Ladies Have Non-Specific Arousal Patterns? - A Journal Article I Read

Well, my friend, this is another installment of A Journal Article I Read - a segment in which I read a lady-gasm related peer-reviewed journal article and try my damndest to summarize the article here for you without taking away too much of the detail and subtlety, yet making it readable and not too long. I do my best to achieve those goals, and that's all I can say.

In these summaries, you can assume that anything I write is a genuine attempt to reflect what is said in the paper - even if it's shortened or summarized. My opinions, if I have any to add will either be inside brackets likes these [me:], or in a section headed in a way that clearly lets you know these are my opinions. All quotes are from this article unless specifically noted.

You can check out the list of all the past 'A Journal Article I Read' Summaries HERE.

A Sex Difference in the Specificity of Sexual Arousal. Meredith L. Chivers, Gerulf Rieger, Elizabeth Latty and J. Michael Bailey. Psychological Science. Vol. 15, No. 11 (Nov., 2004), pp. 736-744

Unless something changes, you can find the full article online HERE.

My Quick Summary:
The researchers showed participants (males, females, and post operative M-F tran women - gay and straight groups of each) clips of porn, M-M, M-F, and F-F. They checked their genital arousal during those and also had them rate their own mental arousal (subjective arousal). The researchers found the males and trans women both had higher genital and subject arousal during clips exclusively showing the gender of their sexual preference (M-M clips for gay males and straight trans women, F-F clips for straight males and gay trans women). Females (gay and straight) kinda had an equal amount of genital arousal for all 3 types of clips and tended to say they were most aroused by the M-F clips, but not WAY more aroused.

The researchers concluded this to mean that males had a pattern of arousal that was specific to their sexual preference and females had a non-specific arousal pattern. Although they point out they can't tell if this is innate or learned behavior, I feel like insinuations throughout are that it's an innate sex difference. There's also, I'd say a quite convoluted, 2nd study in here that uses questionnaires and a subset of the hetero women from study 1 to 'prove' that the conclusion would not be different if the type of women who choose not to participate in studies like these were included nonetheless.

Honestly, I feel like - especially with that 2nd study - this paper is really hard to follow and the way they make their calculations is not as transparent as I usually see. Maybe I'm a bit dense, but this paper was a rough one to get through even though the concept is not a hard one.

Although I appreciate that this paper gave us a snapshot of how different people's bodies and minds react to the particular experimental situation they were put in for this study, I think the researchers (and the many people who have used this paper later to back-up ideas about sexual gender difference), are deeply mistaken if they believe this study gives us a balanced look into the way male vs. female arousal works.

My biggest problem with this study is that the experimental design naively assumes that the males, females, and trans women have similar enough relationships/histories/experiences with sexual activity and porn that their reactions to the porn clips could be compared as if coming from an equal place. I list at the end of this post some of the many reasons why I think the use of pornographic videos would skew the data, but generally it's related to the fact that both gay and straight porn is by and large focused on male orgasm, fantasy, and desire. Also, because of the incredible lack of female orgasm compared to male orgasm in coupled sexual activity, the very idea of sexual activity is simply a different kind of thing to males and to females. I would argue that researchers are sensibly getting the reaction to sexually arousing moving images that they are expecting from the males in the study. However, the reactions they are getting from the females in the study are not reactions to the same kind of purely sexually arousing images, and thus it is problematic to compare them.


