Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 289–300 | Cite as

Effects of Sexual Arousal on Genital and Non-Genital Sensation: A Comparison of Women with Vulvar Vestibulitis Syndrome and Healthy Controls

  • Kimberley A. Payne
  • Yitzchak M. BinikEmail author
  • Caroline F. Pukall
  • Lea Thaler
  • Rhonda Amsel
  • Samir Khalifé
Original Paper


The relationship between sexual arousal and sensory perception has been a topic largely neglected within the realm of human sexuality research. The present study assessed the influence of sexual arousal on genital and non-genital sensation in women. It also examined the theory that painful intercourse is associated with insufficient sexual arousal. A total of 20 healthy women and 20 women with Vulvar Vestibulitis Syndrome (VVS) underwent genital and non-genital sensory testing at baseline and in response to erotic and neutral stimulus films. Touch and pain thresholds were assessed at the vulvar vestibule, inside the labia minora, and on the volar surface of the forearm. Sexual arousal was assessed via the measurement of surface skin temperature changes of the labia minora using a labial thermistor clip. Participants also completed questionnaires pertaining to mood, pain, and sexual functioning. In response to the erotic stimulus, both groups evidenced a significant increase in physiological sexual arousal and vulvar sensitivity. Women with VVS reported a significantly lower desire to engage in intercourse after having viewed the erotic film and reported lower levels of desire and arousal on questionnaire measures. Women with VVS also exhibited significantly more genital and non-genital pain sensitivity than healthy women across all conditions, in addition to more catastrophizing, hypervigilance, and fear of pain. Contrary to some theories, these data suggest that women with VVS are not lacking in physiological sexual arousal, and that physiological sexual arousal may actually increase vulvar sensation. Lack of subjective sexual arousal, however, may yet be implicated in vulvar pain during intercourse.


Sensation Sexual arousal Dyspareunia Vulvar vestibulitis syndrome Labial thermistor clip 



This study was supported by the Canadian Institute for Health Research Grant #14741 to Yitzchak M. Binik, and by training fellowships provided by the McGill University Health Center, McGill Majors fellowship, and the Canadian Institute for Health Research awarded to Kimberley A. Payne. This article stands in partial fulfillment of Ms. Payne’s Ph.D. requirements. We would like to thank Katherine Muldoon, Lindsay Voegelin, and Anita Kapuscinski for their assistance with this project. We would also like to thank Dr. Sophie Bergeron, Dr. Nicole Flory, Marie-Andrée Lahaie, Alina Kao, and Melissa Farmer for their thoughtful feedback in the preparation of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kimberley A. Payne
    • 1
  • Yitzchak M. Binik
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Caroline F. Pukall
    • 3
  • Lea Thaler
    • 4
  • Rhonda Amsel
    • 1
  • Samir Khalifé
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Sex and Couple Therapy ServiceDepartment of Psychology, McGill University Health Center (Royal Victoria Hospital)MontrealCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of NevadaLas VegasNevada
  5. 5.Faculty of Medicine, McGill UniversityDepartment of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Jewish General HospitalMontrealCanada

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