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War of the Genders

A confrontational soapbox for rants and politically incorrect manifestos regarding feminism, chauvinism, dating and gender issues.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Way to a Woman's Heart

A study in Northwestern University has revealed interesting test results showing gender differences when it comes to sexual turn-ons.

The tests carefully subjected heterosexual and homosexual men, women and transexuals to erotic stimulation in the form of different erotic movies (or, in other words, they got men and women to watch straight, gay and lesbian porn while they measured their genitals with kinky scientific appendages). The main two measurements taken were related to genital arousal, and subjective psychological arousal.

Having read the published paper, it's evident that the tests were conducted carefully although it would be interesting (and even crucial) to perform the same tests based on stimulation to other senses (e.g. touch, smell).

Also, it may be argued that inhibitions may have been a factor due to location, the knowledge that they are being tested, and the intrusive apparatus used for testing. But this may have been covered adequately by making them feel as comfortable as possible and by measuring a baseline without erotic stimuli.

The results were that men's subjective reactions matched their genital reactions (i.e. heterosexuals responded almost exclusively to heterosexual or lesbian erotica, and vice versa), whereas a woman's genitals reacted to ALL forms of erotica equally (with a slight emphasis on lesbian erotica for lesbians) even though the heterosexual women claimed in their subjective responses that they were primarily aroused by heterosexual erotica.

Although these tests have been used to study and discuss sexual orientations, it raises other interesting issues.

First, interesting snippets from the 'Discussion and Conclusions' chapter in the original paper:

Our findings suggest that women have a nonspecific pattern of sexual arousal that is quite different from men's arousal highly category-specific pattern. Men and postoperative male-to-female transsexuals preferring men showed substantially higher subjective and genital responses to male versus female stimuli; men and transsexuals preferring women showed the opposite pattern. In contrast, women's subjective and genital responses were only modestly related to their preferred category: Heterosexual and lesbian women experienced genital and subjective arousal to both male and female stimuli. Our findings suggest that this result is not plausibly attributable to volunteer bias: Variables that distinguished female volunteers from refusers were unrelated to response patterns.

The difference between men's and women's sexual arousal patterns is unlikely to be due to measurement artifacts, because women and transsexuals had different arousal patterns, despite being measured by the same apparatus, and because transsexuals and men had similar arousal patterns despite being measured by a different apparatus. Other evidence for a fundamental difference between women and men's sexual arousal patterns comes from their patterns of subjective sexual arousal. Regardless of sexual orientation, women reported more arousal to female versus male stimuli, on average, although this difference was not significant for heterosexual women. In contrast, men and transsexuals reported being more aroused by sexual stimuli corresponding to their preferred sex.

A self-identified heterosexual woman would be mistaken to reconsider her sexual identity because she became aroused watching female-female erotica; most heterosexual women experience such arousal. A self-identified heterosexual man who experienced substantial arousal to male-male male erotica, however, would be statistically justified in reconsidering his sexual identity.

Our results cannot directly address whether the sex difference in category specificity of sexual arousal is innate or learned. Our finding that male-to-female transsexuals show a male-typical pattern, however, helps to rule out some possible explanations.

A second limitation is our assumption that participants did not consciously manipulate their genital responses. Past research has demonstrated that some men can control their genital arousal when they are motivated to do so (Adams, Motsinger, McAnulty, & Moore, 1992; Freund, 1963). Could men's category-specific sexual arousal be due to conscious inhibition of erection to non-preferred sexual stimuli? Although the design of our study cannot rule out this possibility, we think that it is unlikely for several reasons. First, concern about suppression of sexual arousal has mainly focused on situations in which men would be highly motivated to hide sexual arousal, such as assessment for pedophilia. Even in that context, however, category–specific sexual arousal usually occurs (Blanchard, Klassen, Dickey, Kuban & Blak, 2001). Second, although heterosexual male participants might be motivated to suppress sexual arousal to the male stimuli, (due to the stigmatization of homosexuality), gay men would not be similarly motivated to suppress arousal to female stimuli; yet, gay men's sexual arousal was also quite specific. Third, research on the conscious manipulation of genital sexual arousal has shown that men are able to reduce, but not increase, the magnitude of their erections. Neither heterosexual nor homosexual men were able to increase erections to non-preferred sexual stimuli, even when motivated to do so (Adams et al., 1992). This suggests that, under typical conditions, men are not suppressing their genital responses to non-preferred stimuli; if they were, they would also increase genital arousal, when motivated to do so, by ceasing suppression efforts.

