Original Paper

Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 36, Issue 6, pp 793-807

First online:

Ambivalent Affect and Sexual Response: The Impact of Co-Occurring Positive and Negative Emotions on Subjective and Physiological Sexual Responses to Erotic Stimuli

  • Zoë D. PetersonAffiliated withThe Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Indiana University Email author 
  • , Erick JanssenAffiliated withThe Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Indiana UniversityDepartment of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University

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This study aimed to clarify the role of positive, negative, and ambivalent (i.e., co-occurring positive and negative) affect in predicting subjective sexual arousal, sexual desire, and genital response. A total of 26 women and 19 men observed three erotic film excerpts and a film excerpt depicting a coercive sexual encounter. Genital responses were recorded throughout the study, and participants rated their mood and subjective sexual arousal and desire following each excerpt. Results showed that positive affect was strongly and positively related to subjective sexual response. Although negative affect was generally a poor predictor of subjective sexual arousal, for women, it was positively associated with genital response in some conditions. Ambivalent affect was consistently associated with relatively high levels of subjective sexual arousal and desire. Results point to the importance of recognizing the role of ambivalent or mixed emotional states when evaluating the relationship between affect and sexual response.


Sexual arousal Sexual desire Affect Ambivalence Vaginal photoplethysmography Penile erection Psychophysiology