THE ROLE OF PREPOTENT SEXUAL FEATURES IN FEMALE NONSPECIFIC SEXUAL RESPONSE
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Research has found that men’s sexual response demonstrates specificity; men’s genital sexual arousal patterns to sexual stimuli match their stated sexual orientation. Heterosexual women’s genital responses are nonspecific in that they show sexual responses to both their preferred and non-preferred gender (Chivers, 2010). It is unclear why women show this pattern; however, examining the specific stimulus features associated with sexual arousal in women may provide clarification. Prepotent sexual features, that is, stimuli that involuntarily elicit nervous system activity (cf. Lang, Rice & Sternbach, 1972), may be associated with an automatic sexual response (Blader & Marshall, 1989; Chivers, 2005; Ponseti et al., 2006; Van Lunsen & Laan, 2004). It is possible that heterosexual women show genital responses to both preferred and non-preferred stimuli because prepotent sexual features are present in both male and female sexual stimuli. In order to better understand women’s nonspecific genital response, we examined whether stimulus prepotency was associated with nonspecific sexual response in heterosexual women. We assessed 36 heterosexual women’s genital and subjective arousal to slideshows of male and female prepotent stimuli (erect penises and aroused vulvas), non-prepotent stimuli (flaccid penises and female pubic triangles), and neutral stimuli (images of clothed men and women engaged in nonsexual activities). Counter to prediction, women demonstrated category-specific genital and subjective sexual responses, such that sexual arousal was significantly higher to prepotent male stimuli (images of erect penises) versus prepotent female stimuli; genital responses were nonspecific to non-prepotent and neutral stimuli. Results are discussed in terms of the sexual competency of stimuli and the Information Processing Model of Sexual Response.