Sexual Discounting: A Systematic Review of Discounting Processes and Sexual Behavior

Matthew W. Johnson, Justin C. Strickland, Evan S. Herrmann, Sean B. Dolan, David J. Cox, Meredith S. Berry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Behavioral processes underlying sexual behavior are important for understanding normal human functioning and risk behavior leading to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This systematic review examines delay and probability discounting in human sexual behavior through synthesis of 50 peerreviewed, original research articles. Sixteen studies focusing exclusively on monetary delay discounting found small effect size positive correlations with sexual risk behaviors. Eleven studies examined delay or probability discounting of sexual behavior itself using tasks that varied duration, frequency, or quality of sex to determine value. Results show delay and uncertainty of sex causes systematic decreases in value. These studies also show consistent medium effect size relationships between sexual discounting measures and sexual health and substance use, supporting utility above and beyond monetary discounting. Twenty-three studies have modeled clinically relevant decision-making, examining effects of delay until condom availability and STI contraction probability on condom use. Observational and experimental designs found condom-use discounting is elevated in high-risk substance use populations, is sensitive to context (e.g., partner desirability), and is more robustly related to sexual risk compared with monetary discounting or condom use decisions when no delay/uncertainty was involved. Administering cocaine, alcohol, and, for some participants, methamphetamine increased condom-use discounting with minimal effect on monetary discounting or condom use when no delay/uncertainty was involved. Reviewed studies robustly support that sexual behavior is highly dependent on delay and probability discounting, and that these processes strongly contribute to sexual risk. Future research should exploit these systematic relationships to design behavioral and pharmacological approaches to decrease sexual risk behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalExperimental and clinical psychopharmacology
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Condom
  • Decision-making
  • Delay discounting
  • HIV
  • STI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Sexual Discounting: A Systematic Review of Discounting Processes and Sexual Behavior'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this