  • "Male sexual arousal is category-specific," which basically means that males show the greatest arousal in response to the type of people they prefer to have sex with - i.e. gay guys get more aroused in response to men and straight for women.
  • The idea of category-specificity is sufficiently reliable to ascertain sexual preference for investigative purposes of men that have strong reason to conceal their preferences - such as pedophiles.
  • There are also some studies that indicate arousal patterns are an important source of info in adolescent boys as they formulate their sexuality in adolescents
  • There is evidence to suggest the same may not be true of women. The most direct evidence for this was a 1996 (Laan, Sonderman, Janssen) study measuring how women subjectively (felt about) erotic movies depicting male-female vs. female-female sex acts and also how much their genitals became aroused. No major difference was found between lesbian and straight women on which type of movie they responded to most strongly. Both lesbian and straight women had their highest response to male-female movies. 
  • That 1996 study, while intriguing, has 3 concerning issues. 1. There was not a male-male erotic movie in the this study, and male studies on this subject have indicated the greatest difference in response was between purely female movies and purely male movies. Male-female movies did not show as great a response difference between gay and straight participants because there were both males and females in them. 2. It is not certain whether all the self-identified lesbians were strongly homosexual or more bisexual. A 1996 study indicated that 30% of respondents that self-identified as lesbian also had attractions to males. [Me: I wonder if it is possible that some of the self-identified hetero women had some attraction to women as well. I mean hetero sex is often pretty shitty for ladies, so I think there is good reason to believe that for some largely hetero women, lesbian interactions might seem an intriguing and more pleasurable option - in a way that homosexual activity for men does not, given how focused on male pleasure most hetero interactions tend to be]. 3. The women's genital response was measured with photoplethysmographic instruments, which means a vaginal photometer is inserted into the vagina and uses light to measure the amount of blood in the walls of the vagina (an increase of blood to the vaginal walls is one part of female sexual arousal - and is related to lubrication forming on the vaginal walls). This type of arousal measurement is not as tested as the measuring that is used for males, and the authors think it is important to show for sure that a vaginal photometer is actually capable of showing the kinds of differences seen in male arousal before comparing male and female response.
  • In this study, the researchers are investigating whether female sexual arousal is category specific, like male sexual arousal has been shown to be. Males, females, and post operative M2F trans people were included in this study.
  • "Including male participants allowed us to compare male and female arousal patterns and to demonstrate that our stimuli were capable of eliciting a category-specific pattern of sexual arousal in men. Including male-to-female transsexual allowed us to determine whether differences in arousal patterns between men and women merely reflect differences in the way that genital arousal is measured in men and women, or are due to true sexual dimorphism." [me: A few things: 1. They use the term transexual in this article, which was a more accepted and common term in 2005 than it is now. It generally indicated a trans person that had undergone gender affirming surgery, thus the M2F trans people in this article have undergone surgery and have vaginas and clits. I will use the more simple term, trans, but transexual may appear in quotes. 2. For those that are not familiar, the vagina that is created for trans or other individuals that were not born with a fully formed vagina, is created from non-vaginal tissue, but over a period of healing time becomes fully capable of lubrication caused by arousal. 3. This statement about why M2F trans people were included assumes two things; that arousal patterns of these trans individuals should match the arousal patterns of male individuals because both were presumably born with male genitalia/chromosomes, and that the differences between male and female arousal patterns must be due to innate sexual dimorphisms - i.e. things embedded in a person relating to being born with either male or female chromosomes/genitalia. It ignores the possibility that trans individuals might not share certain sexual dimorphism qualities with the sex into which they were identified at birth, and it also ignores a very huge possibility that the sex differences in the arousal patterns identified in these experiments might have quite a bit to do with how these people and their sexuality developed in relation to their environment. i.e. Just because people born as females tend to have a certain arousal pattern does not mean that it is due to something innate in the female physically. It may have everything to do with how the sexual environment molds females specifically.]

Study 1: Method

  • Gay and straight men and women were recruited through an ad in an alternative Chicago paper. Trans women were found as a subset of the women recruited this way.
  • 69 men and 52 women (11 of these were trans women) mean ages were 32.1 for the non-trans individuals and 42.9 for the trans individuals.
  • All participants were offered financial compensation for their participation.
  • The Kinsey Sexual Fantasy Scale was used to assess the sexual preferences of the participants. Only those that indicated an exclusive or nearly exclusive sexual preference for either males or females during adulthood were used in the analysis. [me: The Kinsey Sexual Fantasy Scale they refer to here, is just a scale from 1 to 6 where 1 is exclusively hetero, 6 is exclusively homo, and 3 is equally homo/hetero (I assume because there is no actual Kinsey Scale 'test' that is verified and used in research - just this scale). The participants must have self-chosen their number. I think this is something that is worth remembering within this study because there are various reasons a person might choose a particular number on this scale but also have sexual feelings that are counter to that number. My point here is that it is very possible that any 2 people that choose a 1 to describe themselves, for instance, may actually have very unique and quite different sexual interests and histories. - something to keep in mind].

