network of psychopathy among women. Second, the association between the antisocial facet and sadistic interests was stronger among women, whereas the lifestyle facet of psychopathy was related to sadistic interests among men only. While largely exploratory in nature, these results appear to indicate that different mechanisms may explain sadistic interests across gender, calling for further investigation…Finally, voyeuristic interests were related to the antisocial facet of psychopathy among women only, but the relation between voyeuristic interests and the interpersonal facet of psychopathy was significant only among men” (p.267).

Translating Research into Practice

“…That is, future studies are needed to examine whether engaging in deviant sexual interests contributes to the development of psychopathic traits, whether psychopathic traits facilitate and increase the frequency and variety of deviant sexual interests, or whether a reciprocal relationship occurs over time. Nevertheless, our findings are consistent with [prior researchers’] claim that practitioners involved in treatment or risk assessment should take into account that psychopathic traits may be associated with a tendency to endorse deviant sexual interests that might remain unnoticed unless accurately scrutinized…” (p.267).

“These findings can inform forensic research by indicating that individuals with psychopathic traits may be more likely to nurture interest about deviant sexual behavior, which can in turn increase the risk for deviant sexual behavior…Further, these findings can inform future studies on deviant sexual interests across gender, showing that different personality traits might be related to sexual interests in men and women” (p.268).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“The present study…appears to suggest that women report to experience deviant sexual interests more often, and especially about sadistic, pedophilic, exhibitionistic, and rape-like contents. If replicated, these partly unexpected results would warrant further investigation on the mechanisms explaining gender differences in the endorsement of these deviant sexual interests. For instance, studies that emphasize culture and sexual socialization across gender could greatly advance existing knowledge” (p.265).

“…In summary, far from being a mere reflection of overt criminal behavior, the antisocial facet of psychopathy seemed related to interest in deviant sexuality that involves both a deviant activity and a deviant target, with stronger relationships with those deviant sexual interests that are both deviant and aggressive in nature (i.e., sadistic, pedophilic, and rape interests)…The interpersonal facet of psychopathy predicted voyeuristic and exhibitionistic interests, suggesting that these interests may not only be related to antisocial tendencies, but also to aspects such as grandiosity and interpersonal manipulation…Finally, pedophilic interest was associated with the affective facet of psychopathy, possibly indicating that this specific form of deviant sexual interests may not only be related to antisocial tendencies, but also to more pronounced disturbances in emotional functioning, involving callousness and a lack of empathy” (p.266).

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As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

Authored by Amber Lin

Amber Lin was a volunteer in Dr. Zapf’s research lab at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She graduated from New York University in 2013 with a B.A. (honors) and is a third year Masters student at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her research interests include forensic assessment, competency to stand trial, and the refinement of instruments used to assess the psychological states of criminal defendants.

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