Attractiveness and Sexual Response
Gynephilic (attracted to women) men’s sexual responses are strongly dependent upon the gender of a sexual target, while androphilic (attracted to men) women’s sexual responses may be more dependent upon contextual cues other than gender (like physical attractiveness). Research suggests that our nervous systems have been shaped through sexual selection to respond preferentially to cues of attractiveness (as they provide meaningful cues of health and reproductive viability of potential sexual partners). Research also suggests that women’s preference for cues of attractiveness may be highest during periods of the menstrual cycle when conception is most likely. The effect of attractiveness cues on men and women’s sexual arousal has never been tested directly. This dissertation employs one large, within-subjects design, using concurrent measurement of self-reported arousal, genital arousal, self-reported attention, and visual attention patterns to examine three objectives: (1) men and women’s genital and self-reported arousal to cues of attractiveness and gender; (2) women’s sexual arousal to these cues across the menstrual cycle; and (3) men and women’s attention to cues of attractiveness and gender and its relationship with sexual response. Gender and attractiveness proved to be important determinants in men and women’s self-reported and genital arousal, self-reported attention, and visual attention patterns. Though patterns of response varied somewhat between dependent measure and participants’ gender, generally, men and women were found to respond more to attractive than unattractive stimulus types and to their preferred, relative to their non-preferred, genders. Though clear menstrual cycle effects did not emerge among women’s responses to cues of attractiveness and gender, women’s self-reported arousal, genital arousal, and self-reported attention were found to vary by testing order (if they were tested first in the follicular or luteal phase of their menstrual cycles), such that women tested in their follicular phase first showed greater differentiation in their responding to attractive relative to unattractive sexual targets, than women tested in their luteal phase first. Finally, self-reported (but not visual) attention patterns were found to be meaningfully related to men and women’s self-reported and genital arousal to cues of gender (but not cues of attractiveness). Implications and future directions are discussed.