Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 417–426 | Cite as

Sex-Specific Content Preferences for Visual Sexual Stimuli

Original Paper


Although experimental studies support that men generally respond more to visual sexual stimuli than do women, there is substantial variability in this effect. One potential source of variability is the type of stimuli used that may not be of equal interest to both men and women whose preferences may be dependent upon the activities and situations depicted. The current study investigated whether men and women had preferences for certain types of stimuli. We measured the subjective evaluations and viewing times of 15 men and 30 women (15 using hormonal contraception) to sexually explicit photos. Heterosexual participants viewed 216 pictures that were controlled for the sexual activity depicted, gaze of the female actor, and the proportion of the image that the genital region occupied. Men and women did not differ in their overall interest in the stimuli, indicated by equal subjective ratings and viewing times, although there were preferences for specific types of pictures. Pictures of the opposite sex receiving oral sex were rated as least sexually attractive by all participants and they looked longer at pictures showing the female actor’s body. Women rated pictures in which the female actor was looking indirectly at the camera as more attractive, while men did not discriminate by female gaze. Participants did not look as long at close-ups of genitals, and men and women on oral contraceptives rated genital images as less sexually attractive. Together, these data demonstrate sex-specific preferences for specific types of stimuli even when, across stimuli, overall interest was comparable.


Sexual stimuli Sex differences Viewing time Oral contraceptives 


  1. Alexander, M. G., & Fisher, T. D. (2003). Truth and consequences: Using the bogus pipeline to examine sex differences in self-reported sexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 40, 27–35.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bancroft, J., Sherwin, B. B., Alexander, G., Davidson, D. W., & Walker, A. (1991). Oral contraceptives, androgens, and the sexuality of young women: A comparison of sexual experience, sexual attitudes, and gender role in oral contraceptive users and nonusers. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 20, 105–120.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Brown, M. (1979). Viewing time of pornography. Journal of Psychology, 102, 83–95.Google Scholar
  4. Carlstrom, K., Lunell, N. O., & Zador, G. (1978). Serum levels of FSH, LH, estradiol-17 beta, and progesterone following the administration of a combined oral contraception containing 20 micrograms ethinylestradiol. Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation, 9, 304–311.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chivers, M. L., Rieger, G., Latty, E., & Bailey, J. M. (2004). A sex difference in the specificity of arousal. Psychological Science, 15, 736–744.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Chivers, M. L., Seto, M. C., & Blanchard, R. (2007). Gender and sexual orientation differences in sexual response to sexual activities versus gender of actors in sexual films. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 1108–1121.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Costa, M., Braun, C., & Birbaumer, N. (2003). Gender differences in response to pictures of nudes: A magnetoencephalographic study. Biological Psychology, 63, 129–147.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Graham, C. A., Bancroft, J., Doll, H. A., Greco, T., & Tanner, A. (2007). Does oral contraceptive-induced reduction in free testosterone adversely affect the sexuality or mood of women? Psychoneuroendocrinology, 32, 246–255.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Hamann, S., Herman, R. A., Nolan, C. L., & Wallen, K. (2004). Men and women differ in amygdala response to visual sexual stimuli. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Harris, G. T., Rice, M. E., Quinsey, V. L., & Chaplin, T. C. (1996). Viewing time as a measure of sexual interest among child molesters and normal heterosexual men. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 34, 389–394.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Hendrick, S., & Hendrick, C. (1987). Multidimensionality of sexual attitudes. Journal of Sex Research, 23, 502–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Israel, E., & Strassberg, D. S. (2007). Viewing time as an objective measure of sexual interest in heterosexual men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi:10.1007/s10508-007-9246-4.
  13. Janssen, E., Carpenter, D., & Graham, C. A. (2003). Selecting films for sex research: Gender differences in erotic film preferences. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 243–251.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Laan, E., Everaerd, W., van Bellen, G., & Hanewald, G. (1994). Women’s sexual and emotional responses to male- and female-produced erotica. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 23, 153–169.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., & Cuthbert, B. N. (2005). International Affective Picture System (IAPS): Instruction manual and affective ratings (Tech. Rep. No. A-6). Gainesville: University of Florida.Google Scholar
  16. Laws, D. R., & Gress, C. L. Z. (2004). Seeing things differently: The viewing time alternative to penile plethysmography. Law and Criminal Psychology, 9, 183–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lykins, A. D., Meana, M., & Kambe, G. (2006). Detection of differential viewing patterns to erotic and non-erotic stimuli using eye-tracking methodology. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 569–575.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Lykins, A. D., Meana, M., & Strauss, G. P. (2008). Sex differences in visual attention to erotic and non-erotic stimuli. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 219–228.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Money, J., & Ehrhardt, A. A. (1972). Man and woman, boy and girl: The differentiation and dimorphism of gender identity from conception to maturity. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Murnen, S. K., & Stockton, M. (1997). Gender and self-reported arousal in response to sexual stimuli: A meta-analytic review. Sex Roles, 37, 135–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Quinsey, V. L., Ketsetzis, M., Earls, C., & Karamanoukian, A. (1996). Viewing time as a measure of sexual interest. Ethology and Sociobiology, 17, 341–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Rupp, H. A., & Wallen, K. (2007a). Sex differences in viewing sexual stimuli: An eye-tracking study in men and women. Hormones and Behavior, 51, 524–533.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Rupp, H. A., & Wallen, K. (2007b). Relationship between testosterone and interest in sexual stimuli: The effect of experience. Hormones and Behavior, 52, 581–589.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Rupp, H. A., & Wallen, K. (2008). Sex differences in response to visual sexual stimuli: A review. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 206–218.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Schmidt, G. (1975). Male-female differences in sexual arousal and behavior during and after exposure to sexually explicit stimuli. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 4, 353–365.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Steinman, D. L., Wincze, J. P., Sakheim, D. K., Barlow, D. H., & Mavissakalian, M. (1981). A comparison of male and female patterns of sexual arousal. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 10, 529–547.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Taylor, J. F., Rosen, R. C., & Leiblum, S. R. (1994). Self-report assessment of female sexual function: Psychometric evaluation of the Brief Index of Sexual Functioning for women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 23, 627–643.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction and Department of BiologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations