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Facial Behavior While Experiencing Sexual Excitement


We analyzed the facial behavior of 100 volunteers who video-recorded their own expressions while experiencing an episode of sexual excitement that concluded in an orgasm, and then posted their video clip on an Internet site. Four distinct observational periods from the video clips were analyzed and coded by FACS (Facial Action Coding System, Ekman and Friesen 1978). We found nine combinations of muscular movements produced by at least 5% of the senders. These combinations were consistent with facial expressions of sexual excitement described by Masters and Johnson (Human sexual response, 1966), and they included the four muscular movements of the core expression of pain (Prkachin, Pain, 51, 297–306, 1992).

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  1. In our study we do not have an explicit subjective report of the senders’ emotion. Nevertheless, indirect clues provide convergent validity for our belief that the senders were displaying more than just a physical, reflex-like response. The web-site’s explicit instructions for the senders (which emphasize the hedonic side of the experience), the senders’ vocal behavior during the clip, and, in most cases, the senders own comments in a different clip also posted at the website, all convey the impression of an explicit link between sex and enjoyment in the sender’s mind. Furthermore, in the current version of the website (as retrieved in March 2010) senders are requested to upload not only the record of their sexual experience but also an additional video in which they are invited to answer a series of questions. One question concerns their subjective experience during the recording of their orgasm (“how was your beautiful agony experience?”). We selected the last 25 senders posted on the website (as retrieved on March 5th 2010) who explicitly reported a positive experience in answer to this question. Then we analyzed a three-second video sequence taken at random from the plateau-orgasm period of each of the 25 senders. The distribution of facial movements did not differ from the distributions reported in Table 1. These additional data show that the subjective experience that accompanied the facial behavior of Tables 1 and 2 was pleasant rather than painful.

  2. A further hypothesis would explain facial expressions of sexual excitement and pain as ways of regulating a too-intense sensorial input, irrespective of its hedonic sign. This hypothesis is not necessarily incompatible with either of the two alternative hypotheses that we describe in the discussion: spontaneous regulation can be typically embedded in an emotional episode or in a non-emotional behavioral sequence of muscular tension.


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This research was carried out within the project PSI2008-04849 funded by the Spanish Government (MICINN). We thank María Angeles Ruiz-Belda, David Weston and James Russell for their help in the preparation of this article.

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Correspondence to José-Miguel Fernández-Dols.

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Fernández-Dols, JM., Carrera, P. & Crivelli, C. Facial Behavior While Experiencing Sexual Excitement. J Nonverbal Behav 35, 63–71 (2011).

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  • Facial expression
  • Sexual behavior
  • Enjoyment
  • Sexual excitement
  • Pain
  • Emotion