Effects of Gender and Relationship Context in Audio Narratives on Genital and Subjective Sexual Response in Heterosexual Women and Men
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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.
KeywordsSexual arousal Sexual orientation Gender difference Photoplethysmography Relationship context
Many thanks to Teresa Grimbos and to the study participants for their invaluable assistance in completing this study. Thanks also to Kelly Suschinsky, Jim Pfaus, and Michael Seto for their comments on an earlier version of this manuscript, and to Ray Blanchard for his guidance. This research was supported by post-doctoral fellowship grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and an Ontario Council on Graduate Studies Women’s Health Scholar Award, awarded to the first author. Versions of this article were presented at the following meetings: the University of Lethbridge Workshop, The Puzzle of Sexual Orientation: What Is It and How Does It Work?, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, June 2010; the World Congress of the International Society for Sexual Medicine, Seoul, South Korea, September, 2010; the meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research, Los Angeles, August 2011.
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