Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 171–186

Psychophysiological and endocrine responses to sexual arousal in women

  • Julia R. Heiman
  • David L. Rowland
  • John P. Hatch
  • Brian A. Gladue

DOI: 10.1007/BF01541942

Cite this article as:
Heiman, J.R., Rowland, D.L., Hatch, J.P. et al. Arch Sex Behav (1991) 20: 171. doi:10.1007/BF01541942


The unexplored possibility that a sexually induced endocrine response might prime further sexual arousal in women guided the current investigation. Healthy, premenopausal, heterosexual women in the follicular phase of their menstrual cycle were randomly assigned to either an experimental or a control group. The experimental group was exposed to a sexually explicit videotape, while the control group saw a nonerotic videotape. Ninety minutes later both groups saw a sexually explicit videotape. Vaginal vasocongestion and hormones (cortisol, prolactin, luteinizing hormone, testosterone) were measured continuously and subjective responses were sampled at 20-min intervals. Compared to controls, experimental subjects showed a greater amplitude and longer duration vaginal response to the second videotape. Subjective measures showed greater sexual response to the second erotic videotape compared to the first, an effect that was not mediated by the hormones measured here. Prolactin decreased significantly across the session for both groups, and several behavioral and affective responses were significantly correlated with hormonal levels. Commonalities and divergence with results of prior research point to the complexity and subtlety of endocrine interactions with sexual response as well as likely sex differences in hormone—behavioral interactions.

Key words

psychophysiology endocrine response female sexual arousal 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia R. Heiman
    • 1
  • David L. Rowland
    • 2
  • John P. Hatch
    • 3
  • Brian A. Gladue
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of Washington Medical School, Harborview CMHC ZA-31SeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyValparaiso UniversityValparaisoUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryThe University of Texas Health Science Center at San AntonioSan AntonioUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyNorth Dakota State UniversityFargoUSA

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