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Physiological and Subjective Sexual Arousal in Self-Identified Asexual Women

Abstract

Asexuality can be defined as a lifelong lack of sexual attraction. Empirical research on asexuality reveals significantly lower self-reported sexual desire and arousal and lower rates of sexual activity; however, the speculation that there may also be an impaired psychophysiological sexual arousal response has never been tested. The aim of this study was to compare genital (vaginal pulse amplitude; VPA) and subjective sexual arousal in asexual and non-asexual women. Thirty-eight women between the ages of 19 and 55 years (10 heterosexual, 10 bisexual, 11 homosexual, and 7 asexual) viewed neutral and erotic audiovisual stimuli while VPA and self-reported sexual arousal and affect were measured. There were no significant group differences in the increased VPA and self-reported sexual arousal response to the erotic film between the groups. Asexuals showed significantly less positive affect, sensuality-sexual attraction, and self-reported autonomic arousal to the erotic film compared to the other groups; however, there were no group differences in negative affect or anxiety. Genital-subjective sexual arousal concordance was significantly positive for the asexual women and non-significant for the other three groups, suggesting higher levels of interoceptive awareness among asexuals. Taken together, the findings suggest normal subjective and physiological sexual arousal capacity in asexual women and challenge the view that asexuality should be characterized as a sexual dysfunction.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for this study was from University of British Columbia Hampton Research Grant awarded to L. A. Brotto. We wish to thank Yvonne Erskine for assistance in data collection.

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Correspondence to Lori A. Brotto.

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Brotto, L.A., Yule, M.A. Physiological and Subjective Sexual Arousal in Self-Identified Asexual Women. Arch Sex Behav 40, 699–712 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-010-9671-7

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Keywords

  • Asexuality
  • Genital arousal
  • Vaginal pulse amplitude
  • Hypoactive sexual desire disorder
  • Sexual attraction