Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 880–897 | Cite as

Women’s Sexual Responses to Heterosexual and Lesbian Erotica: The Role of Stimulus Intensity, Affective Reaction, and Sexual History

  • Zoë D. PetersonEmail author
  • Erick Janssen
  • Ellen Laan
Original Paper


Past research has demonstrated that women do not show a “category-specific” genital response to erotic stimuli. That is, on average, heterosexual and lesbian women are indistinguishable in terms of their physiological genital responses to heterosexual versus lesbian erotica. In two studies with heterosexual women (n = 28 for Study 1; n = 30 for Study 2) and lesbians (n = 24 for Study 1; n = 25 for Study 2), results confirmed that, on average, women did not show category-specific genital responses or category-specific subjective sexual arousal. However, there was evidence of notable within-group variability; many women did respond to the stimuli in a category-specific manner. Heterosexual women were more likely than lesbian women to demonstrate category-specificity. Findings also revealed that category-specificity was associated with multiple factors, including affective responses to the erotic stimuli and sexual history. Results of this study highlight the complexity of women’s sexual identities and sexual responses.


Sexual orientation Sexual identity Sexual arousal Affect Vaginal photoplethysmography Psychophysiology 



The completion of this article was funded, in part, by a postdoctoral fellowship from The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction awarded to the first author. The authors wish to thank Juliette Sonderman for collecting the data for the first study, and Michèle Donders and Barbara Nanninga for collecting the data for the second study. Portions of the data from Study 1 were presented at the 1995 meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research, Provincetown, MA, and portions of the data from Study 2 were presented at the 1996 meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research, Rotterdam, Netherlands.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Institute for Women and Gender StudiesUniversity of Missouri-St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and ReproductionIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Sexology and Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Academic Medical CenterUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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