Death, sex, love, and neuroticism: Why is sex such a problem?

Jamie L. Goldenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, Shannon K. McCoy, Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


Terror management theory posits that sex is a ubiquitous human problem because the creaturely aspects of sex make apparent our animal nature, which reminds us of our vulnerability and mortality. People minimize this threat by investing in the symbolic meaning offered by the cultural worldview. Because people high in neuroticism have difficulty finding or sustaining meaning, sex is a particular problem for them. In Study 1, mortality salience caused high-neuroticism participants to find the physical aspects of sex less appealing. Study 2 revealed that for such individuals thoughts of physical sex increase the accessibility of death-related thoughts. This finding was replicated in Study 3, which also showed that providing meaning by associating sex with love reduces the accessibility of death-related thoughts in response to thoughts of physical sex. These findings provide insight into why people high in neuroticism have conflicting thoughts about sexuality and why sexuality is so often regulated and romanticized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1173-1187
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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