Measures and Materials

  • Movies were chosen as the sexual stimulus instead of erotic audio or pictures simply because movies tend to have a greater affect on arousal.
  • Past studies show that the biggest differences in arousal are found between male-male and female-female films. However, the researchers wondered if hetero people's issues (particularly in the U.S.) with the idea of homosexuality might affect the arousal level negatively (for instance - hetero males are expected, bases on past data, to be most aroused by female-female erotic movies, but if they have a strong distaste about homosexuality, that may not be true). So, male-female erotic movies were also included.
  • "The sexual stimuli consisted of six 2-min films with sound. Content varied by the sex of the actors (male or female) and the type of sexual activity depicted (oral or penetrative). Each participant saw films featuring female-female oral sex. female-female penetration (with a strap-on dildo), male-female cunnilingus, male-female penetration (penile-vaginal), male male fellatio, and male-male penetration (penile-anal). Thus, sex of actors and type of sexual activity were independent. Each participant viewed one of two exemplars from each stimulus category, with stimuli presented in random order. A neutral stimulus, depicting landscapes or fauna, was also included, to provide non-sexual comparison for genital and subjective responses to sexual stimuli. An 11-min adaption film (depicting sexually neutral scenes accompanied by relaxing music) was used to assess baseline arousal." 

ME: Okay, so a couple things
So, it seems every participant saw an oral and a penetrative scene each from M-M, M-F, and F-F scenes. Let me ask this - what's up with the lesbian scene with a strap on? Maybe it's just me, but that seems more like a male fantasy of lesbian sex than a lesbian fantasy of lesbian sex. Certainly some lesbians do some strap on stuff, but let's be honest -  neither the lady strapping on or the lady getting reamed are gonna orgasm from that without a reach-around.

Also, I'm wondering about specifics here. When the dude was getting rammed in the M-M movie, was he hard during it? getting a reach-around? or was he soft and taking it? Were the women getting rammed either by penis or by dildo vocalizing in annoying fake-gasms during it? Were any of them getting a reach-around?  Did the cunnilingus look at all like cunnilingus that might actually be pleasurable, or was it stupid - like dumb light licks that would tickle more than get a woman off or ramming the tongue in and out of the hole, which would also likely never get a woman off, or was the dude pulling the vulva apart and being too rough altogether in a cringe-worthy way?

I ask this stuff because frankly, all types of porn M-M, M-F, and F-F, tend to be focused on male pleasure - both visual pleasure as well as in relation to the physical things being done. Males in porn almost always actually physically orgasm in porn from the things that are physically done to them, and females (even in F-F porn) most often fake orgasms -which means that the stuff that is physically happening to them are not things that physically cause them to orgasm. Which means when males watch porn, the stuff they see relates to them in a very different way than it relates to females. We rarely acknowledge this, and they certainly don't acknowledge this possibility in this study. And for real, cunnilingus in porn OFTEN strikes me as somewhere between painful, bothersome, or completely inept - even in run of the mill F-F porn. It's all showy and more for dudes to enjoy than the actual actresses to enjoy. I wouldn't imagine that's the same for men watching fellatio.
Point is, the male-centric way porn is and the different ways that males and females must relate to it because of that male-centricness is not an issue to overlook in a study like this.

Psychophysiological Assessment and Subjective Arousal

  • Male physiological arousal was assessed with penile plethysmography. A mercury-in-rubber strain gauge was put around the penis to measure circumference changes as erection developed and changed.
  • Female (including the trans women) physiological arousal was assessed with a vaginal photoplethysmography placed up the vagina and measuring vaginal blood engorgement.
  • To assess the subjective arousal felt by the participants, a lever was used that moves 180 degrees where 0 is no arousal and 180 represented the subjective arousal associated with orgasm. The participants moved the lever while watching the movies to express their arousal level at any given time.
  • For all people the physiological sexual arousal measurements and the subject arousal lever movements were continually recorded throughout the experiment.

