Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Study suggests difference between female and male sexuality


Three decades of research on men’s sexual arousal show patterns that clearly track sexual orientation -- gay men overwhelmingly become sexually aroused by images of men and heterosexual men by images of women. In other words, men’s sexual arousal patterns seem obvious.

But a new Northwestern University study boosts the relatively limited research on women’s sexuality with a surprisingly different finding regarding women’s sexual arousal.

In contrast to men, both heterosexual and lesbian women tend to become sexually aroused by both male and female erotica, and, thus, have a bisexual arousal pattern.

"These findings likely represent a fundamental difference between men’s and women’s brains and have important implications for understanding how sexual orientation development differs between men and women," said J. Michael Bailey, professor and chair of psychology at Northwestern and senior researcher of the study "A Sex Difference in the Specificity of Sexual Arousal." The study is forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science.

Bailey’s main research focus has been on the genetics and environment of sexual orientation, and he is one of the principal investigators of a widely cited study that concludes that genes influence male homosexuality.

As in many areas of sexuality, research on women’s sexual arousal patterns has lagged far behind men’s, but the scant research on the subject does hint that, compared with men, women’s sexual arousal patterns may be less tightly connected to their sexual orientation.

The Northwestern study strongly suggests this is true. The Northwestern researchers measured the psychological and physiological sexual arousal in homosexual and heterosexual men and women as they watched erotic films. There were three types of erotic films: those featuring only men, those featuring only women and those featuring male and female couples. As with previous research, the researchers found that men responded consistent with their sexual orientations. In contrast, both homosexual and heterosexual women showed a bisexual pattern of psychological as well as genital arousal. That is, heterosexual women were just as sexually aroused by watching female stimuli as by watching male stimuli, even though they prefer having sex with men rather than women.

"In fact, the large majority of women in contemporary Western societies have sex exclusively with men," said Meredith Chivers, a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at Northwestern University, a psychology intern at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the study’s first author. "But I have long suspected that women’s sexuality is very different from men’s, and this study scientifically demonstrates one way this is so."

The study’s results mesh with current research showing that women’s sexuality demonstrates increased flexibility relative to men in other areas besides sexual orientation, according to Chivers.

"Taken together, these results suggest that women’s sexuality differs from men and emphasize the need for researchers to develop a model of the development and organization of female sexuality independent from models of male sexuality," she said.

The study’s four authors include Bailey and three graduate students in Northwestern’s psychology department, Chivers, Gerulf Rieger and Elizabeth Latty.

"Since most women seem capable of sexual arousal to both sexes, why do they choose one or the other?" Bailey asked. "Probably for reasons other than sexual arousal."

Sexual arousal is the emotional and physical response to sexual stimuli, including erotica or actual people. It has been known since the early 1960s that homosexual and heterosexual men respond in specific but opposite ways to sexual stimuli depicting men and women. Films provoke the greatest sexual response, and films of men having sex with men or of women having sex with women provoke the largest differences between homosexual and heterosexual men. That is because the same-sex films offer clear-cut results, whereas watching heterosexual sex could be exciting to both homosexual and heterosexual men, but for different reasons.

Typically, men experience genital arousal and psychological sexual arousal when they watch films depicting their preferred sex, but not when they watch films depicting the other sex. Men’s specific pattern of sexual arousal is such a reliable fact that genital arousal can be used to assess men’s sexual preferences. Even gay men who deny their own homosexuality will become more sexually aroused by male sexual stimuli than by female stimuli.

"The fact that women’s sexual arousal patterns are not all predicted by their sexual orientations suggests that men’s and women’s minds and brains are very different," Bailey said.

To rule out the possibility that the differences between men’s and women’s genital sexual arousal patterns might be due to the different ways that genital arousal is measured in men and women, the Northwestern researchers identified a subset of subjects: postoperative transsexuals who began life as men but had surgery to construct artificial vaginas.

In a sense, those transsexuals have the brains of men but the genitals of women. Their psychological and genital arousal patterns matched those of men -- those who like men were more aroused by male stimuli and those who like women were more aroused by the female stimuli -- even though their genital arousal was measured in the same way women’s was.

"This shows that the sex difference that we found is real and almost certainly due to a sex difference in the brain," said Bailey.

Pat Vaughan Tremmel | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht New population data provide insight on aging, migration
31.08.2016 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht PRB projects world population rising 33 percent by 2050 to nearly 10 billion
25.08.2016 | Population Reference Bureau

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Inflammation Triggers Unsustainable Immune Response to Chronic Viral Infection

24.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Microbe hunters discover long-sought-after iron-munching microbe

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Seeking balanced networks: how neurons adjust their proteins during homeostatic scaling.

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>