Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 529–547 | Cite as

A comparison of male and female patterns of sexual arousal

  • Debra L. Steinman
  • John P. Wincze
  • Sakheim
  • David H. Barlow
  • Matig Mavissakalian


The structural patterns of sexual arousal are examined for eight male and eight female heterosexuals. Comparisons are made in terms of physiological and subjective arousal. The results indicate (1) that males and females differ in both the direction and magnitude of their arousal response to a variety of erotic stimuli and (2) that there is a stronger correspondence between subjective and physiological measures of sexual arousal for males than for females. A social acceptability and/or unacceptability theory is suggested to account for similarities and differences between the male and female structural patterns of arousal. Several methods of assessing subjective arousal are included to represent those most frequently used in clinical research settings. It is demonstrated that each of the subjective measures discriminates between erotic conditions and that the information provided by each of the measures are comparable.

Key words

sexual arousal social acceptability social unacceptability subjective measures sex differences 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Barlow, D. H. (1977). Assessment of sexual behavior. In Ciminero, A., Calhoun, K., and Adams, H. (eds.),Handbook of Behavioral Assessment Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  2. Barlow, D. H., Becker, R., Leitenberg, H., and Agras, W. S. (1970). A mechanical strain gauge for recording penile circumference change.J. Appl. Behav. Anal. 6: 355–367.Google Scholar
  3. Barr, R., and Blaszcyznski, A. (1976). Autonomic responses of transsexual and homosexual males to erotic film sequences.Arch. Sex. Behav. 5: 211–222.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Barr, R., Raphael, B., and Hennessey, N. (1974). Apparent heterosexuality in two male patients requesting change-of-sex operations.Arch. Sex. Behav. 3: 325–330.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bem, S. L. (1974). The measurement of psychological androgyny.J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 42: 155–162.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bentler, P. M. (1968a). Heterosexual behavior assessment—I. Males.Behav. Res. Ther. (1968b). 6= 21–25.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Bentler, P. M. (1968b). Heterosexual behavior assessment—II. Females.Behav. Res. Ther. 6: 27–30.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Blumstein, P. W., and Schwartz, P. (1976). Bisexuality in women.Arch. Sex. Behav. 5: 171–181.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Conrad, S., and Wincze, J. (1976). Orgasmic reconditioning: A controlled study of its effects upon the sexual arousal and behavior of adult male homosexuals.Behav. Ther. 7: 155–166.Google Scholar
  10. Freund, K. (1957). Diagnostika homosexuality umuzu.Cesk. Psychiat. 53: 382–393.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Gagnon, J. H., and Simon, W. (1973).Sexual Conduct. Aldine, Chicago.Google Scholar
  12. Geer, J., Morokoff, P., and Greenwood, P. (1974). Sexual arousal in women: The development of a measurement device for vaginal blood volume.Arch. Sex. Behav. 3: 559–564.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Heiman, J. (1975). Use of the vaginal photophythesmograph as a diagnostic and treatment device in female sexual dysfunction. Paper delivered at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Chicago.Google Scholar
  14. Heiman, J. R. (1978). A psychosiological exploration of sexual arousal patterns in females and males.Psychophysiology 14: 266–274.Google Scholar
  15. Henson, D., Rubin, H., Henson, C., and Williams, J. (1977). Temperature change of the labia minora as an objective measure of female eroticism.J. Behav. Ther. Exp. Psychiat. 4: 401–410.Google Scholar
  16. Hoon, E., and Hoon, P. Sexual arousability: Differences between males and females on a self-report measure. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  17. Hoon, E. F., Hoon, P. W., and Wincze, J. P. (1976). An inventory for the measurement of female sexual arousability: The SAI.Arch. Sex. Behav. 5: 291–300.Google Scholar
  18. Hoon, P., Wincze, J., and Hoon, E. (1976). Physiological assessment of sexual arousal in women.Psychophysiology 11: 196–204.Google Scholar
  19. Izard, C., and Caplan, S. (1974). Sex differences in emotional responses to erotic literature.J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 42: 468.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Katchadourian, H. A., and Martin, J. A. (1979). Analyses of human sexual behavior. In Katchadourian, H. A. (ed.),Human Sexuality: A Comparative and Developmental Perspective. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  21. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., and Martin, C. (1948).Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. W. B. Saunders, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  22. Kinsey, A., Pomeroy, W., Martin, C., and Gebhard, P. (1953).Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. W. B. Saunders, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  23. Mavissakalian, M., Blanchard, E., Abel, G., and Barlow, D. (1975). Responses to complex erotic stimuli in homosexual and heterosexual males.Brit. J. Psychiat. 126: 252–257.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. McConaghy, H. (1969). Subjective and penile phethysmographic responses following aversion therapy for homosexual impulses.Brit. J. Psychit. 115: 723–730.Google Scholar
  25. Morin, S. F., and Garfinkle, E. M. (1978). Male homophobia.J. Soc. Issues 34: 29–47.Google Scholar
  26. Mosher, D. L., and Abramson, P. R. (1977). Subjective sexual arousal to films of masturbation.J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 45: 796–807.Google Scholar
  27. Mosher, D. L., and O'Grady, K. E. (1979). Homosexual threat, negative attitudes toward masturbation, sex guilt, and males' sexual and affective reactions to explicit sexual films.J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 47: 860–873.Google Scholar
  28. Sanford, D. A. (1974). Patterns of sexual arousal in heterosexual males.J. Sex. Res. 10: 150–155.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Schmidt, G. (1975). Male-female differences in sexual arousal and behavior during and after exposure to sexually explicit stimuli.Arch. Sex. Behav. 4: 353–365.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Sigusch, V., Schmidt, G., Reinfeld, A., and Widemann-Sutor, I. (1970). Psychosexual stimulation: Sex differences.J. Sex Res. 6: 10–24.Google Scholar
  31. Sintchak, G., and Geer, J. A. (1975). A vaginal phethysmograph system.Psychophysiology 12: 113–115.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Steele, D. G., and Walker, C. E. (1974). Male and female differences in reaction to erotic stimuli as related to sexual adjustment.Arch. Sex. Behav. 3: 459–470.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Stoller, R. J. (1976). Sexual excitement.Arch. Gen. Psychiat. 33: 899–909.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Wincze, J. P., Hoon, E. F., and Hoon, P. W. (1976). Physiological responsivity of normal and dysfunctional women during erotic stimulus exposure.J. Psychosom. Res. 20: 445–451.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Wincze, J., Hoon, P., and Hoon, E. (1977). Sexual arousal in women: A comparsion of cognitive and physiological responses by continuous measurement.Arch. Sex. Behav. 6: 121–133.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Debra L. Steinman
    • 1
  • John P. Wincze
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sakheim
    • 3
  • David H. Barlow
    • 3
  • Matig Mavissakalian
    • 4
  1. 1.VA Medical CenterProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryBrown University Medical SchoolProvidenceUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyState University of New York at AlbanyAlbanyUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Pittsburgh, Western Psychiatric Institute and ClinicPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations