Original Paper

Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 63-71

First online:

Considering the Role of Conditioning in Sexual Orientation

  • Heather HoffmannAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Knox College Email author 

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The effects of learning on sexual orientation are rarely addressed in the literature. At the very least, such processes provide a means of elaborating upon orientation predispositions. Some aspects of our mates may inherently elicit a sexual response, but other attributes do so only after sexual experience with them. Animal research shows robust, direct effects of conditioning processes on partner preference with a few studies showing plasticity in preference for sex of partner. Descriptive research in humans suggests effects of experience on partner preference and, although experimental demonstrations of human sexual conditioning are neither numerous nor robust, sexual arousal is conditionable in women and men. With modern developments in learning theory (e.g., expectancy learning and evaluative conditioning), it seems appropriate to renew the investigation of contributions and limitations of conditioning processes to explaining how cues acquire erotic value and to attempt some integration between the sexual conditioning literature and research on sexual orientation or more generally sexual partner preference.


Sexual orientation Partner preference Expectancy learning Evaluative conditioning