  • Participants sat in a recliner with a tv 5 feet away in a dimly lit room. Previously, they were shown how to use the genital arousal gauge and they fitted it themselves.
  • "They watched the adaption film and then the experimental stimuli (sexual and neutral), separated by return-to-baseline intervals. Participants completed distraction tasks during interstimulus intervals and, after assessment of sexual arousal, completed questionnaires assessing their sexual orientation, sexual experience, masturbation frequency, and orgasmic capacity." So, the adaption film is the 11 minute neutral film, so clearly they started with that. Then, I'm not sure if this means they watched alternating erotic then neutral films during the experimental stimuli or if they watched the erotic films but separated them with time (and not necessarily watching the neutral movies). Either way, it seems they did distraction tasks and also somehow their arousal level was deemed back-to baseline (unaroused, I'd assume) before watching the next erotic movie.
  • I'm also assuming that 'after assessment of sexual arousal' meant after the arousal levels were assessed during the watching of the erotic stimulus movies...so, I assume the participants did the orientations, sexual experience, masturbation, and orgasm questionnaires after the whole movie watching experiment was done. But I'm not completely sure. Maybe it's just me but that paragraph isn't super clear..honestly this whole paper is not super clear.

Data Reductions

  • The score for each participant's subjective rating of their arousal was averaged separately for the time during which they were watching movies for each of the 3 stimuli; M-M, M-F, and F-F. The same was done for each subject's genital arousal scores.
  • "Mean scores were standardized within subject (i.e. ipsatized) because within-subject standardization appears to eliminate the effects of idiosyncratic variation in responsiveness (Harris, Rice, Quinsey, Chaplin, & Earls 1992)."
  • The 'male-female contrast' was calculated for each participant by subtracting their arousal score for F-F stimuli from their arousal score for M-M stimuli. This was done separately for subjective arousal and genital arousal.  A positive score indicates higher attraction to males, a negative score attraction to females. (*This is the score you'll see in figure 1 down there.)
  • Genital (that measurement of blood flow in the genitals) and subjective (the score based on how the participant rated their own arousal using a lever while watching the movies) arousal responses to females were each computed separately by subtracting the arousal responses during the neutral movies from the arousal responses for the F-F movies. The same was done for arousal to males using M-M movie arousal responses and for arousal to M-F stimulus using M-F movie arousal responses.
  • So, some people didn't show much of a genital arousal response, and the researchers decided to exclude the following 2 groups from the analysis. 1. those that had less than a "minimum difference of 0.5 standard deviations between maximum genital arousal to either male or female stimuli and to the neutral stimulus."  2. "men whose maximum response to either male or female stimuli did not exceed their response to the neutral stimulus by at least 2mm." So, basically those that didn't have much of a genital response to either M or F same-sex movies compared to their response to the non-erotic movies. The first one applies to both men and women and the 2nd criteria specifically relates to the raw measurements of how much the penis expanded.
  • That exclusion criteria eliminated 23 of the 69 males, 9 of the 52 females, and 0 of 11 the trans women
  • The researchers fully admit the difference in exclusion rate between men and women is quite significant, but say it's probably due to differences in sensitivity of the penile and vaginal instrumentation used in the experiment. They also say the approximate 1 in 3 exclusion rate for men is common for the type of penile measurements that is being done.
  • The researchers also basically said the exclusion of these (disproportionately male) people did not really make a difference in the study results by saying, "Inclusion of nonresponders did not substantially affect the significance or direction of results." [Me: I know they say it doesn't make a difference, but I still think it's interesting that 1/3 of the men studied just simply didn't show much of a reaction to the movies.]
Study 1: Results
Figure 1 shows the male-female contrast scores for genital arousal response (so - how much blood flow was happening in the genitals). As described above, the male-female contrast is calculated by subtracting each participant's arousal score for F-F stimuli from their arousal score for M-M stimuli. Positive score indicates higher attraction to males. Negative scores attraction to females.  A zero score means there was an equal amount of genital arousal to the M-M films and the F-F films. Clearly, for both females that prefer men (heterosexual) and women that prefer women (homosexual), there were more scores in the zero range than either the males or the trans women.

p739 from A Sex Difference in the Specificity of Sexual Arousal.

  • "In general the relation between self reported preference and sexual arousal pattern was much weaker for women than for men or transsexuals, whose results were similar. For example all transexuals and nearly all men had stronger genital arousal to their preferred sex than to their non-preferred sex, but 37% of women did not."
  • "...the association between genital and subjective arousal was lower for women than for men." -  i.e. it was more common for women that their was a discrepancy between what they said they found arousing and the measurement of arousal (blood flow) in their genitals. For instance, they may have said they felt most aroused by the M-M movies, but genitally they weren't any more aroused than while watching the F-F movies. 
  • The researchers wondered if it might be the case that due to homophobia, heterosexual participants would respond more strongly to M-F movies than to the movies depicting homosexual activity of the opposite sex. However, hetero males as a group had the most genital arousal to the F-F movies, and hetero females as a group were slightly more genitally aroused by M-M movies, but much less significantly. However, hetero females did report a much higher subjective arousal to the M-F movies than the M-M movies. As a group, it was almost 3 times as high.

