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This article reviews what is currently known about nude men and women respond to the presentation of visual sexual stimuli. While the assumption that men respond more to visual female stimuli is generally empirically supported, previous reports of sex differences are confounded by the variable content of the stimuli presented and measurement techniques.

We propose that the cognitive processing stage of responding to sex stimuli is the first stage in which sex differences occur. The divergence between men and women is proposed to occur at this time, reflected in differences in neural activation, and contribute to previously reported sex differences in downstream male physiological responses and subjective reports of sexual arousal.

Additionally, this review discusses factors that may contribute to the variability in sex differences observed in response to visual sexual stimuli. Factors include participant variables, such as hormonal state and socialized sexual attitudes, as well as variables specific to the content presented in the stimuli.

Based on the literature reviewed, we conclude that content characteristics may differentially produce higher levels of sexual arousal in men and women. Sexual motivation, perceived gender role expectations, and sexual attitudes are possible influences. These differences are of practical importance to future research on sexual arousal that aims to use experimental stimuli comparably appealing to men and women and also for general understanding of cognitive sex differences. Sex differences in response to visual sexual stimuli are widely acknowledged, although poorly documented.

A common presumption in society and the media is that men respond more strongly to visual sexual sex than do women. Pornographic magazines and videos directed at men are a multi-billion dollar industry while similar products directed towards women are difficult and find.

The extent of sex differences and the exact mechanisms producing them are unclear. This review discusses what is known about human sex differences in response to visual sexual stimuli and possible influences contributing to this sex difference. To understand fully sex differences in response to visual sexual stimuli, it is first necessary to present the theoretical construct describing the multiple processes we believe to be involved in and a response to sexual stimuli.

The cognitive contributions to sexual arousal are not completely known, but involve the appraisal and evaluation of the stimulus, categorization of the stimulus as sexual, and affective response Basson, ; Janssen et al. The physiological component of sexual arousal includes changes female cardiovascular function, respiration, and genital response, erection in men, and vasocongestion in women Basson, ; Janssen et al.

The inconsistency between physiological measures and reports of subjective sexual arousal may suggest sex physiological changes on male own are not the only events subjects use to assess sexual stimuli. Additionally, it is unclear whether this discordance is primarily limited to women, as men typically show a greater, although not complete, concordance between their genital responses and subjective assessments of arousal Chivers et al.

Thus, we do not yet female the exact relationship between subjective and physical sexual arousal, which is a complex process emerging from multiple cognitive and physiological components. It is possible that these cognitive and physiological components operate through distinct mechanisms and circuitry, although they male mutually affect each other Janssen et al.

Our theoretical orientation supposes that the conscious and unconscious cognitive processing in the brain, including memory, attention, and emotion, set the internal context and which visual stimuli, as well as the subsequent peripheral physiological responses, are interpreted as sexual.

The cognitive framework in which visual sexual stimuli are viewed thus mediates the specific response elicited male visual sexual stimuli. In a feedback process, subjective sexual arousal results from an interaction between cognitive and experiential factors, such as affective state, previous experience, and current social context, which set the conditions for the production of peripheral physiological reactions, which then feedback to affect cognitive reactions to the stimuli, resulting in feelings of sexual arousal, which in turn affect the extent of physiological arousal.

This integrating process may go through female iterations, increasing arousal with each pass through the cognitive-physiological loop. Whether the initial cognitive mechanisms are conscious or unconscious is unresolved, with some investigators emphasizing the initial physiological response to sexual stimuli as being a primary determinant of psychological arousal Basson, ; Laan et al. Sex is likely a sex difference in exactly how much cognitions influence subjective sexual arousal, but both men and women determine subjective sexual arousal as the product of physiological sexual arousal within the current cognitive state.

Previous investigations of sexual arousal have focused primarily on subjective or physiological end points, such as erection or genital vasocongestion, and have rarely quantitatively examined the cognitive processing of sexual arousal, including attention and stimulus evaluation.

The cognitive component of sexual arousal in response to visual sexual stimuli is a critical aspect of the sexual arousal response in humans needing further investigation. Sex differences are likely to be observed in the factors influencing, and importance of, the cognitive state on overall sexual arousal. Therefore, it is necessary to examine both the physiological and cognitive aspects of sexual arousal to fully understand sex differences in response to visual sexual stimuli.

This review discusses previous findings regarding sex differences in response to sexual stimuli, nude studies measuring both subjective and peripheral physiological measurements of sexual arousal, as well as studies measuring neural activation in response to visual sexual stimuli. The examination of sex differences in response to visual sexual stimuli using different methodologies may further our understanding of the complex interaction between cognitive and physiological processes to produce subjective sexual arousal.

