Evaluating Gender-specificity of Sexual Arousal with Thermography in Women and Men
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Men’s genital responses tend to be gender-specific, such that they show significantly greater arousal to their preferred gender compared to their nonpreferred gender, whereas the genital responses of androphilic women (i.e., sexually attracted to men) tend to be similar to stimuli depicting women or men (gender-nonspecific). Gender-specificity of arousal has been previously studied using short stimuli (approximately 90-second videos or audio-narratives) with genital responses assessed using vaginal photoplethysmography (VPP) in women and penile plethysmography (PPG) in men. One limitation to using these measures of genital response is that they use different scales (mV change in VPP and mm change in PPG), making it difficult to draw direct gender comparisons. In the current thesis, I examined gender-specificity of sexual arousal in women and men by measuring genital responses using thermography, which assesses similar physiological processes (i.e., temperature change associated with genital vasocongestion) in women and men. Specifically, I evaluated whether the gender-specificity of men’s and women’s genital temperature was similar to that observed for genital responses concurrently assessed using VPP (women) or PPG (men). I presented gynephilic men (i.e., sexually attracted to women; n = 27) and androphilic women (n = 28) with 10-minute audiovisual stimuli depicting men masturbating, women masturbating, and a nonsexual nature film. Participants reported feelings of sexual arousal before, during, and after each film, and genital responses were concurrently assessed using thermography and VPP or PPG. For all dependent variables, men exhibited gender-specific sexual arousal and women exhibited gender-nonspecific sexual arousal. These findings demonstrate that the gender difference in gender-specificity of sexual arousal persists beyond early sexual responding, including longer stimuli and relatively slow changes in genital temperature. Limitations and implications are discussed.