-End Quote

So, female genitals seem to have a life of their own, and are gung-ho about everything audio-visually sexual in equal measures. It's like they're saying 'we're ready for anything babe, and when you make up your mind regarding what you want to do, just do it and we'll support you'.

Whereas with men in general, it's more like 'you tell me when to get aroused and I will', only the boss issuing the orders is the genital, not the brain. I say this because if it were the brain, the men being tested would have been able to manipulate the results. Chivers argues logically against this assumption in the above summary.

Also, it was amusing to see another stereotype confirmed by this study that all men are even more turned on by female-on-female erotica than heterosexual erotica (personally, I get very bored when I see lesbian erotica, which probably proves I'm from another planet...).

But there are two additional points regarding men:

1. Some men ARE able to partially control the results. Chivers mentions papers in the summary that demonstrate this fact.

2. Just because most men cannot control results and their bodies are usually dictators, this does not exclude the possibility of re-training their bodies over time to respond differently. This is the nature vs. nurture argument and Chivers agrees that these tests cannot address this issue.

But back to the more interesting results with women: What does it mean that their genitals aren't connected to their brain and that they react to all basic forms of erotica? Let's apply a logical razor and explore some possible explanations:

A) Female genitals respond to everything, regardless of whether the brain wants it or not, due to evolution. I.e. just in case women have sex before they are ready, or if they are having sex with someone they don't find attractive, or even if they are forced to have sex, to avoid damage to the plumbing and grab any chance for reproduction they can get, the genitals get the reproduction mechanisms and accessories started without asking the brain. This matches the evolutionary 'logic' that gives a woman strong motherly instincts towards her baby no matter how she was impregnated.

This theory has several holes however. For one thing, it doesn't explain why women's bodies automatically react to lesbian erotica which has no evolutionary benefit. And even if lesbian love has benefits, they would not include reproduction and therefore would not need to get the juices flowing.

B) Women are flexibly designed to be ready for anything until they settle with a concrete orientation (or pursue all orientations at once). But if this were the case, that would mean the reactions would vary amongst women, some of which would have decided on a specific sexual preference by that time. Also, most women seem to have very definite and permanent ideas about their sexual preferences.

Besides, many explanations such as these are disqualified when one reads this article that claims that the women were even shown mating primates and their bodies reacted to this as well. What puzzles me is that this primate porn wasn't mentioned in the paper...

C) Even though women say no, their bodies want it so they really mean yes.

Relax, I'm only kidding.

D) All women are compulsive, perhaps subconscious liars when it comes to subjective reports of arousal, hence the lack of correlation between their reports of genital and mental reponses. This is a somewhat extreme theory however and it would be difficult to explain the universality of this phenomenon.

E) All women are natural lesbians and this is why men want to see them display this natural talent.

Yes, I'm kidding again.

F) Men are simply more comfortable with their sexual passions and preferences than women are. But this doesn't explain why women's bodies reacted equally to ALL forms of erotica. I.e. if women had different comfort zones, their bodies would respond stronger to specific stimuli.

G) Men are better at training their bodies to be aligned with their sexual preferences. Or perhaps their minds are easily led by their physical arousals and therefore mind and body are always in agreement. This, however, doesn't cover the consistency and universality of female test results at all.

