The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Variation in health-protective sexual behavior may be influenced by individual differences in self-perceived health, immunity, and disgust: A cross-cultural examination


1Anthropology, Boston University, 2Psychology, Franklin & Marshall College, 3Psychology, Nipissing University

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Previous researchers have hypothesized that the behavioral immune system functions to limit exposure to potentially infectious contexts and persons. Several studies have shown that higher disgust is associated with lower sociosexuality; however, no studies have yet shown whether self-reported and/or biological measures of health regulate this association. We predict that individuals in poorer health (i.e. low self-reported health, low mucosal immunity) will show greater health-protective behavior (i.e. greater disgust levels and lower sociosexual attitude, desire and behavior). We explore these relationships in three populations: a US university sample (N=119), a global online sample (N=520), and a Salvadorean sample (N=100). All participants answered questions related to health, disgust, and sociosexuality; however, US men also contributed saliva, from which secretory IgA (sIgA; a measure of mucosal immunity) was assayed. In the US, both sIgA and self-reported general health predicted pathogen disgust, while pathogen and sexual disgust predicted domains of sociosexuality. In the global online sample, general health predicted sexual disgust, and both general health and sexual disgust predicted two domains of sociosexuality. In El Salvador, general health did not predict disgust; however, sexual disgust predicted all domains of sociosexuality—providing the first evidence of this association outside of a Western context. Across samples, our results provide support for the hypothesis that individual differences in health and disgust are related to sociosexuality. Overall, these findings add to the literature on the behavioral immune system; that is, variation in health-protective behavior may be influenced by individual differences in self-perceived health, immunity, and disgust.