, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 185-197

Effects of Gender and Relationship Context in Audio Narratives on Genital and Subjective Sexual Response in Heterosexual Women and Men

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Abstract

Previous research suggests that heterosexual women’s sexual arousal patterns are nonspecific; heterosexual women demonstrate genital arousal to both preferred and nonpreferred sexual stimuli. These patterns may, however, be related to the intense and impersonal nature of the audiovisual stimuli used. The current study investigated the gender specificity of heterosexual women’s sexual arousal in response to less intense sexual stimuli, and also examined the role of relationship context on both women’s and men’s genital and subjective sexual responses. Assessments were made of 43 heterosexual women’s and 9 heterosexual men’s genital and subjective sexual arousal to audio narratives describing sexual or neutral encounters with female and male strangers, friends, or long-term relationship partners. Consistent with research employing audiovisual sexual stimuli, men demonstrated a category-specific pattern of genital and subjective arousal with respect to gender, while women showed a nonspecific pattern of genital arousal, yet reported a category-specific pattern of subjective arousal. Heterosexual women’s nonspecific genital response to gender cues is not a function of stimulus intensity or relationship context. Relationship context did significantly affect women’s genital sexual arousal—arousal to both female and male friends was significantly lower than to the stranger and long-term relationship contexts—but not men’s. These results suggest that relationship context may be a more important factor in heterosexual women’s physiological sexual response than gender cues.