H) Alternatively, perhaps it's more important for men to choose a specific orientation whereas women aren't under the same social pressure to define themselves. This doesn't explain the woman's lack of correlation between mind and body however.

I) Then there is the theory suggested in the paper that women don't constrain their bodies based on their sexual orientation because they choose partners in a different way. I.e. women's sexuality is based on 'external' criteria, whatever they may be. This doesn't necessarily mean that women choose their sexual partners based on idealistic criteria, but that they probably involve practical and evolutionary standards that are beneficial for raising children.

In other words, we are simply dealing with an alternative sexual drive. Combine this with B and this means that a woman's sexual choice simply doesn't affect and constrain her body.

Even if this is true however, it still bothers me that, for some reason, this alternative sexuality seems to effectively disconnect the brain from the genitalia. Having other criteria for choosing sex partners doesn't explain why women's bodies react equally even to lesbian erotica.

Also, this may bring about serious problems if and when the body doesn't co-operate. I believe this problem exists simply because it's obvious that when a woman says she is or isn't aroused, her body doesn't necessarily agree with her choice. Which brings me to my next theory:

J) Women aren't connected to their bodies and, in addition, don't know what their bodies need. This may be innate, or due to social and cultural changes and pressures. This may also be a recent phenomenon since we don't have test results from another generation to compare with. Perhaps women have even actively disconnected themselves to align their sexual preferences with their fantasies, traumas, or modern social standards, leaving their bodies behind to deal with any erotica on their own. Maybe this is why so many women nowadays need to 'get in touch with their sexuality'.

It may be argued that the disconnection only occurs when the brain is not aroused, but when it is, the genitalia always follow suit. But it seems wrong that someone can say 'I'm not aroused' when their bodies are very aroused. This behaviour cries out for a raison d'etre. Claiming that this is because women place their sexual priorities on other factors sure sounds good, but doesn't change the fact that there is a basic schizophrenia here. Evolution-wise, it also doesn't explain the practical waste of automatically reacting physically to a lesbian porno.

K) This is simply the way women's bodies work. There is no neurological connection between the genitals and the brain when it comes to turn-ons, evolution didn't deem this necessary, and there is nothing women can do to change this. This would mean that whether the body co-operates with the mind is a question of coincidence although according to these tests, the genitals don't seem to be too picky. There may be a religious/metaphysical reason for this but I have not discovered it yet.

L) There IS a connection but it doesn't fire up via erotic visual stimuli. The way to align a woman's body and mind is via other methods. This can be proven or disproven with further tests.

Feel free to contribute your thoughts here as I may have missed something. Currently, I'm favoring a combination of J and L with G, H and I all containing partial truths, but I'm still pondering...



Actually it is quite amusing to entertain the idea that I could be happy with a chimp, or any other primate, I mean why limit myself to men if I can get the same stimuli from all sorts of creatures?

I think the way women and men look at erotic films is very different. (Most) Men respond more to the actual act and actors. They don’t need the story and the setting. Go straight to the sex scenes, provide the right conditions and they can make themselves happy. Women on the other hand respond to the story and setting more then to the actual act and participants. That is why all categories can work for them provided they are well-made erotic films and not just porn.

So, when research shows that women respond to all categories of erotic films, all it means is that an erotic setting and story can arouse women. It has nothing to do with their sexual orientation and preferences.

As to the brain-genital relationship: you can only reach the conclusion of an unaligned brain-genital relationship in women under the assumption that women and men perceive erotic films in the same way (hence proving that women are indeed attracted to everything and are restricting themselves to men). Since they don’t, women’s responses to these films have nothing to do with what they want, need and will respond to in bed.

The research showed a difference between the subjective responses the women reported and the physical responses that were measured. It is hard to believe that all women lied about what they felt but it is even more difficult to assume they are all so detached from themselves and can’t tell when they are aroused. My guess is that this was a built-in questioner bias that made it hard for them to admit the level of arousal they felt and its possible implications.

