Sunday, October 15, 2006

Women become sexually aroused as quickly as men

Let's hear it for gender equality...

And let it not be said that most scientific research has little practical application. The following might be very useful to know in "real life" situations...

Women become sexually aroused as quickly as men
Women may have a reputation for demanding lengthy foreplay, but they become sexually aroused as quickly as men, according to a new study that used thermal imaging to measure increased blood flow to genital regions.

While watching pornography, both sexes reach peak arousal within 10 minutes, on average, researchers report.

The new finding is based on the use of infrared imaging technology to measure skin temperature from a distance. This is not only more sensitive to temperature differences, but also does not require uncomfortable instruments in contact with the subjects' genitals.
In the new study, 28 men and 30 women first watched a video of the Canadian countryside in a room on their own, so that researchers could establish each individual’s baseline temperatures.

Subjects were naked from the waist down and positioned themselves such that their genital area was exposed and readable by the thermal imaging device. The participants next watched another video with the same subject matter, or one featuring pornography, horror or comedic clips from the Best Bits of Mr Bean.

The computer only registered a spike in genital temperatures while subjects watched pornography, and not the other films. In those viewing porn, these temperatures increased by about 2°C, on average.

Moreover, men reached peak sexual arousal in 665 seconds – about 10 minutes – while women arrived at maximal arousal in 743 seconds.

Other reports of the research: here, here, here.

However, Vaughan at Mind Hacks raises some questions about this research. For example, it seems that only physical arousal was measured, assuming skin temperature is a good indicator of that. But psychological arousal may be different between men and women.
Why there is such a marked difference in feeling sexy and being aroused in women is still a mystery, but it is something that needs to be borne in mind when interpreting any study (and particularly, any news story) that talks about 'sexual arousal' as a single type of experience.

Unfortunately, Kukkonen and colleagues' study seems to have been widely and uncritically reported as suggesting that women get 'hot' in about the same time as men do, when in fact, the picture is far more complex.

Another interesting question is raised if you take a look at information on some of the grad students in the lab that did the study, in particular, Tuuli Kukkonen, who was involved in this research project. Is the fact that these are young, attractive females relevant? Would this have had any differential effect on the male subjects vs. the females? Just wondering.

But suppose that there is some validity to the research findings. The next question would be, why is there a "gender gap myth" that men are more easily aroused sexually than women? Is it possible this is something women want men to believe, perhaps in order to justify longer foreplay? Do women want their men to "work harder" at sexual intimacy, to create a sense of higher perceived "value" in some economic sense? Evolutionary psychology might suggest this is something that happens without being a conscious intention on anyone's part.

Questions, questions.

Other blog articles: Pure Pedantry, Sciencebase,
Health Logics.

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