Study 2: Method
[Me: to begin with, I want to say that the data and methodology they described for this 2nd study was even more confusing to me than the first study. I may be dense (please read for yourself and see what you think), but to me there was a lot left unsaid, and I really had to spend, what I felt was way too much time reading between the lines and trying to figure out what the hell they were talking about. So, I want to preface this by saying I'm not nearly as certain that I'm doing this study justice as I normally am. That said, I'm going to generalize more because going through it point by point would be confusing and kind of ridiculous.]

There are previous studies that indicate women who volunteer for experiments that include genital testing, have a significantly different sexual history/profile than women who do not volunteer for these studies. The researchers worried that one might question whether the difference in sexual arousal profile they have seen in this study between females and males or trans women might have something to do with the type of females that volunteer for the study rather than females in general. To test whether this is true, they've created this 2nd study.

The idea was to get sexual histories (using a questionnaire) of females who would and would not volunteer for a study with genital testing. They did this by inviting 232 undergraduate women from psychology classes to an informal information session about Study 1. 104 actually attended. After the informational session, they had them fill out a sexual history questionnaire that included a question about whether they would be interested in participating in the study.

From this group of females, some of the heterosexual women that were interested were chosen to be part of Study 1 (the one described above), so a small portion of the hetero females in Study 1 were pulled from the people in this Study 2 instead of recruited out in the community. From there, the researchers did a couple things.

1. They compared the sexual histories of the women that did and did not want to participate, and there was in fact a difference in things like the average number of sex partners, interest in porn, masturbation frequency, orgasm during masturbation, etc. (Table 2 below). This matched what was seen in previous studies on the topic, but the researchers noted that just because there were these differences in experience didn't necessarily mean that those differences in past experience between the 2 groups would translate into different arousal patterns between those 2 groups - particularly different arousal patterns that would disrupt the conclusions made in Study 1.

p742 from A Sex Difference in the Specificity of Sexual Arousal

2. So to find whether women that are uninterested in participating in this study, had they been included, would tend to have an arousal pattern that might disrupt the findings of Study 1,  the researches did some digging into the genital arousal data of the women from Study 2 that were included in Study 1 and correlated that data with their sexual history answers. From there they further correlated those genital arousal / sexual history correlations to the differences identified between the women in Study 1 that did and did not want to participate. [Me: this is were it gets really convoluted. Exactly how these were correlated and combined (not that I would get the statistical maneuvering, but it's not even there for those that would get it), and actual clarity that those were combined in that way are just not in here. I really had to read between lines, and the Table 3 (below) that gives the numbers related to this double correlation (I think) doesn't even have any kind of description or explanation.]

Study 2: Results
For Table 3 below, what I believe those numbers are, are the result of some type of correlation calculation to indicate how likely it is that among the women in Study 1 who were recruited from Study 2 (29 of them total), their arousal scores from each of the categories (M-M vs. N for example) were related to their answers to the Study 2 Questionnaire question on the left. As you can see, the 3 highest numbers down there are marked with * or ** that indicate a p value of less than .05 or .01. The general rule is that a p value of less than .05 means the correlation is a significant one.

Thus, the researchers found from their calculations that only the answers about frequency of orgasm during masturbation, in only 1 category of genital arousal and 2 categories of subjective arousal, would be related to arousal patterns. "Three significant correlations showed that higher frequency of orgasm during masturbation was associated with higher genital arousal to male-male stimuli, higher subjective arousal to female-female stimuli, and more subjective arousal to female-female relative to male-male stimuli. Thus there is no convincing evidence that volunteer bias led to a misleading picture of female sexual arousal patterns."  [me: They don't specifically say this, but I am assuming that the reason they conclude this is because the categories where there did seem to be a significant correlation do not work against the conclusion of the Study 1. For instance, they found that heterosexual women who orgasm more frequently during masturbation also are more likely to volunteer for a study like Study 1.. They also found those same women are more likely to have a stronger genital arousal to the M-M movies. So, knowing this, the researchers could assume that if more hetero females that were not interested in participating in this type of study were nonetheless included, they would tend to have a less strong genital arousal reaction to M-M movies, which would only reinforce the conclusions the researchers already reached in the study - that females don't necessarily have the strongest genital response to the movie exclusively depicting the gender they sexually prefer - the way men and trans women do.]