But, how the hell from all this did they reach a conclusion that women’s bodies are constantly ready for sex and their brains aren’t? Just because women are aroused from erotic movies doesn’t mean they are constantly ready for sex, it just means showing them erotic movies may be a good idea before taking them to bed.

And women’s bodies being ready before their brain… give me a break...any sexual therapist can tell you that almost all women have the opposite problem. It usually takes their bodies longer to be ready for sex then men, and even when their minds are ready their bodies take time. That is why foreplay is important
My god, this theory almost justifies rape…

I think Northwestern should go back to the drawing board design a new kinky research, and not base their conclusions on how honestly people answer questions like so did those chimps turn you on?

October 06, 2005 10:04 pm  

So if I understand you correctly, you're saying that the women may have been responding to the eroticism of the setting in the porn films, therefore the sexual orientation in the film was irrelevant.

I don't think there was much time for setting and mood, as each film they were shown was only 2 minutes long. However your theory still rings true as to the different way women may respond to a sexual act on screen even without a setting. For example, the people on screen may be really getting into it in a sexy way, and this would be enough of a turn-on.

You make an interesting point when you say that most men are so obsessed over the act itself and the genitals on screen, that the sexual orientation of the actors becomes prominent. This does explain why I find a lot of today's porn boring. I also assure you that quite a few men feel the same way and would disagree with you.

However, this doesn't explain the female mind-genital problem and for this you are basically saying that women lied (theory D). 'Hard to admit' is a euphemism for lying, their embarrassment notwithstanding. Are women really such universally compulsive liars? If so, why did Chivers not address this in her paper?

You also say that it would be incorrect to draw conclusions on sexual orientation and sexual readiness from responses to the films. Nobody said otherwise, I even quoted a paragraph from the paper that explicitly mentions this, and I think we are all in agreement here.

October 07, 2005 6:01 am  

I didn’t read the paper only the two articles (in the links you gave).

A quote from the second link: “Why are women's bodies ready for sex when their brains aren't? Chivers speculates that the response may be an evolutionary adaptation that protects women from injury and infection in instances when sex was forced upon them. The results appear in Biological Psychology”.

So like I said before: 1.The experiment doesn’t prove that women’s bodies are ready for sex before their brains. 2. I think that the given speculated explanation for this non-existing phenomenon is a dangerous one.

In the other link they drew the conclusion that women may be aroused by both sexes and tried to explain that as well.

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

“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".

So it seems to me that at least in the articles they did draw some conclusions.

October 09, 2005 6:44 pm  

Regarding sexual preferences: Just because a woman is aroused by lesbians that does not make her a lesbian. It MAY make women more flexible however and this is the only conclusion the articles and the paper reached. They explicitly stated that arousal does not point to preference.

Regarding sexual readiness: Obviously we are lacking some data here. For example, what does Chivers mean exactly when she says that women were equally sexually aroused by all the erotic films? The tests measured "vaginal pulse amplitude". Does this mean a woman is ready for sex or does it mean she is only aroused?

So it may be that the article you quoted incorrectly leaped from 'arousal' to 'readiness'.

..or not. Just because this result may be dangerous and may encourage rape, it doesn't negate the facts.

October 16, 2005 5:10 am  

If a Northwestern university professor wants to say something that may encourage rape then she ought to have more to back it up. The facts gathered don’t add up to women being ready for sex before they know it. And yes it is a big leap between aroused and readiness…
It seems to me like someone was just trying to do some good old PR and may have forgotten to be responsible on the way. Oh, and what the hell does being sexually more flexible mean?

October 17, 2005 12:40 am  

By 'flexible' I assumed they meant that if a woman were to mentally choose one orientation or the other, their bodies would go along with it, whereas with men it would be much harder or even impossible (if you hold that it's genetic).

October 18, 2005 4:59 pm  

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