The best documented sex differences in response to sexual stimuli use subjective ratings of sexual arousal and interest in response to sexual stimuli. When presented with the same stimuli, men and women often report different levels of sexual and positive arousal, as well as ratings of sexual attractiveness of the actors, depending on characteristics of the stimuli.

Most studies where men and women rate levels of attraction to sexual stimuli have not, however, systematically characterized details of the stimuli that may produce sex differences in sexual arousal or attraction Bancroft, The few studies that describe specific aspects of nude stimuli that men and women differentially prefer find a range of attributes that can affect response in men and women. Women who viewed clips from erotic films made by women or men reported higher levels of sexual arousal to the woman-made films Laan et al.

However, their subjective response was not reflected in their physiological response as they showed similar genital response to both woman- and man-made films. This discordance may reflect that these women also reported more negative emotions, such as aversion, guilt, and shame, in response to the man-created compared to the woman-created films. These negative emotions may result from the fact that man-created films involved no foreplay and focused almost exclusively on nude while the woman-created film had four of minutes devoted to foreplay.

It is unclear whether this reflects a response by the women to male-and female-created films, or a greater comfort with depictions of foreplay than intercourse. This could only be resolved by using films of similar content, but made by men or women. The observed disconnect between psychological and physical arousal may be related to the negative emotions causing the female subjects to invoke other cognitive mechanisms, such as social acceptability of the portrayal of sexuality, resulting in male inhibition or censoring of subjective report, but leaving their physiological response female.

Men had higher ratings compared to women for all of the videos, but had their highest ratings for male-chosen films. Women reported lower levels of sexual arousal across all of the films than did men, but reported higher levels of arousal to female- than male-selected films. This difference was comparatively small and men still had higher ratings than women even for women-selected films.

Together, these data demonstrated that men responded more to visual sexual stimuli than did women, and this sex differences was strengthened if the stimuli were chosen by a male. It is interesting that men appeared even more influenced than women by the sex of the researcher choosing the film.

This suggests that women discriminated less in their responses to sexual stimuli than men did. Despite the fact that these films were standardized for the amount of time involved in foreplay, oral sex, and intercourse, men and women still agreed that something, which varied with the sex selecting the films, was more or less arousing to them.

Men, however, rated the attractiveness of the female actor and the ability to observe the woman important in their arousal to the film in addition to imagining themselves in the situation. Therefore, it appears that and and women have different nude when viewing visual sexual stimuli Symons, ; however, the specific characteristics of the stimuli that may enhance or detract from the ability of subjects to utilize their preferred strategies remain unknown. A possible characteristic of sexual stimuli that men and women may attend to differently is the physical context or nonsexual details of the stimuli.

Although all participants spent the majority of their viewing time looking at the genitals, female faces, and female bodies in the photos, women using hormonal contraceptives looked more often at the background of the photos and clothing than did men.

This is consistent with another recent eye-tracking study in which men and women rated sexually explicit photos as equally arousing despite differences in their gaze patterns Lykins et al. Inconsistent with the Rupp and Wallen study, however, this eye tracking study did sex find a sex difference in male to the contextual elements of erotic stimuli.

However, the Lykins et al. Together, these findings suggest that men and women have different cognitive biases that may promote optimal levels of interest in visual sexual stimuli.

However, until future eye tracking work uses simultaneous measurement of sexual arousal, it is not entirely clear what elements of visual sexual male enhance sex arousal in men and women. Evidence from studies examining habituation to sexual stimuli offers further evidence that men and women and sexual stimuli using different strategies. Eighty-five percent of the female subjects said that as the trials repeated they paid more attention to both context-related and nonsexual details of the stimuli, such as background information or cues about the relationship of the actors.

It and possible that, in general, women may pay more attention to contextual and nonsexual details of sexual stimuli than men do. The presence of contextual elements in visual sexual stimuli may even allow lead to heightened arousal in women, as supported by the female that women reported more subjective erotic reactions to commercial movies that men did.

Kinsey et al. In this study, men and women viewed the same erotic film over four consecutive days and both men and women showed habituation of physiological and subjective measures of arousal. On the fifth day, subjects were presented with either a film depicting the same actors engaged in novel sexual activities or a film of new actors engaged in the behaviors observed in the original films.

Men reported levels of subjective arousal on the fifth day equal to that on the first only for films where new actors engaged in the previously seen sexual behaviors.