p742 from A Sex Difference in the Specificity of Sexual Arousal

Discussion and Conclusion

  • "Our findings suggest that women have a nonspecific pattern of sexual arousal that is quite different from men's category specific pattern."
  • The researchers found that males and trans women who prefer men showed significantly stronger subjective and genital arousal to erotic movies depicting exclusively men and the opposite was true for males and trans women that prefer women. For both straight and lesbian females, this was not true. Both groups showed genital and subjective arousal responses only modestly related to their preferred sexual partner category.
  • They believe this could not be related to volunteer bias (the idea that women who don't want to participate in a study like this, if included, would skew the overall data differently), because of the conclusion they found from Study 2.
  • They also don't believe this difference could be due to the different ways the genital arousal was measured in males and female because trans women showed similar patterns to males even though they were measured the same way the females were. It is of note as well that trans women followed male patterns also in subjective arousal responses.
  • The researchers do not believe that although females seem to show arousal to all types of people, that this means they are not the sexual orientation they believe themselves to be. They note that despite female ability to be aroused widely, women do not participate in homosexual activity more than men.
  • "A self-identified heterosexual woman would be mistaken to question 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 erotica, however, would be statistically justified in reconsidering his sexual identity." 
  • "Our results cannot directly address whether sex differences in category specificity of sexual arousal is innate or learned. Our findings that male-to-female transsexuals show a male typical pattern, however, helps to rule out some explanations. Women's non specific pattern might not be fully explained by their lack of visible genitalia because transsexuals show a category-specific pattern despite a similar lack." [me: besides there being a lot here to unpack about assumptions related to the physiological qualities of trans people and about how and when trans people develop sexual identities and patterns, there is also a simple note that although the post-operative trans women in this study do not currently have genitals where arousal is easily noted, they almost certainly did all through their adolescents when many sexual patterns may have been ingrained. How they related to their genitals compared to cis men and women might be a whole other story, but I think it's a bit disingenuous to use their current situation as evidence that lack of genital visibility isn't likely influential in arousal patterns.]
  • The researchers again note a possible limitation of their study - that using the "pure stimuli" of movies showing homosexual acts might be offensive or bothersome to some (homophobic) heterosexuals, and this may be a weakness of their study. They think another study that did not use homosexual acts, but instead maybe solo sexual acts might be useful.
  • They say a second limitation is assuming that participants weren't consciously controlling their genital arousal . They point out a study where some males were able to do that. However they think this is unlikely for a few reasons. They pointed to another study where males who had a strong reason to control their genital arousal (during penile arousal assessment for pedophilia) could not. They also note that studies have shown males can lessen their genital arousal response, but cannot increase it. So, "although heterosexual male participants might be motivated to suppress sexual arousal to male stimuli because homosexuality is stigmatized, gay men would not be similarly motivated to suppress arousal to female stimuli; yet gay men's arousal was also category specific."
  • The paper concludes with: "The sex difference reported here has important implications for future conceptualizations of women's sexuality. Sexual arousal, especially genital sexual arousal, likely plays a much smaller role in women's sexual orientation development than it does in men's. Female sexuality, in general, may be more motivated by extrinsic factors, such as desire to initiate or maintain a romantic relationship, than by intrinsic factors such as genital sexual arousal (Baumeister, Cantanese, Vohs 2001). This basic sex difference in the role of sexual arousal processes highlights the need to use distinct models when investigating the development and expression of female and male sexuality." [me: or, and hear me out, the differences identified in this study may be an indication of how very different sexual culture, sexual experiences, and sexual imagery are for females than they are for males. This may an indication that what we think of as the common sexual experience is really the male sexual experience and what we understand to be common sexual imagery is actually deeply male-centric sexual imagery]

Some of my own thoughts
I appreciate any study that shines a light on the realities of how sexual things tend to work in people. I think there are useful things to be gleaned from this. Ladies (and really all people because there were people in the other categories that didn't perfectly align either - just less of them), just because your genitals are getting all swollen and wet in a situation doesn't necessarily mean you're actually interested in being part of something or that you are/should be mentally excited about it. Same if you feel mentally aroused, but your genitals are dry as a bone. It doesn't mean you don't want to be a part of something. Those 2 things may not always match up. That's the reality, and it doesn't mean you're broken. They are merely clues to pay attention to and help inform your decisions.

