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New Study: If You're Aroused and You Know It, You're a Man

By L. K. Regan

Men are sexual creatures. We all know this. But new research demonstrates that we really know this. A study led by Canadian researchers found a substantial gender difference between men and women in terms of the experience of sexual arousal. In short, men are very likely to be mentally aware of their degree of physical arousal. Women, not so much.

The study, published on-line in the January 4th edition of the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, consolidated the results of 134 studies published between 1969 and 2007, with a total of 1,900 men and 2,500 women. In the studies, subjects had been presented with sexual stimuli and then asked to characterize their degree of arousal; physiological measurements were taken simultaneously, tracking things like penile erection in the men and genital blood flow in the women. The researchers then compared the psychological (subjective, self-reported) and physiological (objective) responses. And here's where the differences began to be seen.

Men's reports of their degree of sexual arousal were more closely matched to the objective measures: their brains knew how their bodies felt two-thirds of the time. For the women, this was less the case, with fairly frequent discrepancies between reported and physiological arousal—in fact, women's subjective ratings of arousal agreed with the objective measures only 26 percent of the time. For Queen's University psychology professor and lead researcher Meredith Chivers, this effect is just part of a larger spectrum of sex differences she sees. "The general pattern that I have seen in my laboratory is that women experience a genital response but do not report feeling sexually aroused," Chivers said. "For men, their experience is strongly related to physiological arousal whereas for women it is less so."

Putting this research into context is for Chivers a much larger project than a single study, with important implications. "Understanding measures of arousal is paramount to further theoretical and practical advances in the study of human sexuality," Chivers says. "Our results have implications for the assessment of sexual arousal, the nature of gender differences in sexual arousal, and models of sexual response."