Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 559–573 | Cite as

Sex Differences in Patterns of Genital Sexual Arousal: Measurement Artifacts or True Phenomena?

  • Kelly D. SuschinskyEmail author
  • Martin L. Lalumière
  • Meredith L. Chivers
Original Paper


Sex differences in patterns of sexual arousal have been reported recently. Men’s genital arousal is typically more category-specific than women’s, such that men experience their greatest genital arousal to stimuli depicting their preferred sex partners whereas women experience significant genital arousal to stimuli depicting both their preferred and non-preferred sex partners. In addition, men’s genital and subjective sexual arousal patterns are more concordant than women’s: The correlation between genital and subjective sexual arousal is much larger in men than in women. These sex differences could be due to low response-specificity in the measurement of genital arousal in women. The most commonly used measure of female sexual arousal, vaginal photoplethysmography, has not been fully validated and may not measure sexual arousal specifically. A total of 20 men and 20 women were presented with various sexual and non-sexual emotionally laden short film clips while their genital and subjective sexual arousal were measured. Results suggest that vaginal photoplethysmography is a measure of sexual arousal exclusively. Women’s genital responses were highest during sexual stimuli and absent during all non-sexual stimuli. Sex differences in degree of category-specificity and concordance were replicated: Men’s genital responses were more category-specific than women’s and men’s genital and subjective sexual arousal were more strongly correlated than women’s. The results from the current study support the continued use of vaginal photoplethysmography in investigating sex differences in patterns of sexual arousal.


Vaginal photoplethysmography Phallometry Category-specificity Concordance Sex differences 



This article is based on research conducted by the first author to fulfill requirements for a master’s degree. Financial support was provided through a Canada Graduate Scholarship (Master’s) awarded to the first author and a Standard Research Grant awarded to the second author by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We thank Grant Harris, Michael Seto, Vern Quinsey, Doug VanderLaan, Paul Vasey, and Rob Williams for helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. Also, we would like to thank the participants.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kelly D. Suschinsky
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martin L. Lalumière
    • 1
  • Meredith L. Chivers
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of LethbridgeLethbridgeCanada
  2. 2.Law and Mental Health ProgramCentre for Addiction and Mental HealthTorontoCanada

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