I also think it's useful to know that in the situation set up in this study, the participants reacted the way they did. I believe that knowledge could be the start of some digging that brings about even more interesting knowledge. What worries me though is both the specifically expressed and the underlying assumptions about why the results turned up like they did. What I see in this study is the researchers making a conclusion about how females, by their very nature, experience and express our arousal and sexuality. Even though the researchers specifically point out they can't say for sure if it's innate or learned, I feel that the tone of the article leans to innate, and this study is often used as evidence of the innate male-female differences in arousal pattern. However, I think one has to overlook a lot of cultural shit and a lot of realities of human sexuality to assume in any way that this study could be a look into the innate nature of female sexuality. And, I think it's a little bonkers to assume that this experimental design puts males and females on any kind of level playing field for sensible comparisons to be made.

I have a lot of reasons why I think this absolutely does not give a fair, even handed assessment of males vs. females. It is not a level study design even though on the surface, it may seems to be. For your reading enjoyment, below is a list of things off the top of my head that I believe affect and likely skew the outcome of this study. I completely understand that it's hard in a study to control for all the things in our world that affect the human experience. However, I think that these are large variables, yet weren't even considered in the experimental design and weren't discussed as possible limitations to the study. That, I can only assume, means the researchers either didn't consider them or didn't consider them important enough to discuss. Which in turn, I believe, means the researchers think this study was much more objective than it actually is, and that's a problem.

1 Sexual Experience Differences
Orgasm, people. Females orgasm in couple situations so much less than males. The female relationship to sexual activity is deeply different from the male relationship for this fact alone. I won't go into details because it's a lot and I already have tons of posts in this blog that describe how and why women don't orgasm during sexual activity even though our bodies are no less capable than men's (for instance: stimulation inside the vagina as one might get from intercourse is not stimulation that causes orgasm in females; all of media seems to insinuate it is, though, and that women should orgasm from getting banged; sex ed sucks and the clit is ignored, etc.). But the point is, to males sexual activity=orgasm and that's not true for female.

Consider a female and a male that have about the same amount of sexual activity in their lives, but realistically the male will come about 90% -100% of the time, and the female may only comes 30-70% of the time (if at all). In this case (which is not an uncommon case), sex itself is a different thing to each of those people with different expectations and associated feelings. Would it be crazy to assume that the male in that situation be more quickly and strongly aroused by things related to the sex they've had in their life, since those things seem to always lead to orgasm? Would it be crazy to assume that the female in that situation has much more complicated reactions to things related to the sex they've had - a mix of arousal, boredom, frustration, obligation - maybe it's more associated with love/romance/relationship than to eroticism and arousal - given that sexual activity doesn't always mean orgasm for her?

2 Porn, man. 
Different groups of people have very different histories, experiences, and baggage related to porn, and I'm not saying that in the 'individuals have individual experiences' kind of way. I'm saying that in the 'porn as a whole is acutely focused on male desire, orgasm, and fantasy, yet we largely ignore that and naively expect other people to glean the same experiences and feelings from it - which is utterly insane' kind of way.

The researchers in this study clearly don't get this because they don't acknowledge that this could be a limitation of their study. Also, there is no detailed descriptions of what the porn they show is like (what the people looks like, the intensity level, how it's shot-angles/close-ups, the sound and film quality, are there reach-arounds during the penetration scenes?). They only mention what type of sex act and whether the actors are male or female. There is not even a mention that the researchers took into consideration those details.

 Let me just list out some elements of porn (and I mean mainstream porn that you might easily find on any videotape or streaming site) that cause it to be such a different experience for females vs. males. I honestly don't know how to contextualize these things I'm saying for the trans experience, but they certainly are a part of it, and I'll leave it to people who know that experience better to pick through.

