Your heart rate increases, you try to catch your breath, and your face feels hot and flushed. In the context of standing in front of a crowd about to give a speech, you may interpret these sensations as sensations of anxiety. In the context of a candle lit room with a scantily clad significant other, perhaps these are interpreted as sensations of sexual arousal. But what if these sensations occurred in a situation involving both, elements of anxiety and sex? How is that situation interpreted, and how does this interpretation affect sexual arousal?

Our goal is to improve our understanding of the multifaceted links between sexual response and anxiety. In our recent large-scale review article (Kane et al., 2019), we found many gaps in the empirical research, suggesting that the interrelationship between anxiety and sexual response is quite complex. Now, we want to fill some of the identified gaps. Specifically, we are interested in understanding when, why, and how people’s anxiety might enhance or inhibit different components of their sexual response (e.g., arousal, behaviours, satisfaction). We are particularly interested in understanding how a person’s experience of anxiety (e.g., anxiety related to sexual activity versus anxiety unrelated to but occurring during sexual activity; anxiety about sexual performance versus anxiety about personal safety), gender differences, and how other individual differences might impact their sexual response.

A strength of the SAX-RG is that we bring expertise from both the fields of anxiety (A. Ashbaugh, A Ouimet, K. Shaughnessy) and sexology (E. Reissing, K. Shaughnessy, S. Corsini-Munt) that will enable us to provide a more nuanced examination of these complex phenomena.

Current Activities

Our research is funded by the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences Research Groups grant to Andrea Ashbaugh (PI). With this funding, we are developing new studies that will examine how people’s interpretations (negative or positive) of physiological arousal responses influence their perceptions and willingness to remain in certain situations. In this study, we are asking: Are people who perceive physiological arousal to be an indication of as anxiety more likely to leave a situation, than those who perceive the same physiological arousal to be an indication of as sexual excitement? In general, do people’s perceptions and willingness differ depending on their general tendencies to interpret/view physiological arousal as negative versus positive? Are these relationships different in people with difficulties with sexual arousal compared to people without difficulties with sexual arousal?

We also are doing research funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Development Grant awarded to Krystelle Shaughnessy, (PI). With this funding, we are conducting a scoping review to explore how people higher in social anxiety may use new and emerging technologies for sexual interactions or communications. We are interested in whether technology-mediated sexual interactions (TMSI; sexting, phone sex, or cybersex) are helpful or harmful for people high in social anxiety. Upon completion of the scoping review, we will conduct an exploratory survey.


All members of the research team highly value student training and development. As a group, we aim to support undergraduate and graduate student development through active research opportunities. Students who join the SAX-RG will gain valuable transferable skills by being involved in research, collaboration, and knowledge mobilization activities. Student opportunities vary from project to project; these are consistent with student skills, knowledge, and training goals.

One of the SAX-RG professors will be the primary supervisor for students who become involved in SAX-RG work. Interested students are invited to review information about opportunities below, and/or on each of the SAX-RG faculty members’ websites.

Currently, there are undergraduate student opportunities to work with Dr. Krystelle Shaughnessy on the SSHRC funded survey study examining the role of social anxiety on technology-mediated sexual interactions and their outcomes. This opportunity is ideal for a 2020-21 Psychology Honour’s thesis student. Dr. Shaughnessy also will consider UROP, directed research, and volunteers for roles on this project. To express your interest, please visit the "Get Involved" webpage on the INSITE lab website.

Knowledge Sharing

The SAX-RG currently is busy designing research and completing data collection. We plan to mobilize our new knowledge in the future. Please check back here in summer 2020 for updates.

To learn more about the SAX-RG faculty members' research, you can read their individual laboratory websites at the following links:

  1. Cognition and Anxiety Studies Laboratory Website
  2. Individual and Social Influences of Technology Laboratory Website
  3. Human Sexuality Research Laboratory Website
  4. Cognition and Anxiety Disorders Research Laboratory Website 

You can also follow some of us, or our laboratories, on social media (primarily in English):

  1. The INSITE lab’s Twitter and the INSITE lab’s Instagram
  2. Dr. Allison Ouimet’s Twitter
  3. Dr. Serena Corsini-Munt’s Twitter
  4. Dr. Elke Reissing’s Twitter
Back to top