New research discovers that the genders differ in their physiological responses to mental sexual arousal.
Queen’s University Psychology professor Meredith Chivers found men’s reports of feeling sexually aroused tend to match their physiological responses, while women’s mind and body responses are less aligned.
“We wanted to discover how closely people’s subjective experience of sexual arousal mirrors their physiological genital response – and whether this differs between men and women,” says Dr. Chivers, an expert in human sexual response.
Although a gender difference has been reported in individual studies of sexual arousal, until now there has been no systematic analysis.
The Queen’s study is published on-line in the international journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior.
The researchers looked at 134 studies, published between 1969 and 2007, involving more than 2,500 women and 1,900 men. Participants were asked how aroused they felt during and after exposure to a variety of sexual stimuli.
This subjective measure of arousal was compared with physiological responses: changes in penile erection for men and changes in genital blood flow for women.
The men’s subjective ratings more closely matched their physiological measures than the women’s; men’s brain and bodies were almost always in agreement, while there was more often a reported inconsistency between women’s bodies and minds.
The researchers then looked at factors in the studies that might shed some light on this gender difference. They identified two methodological differences, in particular, that may play a role.
The content and presentation (e.g., visually or as an audio recording) of sexual stimuli made no difference to how well the subjective and physiological responses mirrored each other in men.
However, it did influence women’s responses. Women exposed to a greater range and number of sexual stimuli – content and presentation – were more likely to have stronger agreement between subjective and physiological responses.
The timing of the assessment of self-reported sexual arousal also had an effect. When participants were asked to rate their subjective arousal at the end of each stimulus, men’s responses were closer to one another than women’s.
However, when both men and women were asked to rate their arousal when they were exposed to the stimulus, the gender difference disappeared because men’s concordance dropped to the range of women’s.
“Understanding measures of arousal is paramount to further theoretical and practical advances in the study of human sexuality,” Dr. Chivers says.
“Our results have implications for the assessment of sexual arousal, the nature of gender differences in sexual arousal, and models of sexual response.”
Source: Queen’s University