  • Females generally don't orgasm in porn. They moan and scream and fake a lot, but they barely come ever. Males, whether gay or straight, come almost 100% of the time. Imagine the difference in watching something where the people like you are having sexual things done to them that literally don't lead to orgasm. Whether you watch it and see the faking as faking or you assume it to be real and try to fit that incorrect depiction into your own expectations and experience - either way you have a very different relationship to it than people who watch it and see things happening to people like them that lead quite specifically to orgasm. Also just consider what males glean from porn about female sexuality and females about males sexuality...and how deeply seated and complicated those understandings are.
  • Mainstream porn (both gay and straight) is by and large focused on the needs and wants of the male viewer. Note the orgasm situation discussed above, but also it's how the people are positioned and how they look, and how they interact, what angles the camera gets. It's a little strange to me that the researchers didn't consider that there is a difference in porn depending on what kind of viewer it's focused toward. However, they probably didn't think about that because as a society, we don't think of it. Hetero porn is touted as porn that's made for both hetero males and females, but it's not. It's largely made for the male viewer, and it's rarely admitted. I really think it's incredibly naive and blind to assume that hetero porn made specifically for the male viewer would be as arousing to the female. Equally, why would gay porn made for males be as arousing as gay porn made for hetero females or lesbian porn made for the male viewer be as arousing for the lesbian? That the researchers had no worries that the very same male-male film might get a different reaction from gay men as it did from straight women, reveals a significant blind spot in the experimental design. 
  • Porn is, let's be honest, sometimes incredibly gross, boring or painful for the female actors in a way it is not for the male actors. Even if the porn clips in this study were not that way, it is very likely that at least some of the previous porn the participants have seen was this way at least some of the time.  Like, there is not an insignificant amount of mainstream (we're not talking BDSM or niche porn - just basic hardcore) where a woman gets slapped; on her face, her ass so hard she gets red welts, her pussy. Also, ladies often get loads blown in a pretty distasteful way on them. Often, the cunnilingus they get looks silly and not like it would work for orgasm at all (and it doesn't, so..). The way dudes touch the pussy is often cringy too - like way too rough or pulling it in weird ways.  And, sometimes (often?) the fucking looks really painful - like she's making noise and squirming, but any woman that has had a dick hit her cervix knows it's really just her dealing with the pounding until it's done. Even if the female participants use and enjoy porn - even if they like porn like I just described, it's still part of the baggage they carry in their minds about porn that men largely don't, and it very likely has some kind of differing effect on how their mind and body reacts to porn or the idea of porn..
  • Can we remind ourselves that the researchers chose a sex act that would lead to neither females orgasming for one of the F-F clips? Two women fucking with a strap-on. Like, why? I mean, I know that this is a thing some lesbian couples dabble in, but unless there was also a bunch of clit stimulation included (and the researchers certainly didn't mention a reach-around was involved), it's just a really strange mimic of something dudes like to do with women because it makes their dicks come, but is kinda useless for the ladies involved (almost like it's a show for male hetero dudes, huh?). It's a little weird and male-centric a thing to have in this study. 

3 Body Image
I don't know exactly how this might affect the outcome of this study, but there is truly a difference in how female vs. male bodies are depicted in our world. Female bodies, even very young female bodies are made to look sexy. The camera looks at them with angles the emphasize the ass and boobs. Clothes, even professional and casual clothes show much more skin than male clothes tend to. Females in general put more effort into looking sexually attractive, with make-up and hair styling and shaping underclothes. Female nudity in movies tends toward sexiness and male nudity tends toward comedy. I imagine for both males and females, sexual/nude images of males have a very different connotation than sexual/nude images of males, and on top of that those images affect both how we see our potential partners and how we imagine and understand ourselves. The way those things interact differently for different genders and different sexual preferences is complicated, but something to consider when using sexual imagery to compare these different people.

In Conclusion, Ya'll
I mean, I think using body and mind reactions to porn as a way to get an equal comparison of males vs. females is like using reactions to movie scenes of murder to compare horror directors and war survivors equally. I'm not trying to make a 1:1 comparison between males/females and horror directors/war survivors. I just want to point out that males and females are 2 groups that have very different perspective on sex. Even if it's not something that is discussed or even recognized in society, it doesn't make it any less true. It's naive to use moving images of sex and assume reactions from males and females can be compared 1:1. The results will be skewed - and that's without even considering how complicated a thing like sexuality is on an individual level.

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