Women's sexuality 'more flexible' than men's
Saturday, June 14, 2003
Researchers studying female sexuality have found that women, regardless of their sexual orientation, are aroused by erotic images of both men and women, contrasting sharply with male arousal patterns.
Does this suggest women are generally bisexual?
Not necessarily so, say the scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago.
"Male sexual arousal is category-specific," said Meredith L. Chivers, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Northwestern and a psychology intern at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. She is the lead author of the study.
"Men show their greatest sexual arousal to the categories of people with whom they prefer to have sex. With respect to sexual orientation, heterosexual men experience much higher ... arousal to women than to men, while homosexual men show an opposite pattern."
That link, for men, is so strong that courts rely on measures of sexual arousal for offenders being examined for sex crimes, particularly in determining pedophilia, the sexual attraction to children.
An emerging body of research on female sexuality, however, suggests that women's sexual preferences cannot be reliably measured in the same way, with researchers classifying women's sexuality as "more flexible" than men's, with more variation in preferences, behaviour, attitudes and the impact of cultural norms.
Ms. Chivers, who will present her findings at a public lecture at the centre on Wednesday, studied three groups of people for her study, which is to appear in a forthcoming issue of the academic journal Psychological Science.
The researchers studied the responses of a group of men, a group of women, and a third group comprised of transsexuals, who have been surgically altered from male to female. The transsexuals were included to rule out the possibility that differences between men and women are the result of the differing ways genital arousal is measured because of the physical distinctness between the sexes.
Researchers described the transsexuals as having the brains of a man but the genitals of a woman.
All of the participants were privately shown six, two-minute films depicting a variety of sexually explicit material while wearing devices that measured genital blood flow.
The heterosexual men were most aroused when watching female-female couplings and homosexual men to male-male couplings. The pattern for the transsexuals matched that of the men.
Both heterosexual and homosexual women, however, experienced strong arousal to the images of both male-male and female-female couplings, the researchers found.
"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," Ms. Chivers said.
The study adds to the view that "female sexuality may be more motivated by extrinsic factors, such as the desire to create or maintain a romantic relationship, than intrinsic factors, such as genital sexual arousal," the study says.