These data were interpreted as suggesting that men show a preference for sexual stimuli with new people, whereas women respond better to stimuli suggesting the stability and security of a male partner. It commonly thought that women prefer stimuli depicting stable romantic relationships although this view has little empirical support. The Kelley and Musialowski study may also reflect that women are more likely then men to project themselves into the films and thus partner stability may be personally rewarding.

However, projection nude the stimulus situation, or absorption, is also demonstrated in males to be positively associated with sexual arousal, although it is not clear under what conditions men use this strategy.

The principle established sex difference in preference for specific content of sexual stimuli is whether the stimuli depict same- or opposite-sex actors.

Generally, heterosexual men rate stimuli with same-sex stimuli lower than women rate pictures of other women. When undergraduate men and women female presented photos of men and women masturbating, men reported a significantly less favorable reaction to photos of men than of women Schmidt, By contrast, female rated photos of both sexes comparably.

Consistent with these findings, Costa, Braun, and Birbaumer reported equal levels of subjective arousal in women to photos of same sex nudes and opposite sex nudes, whereas men rated the opposite sex nudes higher. Similar patterns were observed when subjects were presented films of either heterosexual or homosexual sexual activity Steinman et al. Men showed a significantly lower level of self-reported sexual arousal to films depicting two men than they did to heterosexual or lesbian films.

Women, in contrast, did not show a difference in reported sexual arousal between heterosexual or female homosexual films. In these studies, both men and women spent more time looking at the female compared to the male actor in photos depicting heterosexual intercourse. When men and and watched films of homosexual or heterosexual sex, male genital measures and subjective reports showed that men responded highest to films depicting sex with a member of the sex nude they were attracted to.

This stimulus specificity was true for all the subjects from a sample that included heterosexual men, homosexual men, and male-to-female transsexuals. For women, to the contrary, genital sexual arousal did not differentiate the sex of the actors engaged in sexual activity. Chivers et al.

In summary, based on the literature described above, limited sex differences have been found in the contexts that evoke responses to sexual stimuli. This may contribute to the male tendency to discriminate between same- and opposite-sex stimuli while women report equal levels of arousal to both.

Additionally, women may prefer stimuli depicting stable situations while men prefer novelty. The underlying cause of the sex differences sex stimulus preference is unclear. However, given the similarities across species in which many males demonstrate a preference for novel females to maximize reproductive success Symons,one could hypothesize an evolutionary underpinning for this sex difference in novelty preference.

Additionally, these sex differences may reflect biologically based reproductive strategies in which female reproductive success is increased if she has a nude long term mate to help care for the young, sociological influences, or a combination of both. What is most important about these studies is the suggestion that men and women evaluate the same sexual stimuli differently.

These differences in appraisal may underlie the observed sex differences in subjective sexual arousal. If men and women evaluate stimuli differently from the outset, ultimately, sex differences in sexual arousal would be expected and may simply reflect this initial sex in stimulus evaluation.

The next section provides evidence that the sex differences observed from subjective reports of sexual arousal may be the product of sex differences in the cognitive processing of stimuli, reflected in differences in neural activity.

Historically, studies of a neural involvement in the response to sexual stimuli relied on lesion studies in animal models. Although these studies revealed important information, such as the critical roles of the hypothalamus and amygdala in sexual motivation and the expression of copulatory behavior, they cannot be replicated in human participants and may not be entirely able to address more complex cognitive responses to sexual stimuli that may be important in understanding human sexual arousal.

In humans, recent neuroimaging techniques have allowed investigation of how the brain responds to sexual stimuli. Both PET and fMRI are imaging techniques that use alterations in blood flow to infer regional differences in neural activity.

Sound familiar? There's a physical explanation, too. As counter-intuitive as this may sound, men are more in tune with their bodies than women are.

Guys typically notice and touch their genitals at a younger age by virtue of the fact that a boy's are more visible than a girl's. They also begin masturbating earlier. Or sometimes it's just that the mind takes a while to catch up. Ever since sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson revolutionized thinking about human sexual function and dysfunction in the s and s, conventional wisdom has held that there's a linear progression: People feel desire and then become aroused; the physical sensations intensify and it all ends with one big earth-shattering orgasm.

But current research is showing that for some women, desire doesn't necessarily come first. The sexual contact may be what gets you in the mood. She may be stressed or tired or, to Brotto's point, focusing on a million other things.

Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.

The idea is to enable women to stay focused on sex by integrating the physical with the mental so that mental excitement can heighten physical arousal and vice versa. To try it at home, Brotto suggests spending 10 minutes a day paying very close attention to any activity — walking the dog, washing dishes, drinking a cup of coffee.

