Original Paper

Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 417-426

First online:

Sex-Specific Content Preferences for Visual Sexual Stimuli

  • Heather A. RuppAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Emory UniversityThe Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction and Department of Biology, Indiana University Email author 
  • , Kim WallenAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Emory University

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Although experimental studies support that men generally respond more to visual sexual stimuli than do women, there is substantial variability in this effect. One potential source of variability is the type of stimuli used that may not be of equal interest to both men and women whose preferences may be dependent upon the activities and situations depicted. The current study investigated whether men and women had preferences for certain types of stimuli. We measured the subjective evaluations and viewing times of 15 men and 30 women (15 using hormonal contraception) to sexually explicit photos. Heterosexual participants viewed 216 pictures that were controlled for the sexual activity depicted, gaze of the female actor, and the proportion of the image that the genital region occupied. Men and women did not differ in their overall interest in the stimuli, indicated by equal subjective ratings and viewing times, although there were preferences for specific types of pictures. Pictures of the opposite sex receiving oral sex were rated as least sexually attractive by all participants and they looked longer at pictures showing the female actor’s body. Women rated pictures in which the female actor was looking indirectly at the camera as more attractive, while men did not discriminate by female gaze. Participants did not look as long at close-ups of genitals, and men and women on oral contraceptives rated genital images as less sexually attractive. Together, these data demonstrate sex-specific preferences for specific types of stimuli even when, across stimuli, overall interest was comparable.


Sexual stimuli Sex differences Viewing time Oral contraceptives