Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 5, pp 1161–1179 | Cite as

The Specificity of Women’s Sexual Response and Its Relationship with Sexual Orientations: A Review and Ten Hypotheses

  • Meredith L. ChiversEmail author
Target Article


Category-specific sexual response describes a pattern wherein the individual shows significantly greater responses to preferred versus nonpreferred categories of sexual stimuli; this pattern is described as gender specific for sexual orientation to gender, or gender nonspecific if lacking response differentiation by gender cues. Research on the gender specificity of women’s sexual response has consistently produced sexual orientation effects, such that androphilic women (sexually attracted to adult males) typically show gender-nonspecific patterns of genital response and gynephilic women (sexually attracted to adult females) show more gender-specific responses. As research on the category specificity of sexual response has grown, this pattern has also been observed for other measures of sexual response. In this review, I use the Incentive Motivation and Information Processing Models as complementary frameworks to organize the empirical literature examining the gender specificity of women’s sexual response at each stage of sexual stimulus processing and response. Collectively, these data disconfirm models of sexual orientation that equate androphilic women’s sexual attractions with their sexual responses to sexual stimuli. I then discuss 10 hypotheses that might explain variability in the specificity of sexual response among androphilic and gynephilic women, and conclude with recommendations for future research on the (non)specificity of sexual response.


Women Sexual arousal Sexual desire Sexual psychophysiology Genital response Sexual orientation 



Portions of this article were presented at the 2015 Puzzles of Sexual Orientation Workshop, Lethbridge, Alberta, with travel supported by a meeting grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (Grant No. 386198-10) awarded to the author. Many thanks to Samantha Dawson, Jackie Huberman, Michael Seto, Kelly Suschinsky, and Amanda Timmers for their comments on a previous version of this article. Special thanks to Paul Vasey for his thoughtful and meticulous editorial work. Last, heartfelt thanks to all the people who have participated in these studies and made significant contributions to the science of sexual response; without your participation, none of this work is possible.


Travel to attend the Puzzle of Sexual Orientation meeting was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada and a meeting grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

The material contained in this article is a review of previously published or presented data. This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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