Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 43, Issue 5, pp 931–940 | Cite as

Specificity of Sexual Arousal for Sexual Activities in Men and Women with Conventional and Masochistic Sexual Interests

  • Meredith L. ChiversEmail author
  • Carolyn Roy
  • Teresa Grimbos
  • James M. Cantor
  • Michael C. Seto
Original Paper


Prior studies consistently report that men’s genital responses correspond to their sexual activity interests (consenting vs. coercive sex) whereas women’s responses do not. For women, however, these results may be confounded by the sexual activities studied and lack of suitable controls. We examined the subjective and genital arousal responses of men and women with conventional (22 men and 15 women) or masochistic sexual interests (16 men and 17 women) to narratives describing conventional sex or masochistic sex. The aims of the studies were twofold: (1) to examine whether gender differences in the specificity of sexual arousal previously observed for gender also exist for sexual activity interests; and (2) to examine whether men and women with masochistic sexual interests demonstrate specificity of sexual response for their preferred sexual activities. Surprisingly, the pattern of results was very similar for men and women. Both men and women with conventional sexual interests (WCI) reported more sexual arousal, and responded more genitally, to conventional than to masochistic sex, demonstrating specificity of sexual arousal for their preferred sexual activities. Despite showing specificity for conventional sexual activities, the genital responses of WCI were still gender nonspecific. In contrast, women and men with masochistic sexual interests demonstrated nonspecific subjective and genital responses to conventional and masochistic sex. Indices of genital and subjective sexual arousal to masochistic versus conventional stimuli were positively and significantly correlated with self-reported thoughts, fantasies, interests, and behaviors involving masochism. The results suggest that gender similarities in the specificity of sexual arousal for sexual activity exist despite consistent gender differences in the specificity of sexual arousal for gender.


Sexual arousal Sexual masochism Gender similarities Gender differences 



Many thanks to the study participants for their invaluable contribution to this research. Thanks also to Ray Blanchard, Heather Hoffman, Tom Hollenstein, Martin L. Lalumière, and Kelly Suschinsky for their comments on an earlier version of this article. This research was supported by a Queen’s University Senate Advisory Research Council grant awarded to the first author, and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant awarded to the last author (PI: Lalumière, M. L.). These data were presented at the following meetings: Society for Sex Therapy and Research, Boston, MA, April 2010; The University of Lethbridge Workshop, The Puzzle of Sexual Orientation: What Is It and How Does It Work?, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, June 2010; World Congress of the International Society of Sexual Medicine, Seoul, Korea, September 2010; International Academy of Sex Research, Los Angeles, CA, August 2011; Canadian Sex Research Forum, Ottawa, ON, September 2012; Canadian Psychological Association, Quebec, PQ, June 2013. We dedicate this article to the memory of Dr. Kurt Freund; as promised, we finally did this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meredith L. Chivers
    • 1
    Email author
  • Carolyn Roy
    • 2
  • Teresa Grimbos
    • 3
  • James M. Cantor
    • 4
    • 5
  • Michael C. Seto
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  3. 3.Applied Psychology and Human DevelopmentOntario Institute for Studies in Education/University of TorontoTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  5. 5.Law and Mental Health ProgramCentre for Addiction and Mental HealthTorontoCanada
  6. 6.Royal Ottawa Health Care GroupBrockvilleCanada

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