Laser Doppler Imaging: a New Measure of Genital Blood Flow in Female Sexual Arousal
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Female sexual arousal refers to one’s feelings of sexual excitement and pleasure and has both physiological (i.e., objective) and psychological (i.e., subjective) components. It is an important, yet difficult phenomenon to investigate. As a result, many instruments have been used in an attempt to accurately measure female arousal; however, there are problems associated with each. Furthermore, the relationship between the subjective and physiological indicators of sexual arousal appears to be influenced by the instrument used to measure physiological sexual arousal. Specifically, instruments measuring physiological arousal internally (i.e., vaginal photoplethysmography) typically yield lower correlations between measures of physiological and subjective sexual arousal than instruments examining the external genitals (i.e., labial thermistor, thermal imager), which indirectly measure blood flow. Alternatively, laser Doppler imaging (LDI) is a direct measure of external genital blood flow but has only been used in one previous study that did not assess the relationship between physiological and subjective sexual arousal. The aims of the current study were to investigate the usefulness of LDI for assessing genital blood flow in women in response to erotic visual stimuli, and to explore the relationship between physiological and subjective indicators of sexual arousal. In addition, the role of psychosocial variables in predicting physiological and subjective sexual arousal was also examined. Eighty sexually healthy women completed a psychosocial interview and questionnaires. Participants also watched three 15-minute films during LDI scanning: two nature films (measuring acclimatization and baseline blood flow levels) and one randomly assigned experimental film (erotic, anxiety, humor, or neutral). They were asked to rate their level of subjective sexual arousal throughout and following the third film. Results indicated that LDI was able to differentiate the erotic condition from the three non-erotic conditions, and that physiological and subjective sexual arousal were significantly correlated. Although the psychosocial variables did not significantly predict either component of sexual arousal, specific variables moderated the association. Psychological, sexual, and social variables, along with genital sensations, played significant roles in the relationship between subjective and physiological sexual arousal. These findings suggest that LDI is a useful instrument for measuring female sexual arousal, and that sexual arousal is a complex process that requires further empirical investigation.