Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 155–165 | Cite as

Pupil Dilation to Explicit and Non-Explicit Sexual Stimuli

  • Tuesday M. Watts
  • Luke Holmes
  • Ritch C. Savin-Williams
  • Gerulf RiegerEmail author
Special Section: The Puzzle of Sexual Orientation


Pupil dilation to explicit sexual stimuli (footage of naked and aroused men or women) can elicit sex and sexual orientation differences in sexual response. If similar patterns were replicated with non-explicit sexual stimuli (footage of dressed men and women), then pupil dilation could be indicative of automatic sexual response in fully noninvasive designs. We examined this in 325 men and women with varied sexual orientations to determine whether dilation patterns to non-explicit sexual stimuli resembled those to explicit sexual stimuli depicting the same sex or other sex. Sexual orientation differences in pupil dilation to non-explicit sexual stimuli mirrored those to explicit sexual stimuli. However, the relationship of dilation to non-explicit sexual stimuli with dilation to corresponding explicit sexual stimuli was modest, and effect magnitudes were smaller with non-explicit sexual stimuli than explicit sexual stimuli. The prediction that sexual orientation differences in pupil dilation are larger in men than in women was confirmed with explicit sexual stimuli but not with non-explicit sexual stimuli.


Pupil dilation Sexual arousal Sexual orientation Sex differences 



This research was funded by the American Institute of Bisexuality and the United States Department of Agriculture (NYC-321421).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Tuesday M. Watts, Luke Holmes, Ritch C. Savin Williams, and Gerulf Rieger declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tuesday M. Watts
    • 1
  • Luke Holmes
    • 1
  • Ritch C. Savin-Williams
    • 2
  • Gerulf Rieger
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of EssexColchesterUK
  2. 2.Department of Human DevelopmentCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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