Racializing Sexual Response: The Role of Identification and Racial Attitudes on Black and White Women’s Responses to Race Congruent and Incongruent Sexual Stimuli

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Penniston, Trinda
Race , Identification , Sexual response , Sexual arousal , Attractiveness , Affect , Racial attitudes
Identification, or taking the actor’s perspective in a sexual film, is a strong predictor of women’s self-reported sexual arousal, and similarity between the viewer and actors in a film, such as similarity in race, is believed to increase identification. Previous research suggests that race may be a relevant stimulus cue modulating women’s responses to sexual stimuli, including sexual arousal, affect, and appraisals of actor’s attractiveness. Associations between race and sexual, affective, and appraisal responses may be explained by women’s identification with sexual stimuli. If similarity between the viewer and actors in sexual films increases identification, and identification augments women’s sexual response, then women should identify more with race-congruent, compared to race incongruent sexual stimuli (i.e., stimuli depicting actors of the same, or a different race than the viewer, respectively), and in turn, report greater sexual, affective, and appraisal responses to sexual stimuli. As women view race-congruent and incongruent sexual films, another question of interest is whether their sexual responses are influenced by their racial attitudes. The current study examined Black and white women’s self-reported sexual arousal, affect, and appraisal of actors’ attractiveness in response to race congruent and incongruent sexual stimuli, and explored if the relationship between race congruence and women’s responses are mediated by identification, and moderated by women’s racial attitudes. Race congruence was found to be a positive predictor of self-reported sexual arousal, appraisal of the male actors’ attractiveness, and positive affect, but not negative affect. Identification with sexual stimuli mediated sexual, affective, and appraisal responses only for white women, and all women’s appraisals of actors’ attractiveness were moderated by their implicit racial attitudes. Black and white women’s responses were moderated indirectly by explicit racial attitudes through identification. The current study contributes to growing research on race and sexual response and the effects of identification and racial attitudes in the sexual response process. Implications and future directions are discussed.
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