To achieve this, imagine putting your wandering thoughts on a conveyor belt and watching them slowly roll away. Brotto advises next getting familiar with your body by examining and touching yourself during or after a shower, experimenting with what feels good. When you're ready, work toward incorporating the focusing exercise while you're aroused, either alone or with your partner.

Eventually you'll become attuned to what you're feeling during sex rather than letting your thoughts escape the bedroom. A slightly different aspect of desire has been the focus of studies by University of Utah psychologist Lisa Diamond, Ph. She's been interviewing a group of roughly women for nearly 15 years, asking them questions about changes in their sexual cravings and reactions over time.

One of Diamond's subjects is a straight woman who became intimate with her female roommate. Diamond has been grappling with the question of why some friendships take a turn toward the physical while most don't, and she's drawn some preliminary conclusions. In cases where both women identify themselves as heterosexual, a series of what she calls "situational factors" come into play.

One is relationship status: If neither woman has a boyfriend, they're more likely to become strongly emotionally invested in the friendship. The other is proximity: There's something very powerful about spending a lot of time together — as roommates, travel partners, or close colleagues, Diamond says. The woman in the study ended up in a two-year relationship with the roommate, after which she went back to sleeping with men.

Diamond's research reiterates the fact that female desire defies easy categorization. University of Nevada psychologist Marta Meana, Ph. The authors demonstrate that men and women did not differ overall in their neuronal response to the sexual stimuli as compared to IAPS control pictures of matched valence and arousal in response to images without available context.

What did differ, however, was the type of stimulus that produced increased activation in areas related to reward, specifically the ventral striatum and centromedian thalamus. For both heterosexual and homosexual men and women, the activation of the reward system was highest when viewing pictures of their preferred sex. This study supports our hypothesis that men and women do not differ in the neural pathways underlying sexual arousal, but only in the stimuli and strategies that activate the systems.

Costell et al. This component of the EEG occurs between the presentation of the warning and target stimuli and is thought to reflect levels of anticipation and increased attention. The target stimulus was a photo of either a male or female nude, or a neutral nonsexual photo of an individual. The warning stimulus was a msec preview of the following 10 sec target stimulus. Both men and women showed greater amplitude of the CNV to opposite sex stimuli than neutral stimuli.

Only women, however, showed an increase in response to same sex stimuli compared to neutral. These data suggest that at the neural level, similar to that observed at the behavioral level, men distinguish more than women between opposite and same sex stimuli. We hypothesize that men and women may differ in what types of sexual stimuli initiate sexual motivation and arousal.

Specifically, different characteristics of visual sexual stimuli, such as the sex of the actors or situational information included, may be variably effective in provoking sexual arousal in men and women. Therefore, as suggested above, the cognitive stage of sexual arousal during which men and women evaluate sexual stimuli may be a crucial point of divergence that produces observed sex differences in response to sexual stimuli.

The literature reviewed above provides evidence that there are sex differences in response to visual sexual stimuli. The origins of the sexually differentiated response to sexual stimuli are unknown. Possible factors could be sociological, evolutionary, physiological, psychological, or most likely a combination.

Sociological variables likely play a significant role in observed sex differences in reports of sexual arousal. Some researchers argue that sexuality is largely a socialized phenomenon Reiss, A content analysis of popular television shows featuring characters aged 12—22 years found that there were more social and emotional negative consequences in scenes where women initiated sexual activities than when men did Aubrey, The social teachings experienced by men and women throughout their lives may mediate their subjective feelings of sexual arousal in response to sexual stimuli.

Together, previous literature suggests that differences between men and women in experience, gender roles, and feelings about sexuality may produce different subjective levels of arousal.

Because women may feel more self-conscious in their response to sexual stimuli due to societal expectations, they may try to inhibit their responses to match socialized gender roles in which women do not display high levels of sexual response. Women may perform similar gender role congruent responding when presented with sexual stimuli.

In contrast to women, who may often under-report their previous sexual experience to match their perceived societal expectations, men may over-report their previous sexual experience to also match their perceived gender role Fisher, A recent study found that men characterized by high levels of hypermasculinity and ambivalent sexism reported more sexual partners when they had a female experimenter administering the anonymous survey, than if they had a male experimenter.

This effect was only observed, however, when the cover page of the survey contained a statement saying that women were recently shown to be more sexually permissive and experienced than men.

The findings that males who identify more strongly with traditionally masculine ideals alter their reporting when there is a message of dominant female sexuality, and that they do so only in the presence of a female experimenter, highlights the complex influence of socialized norms and attitudes on accurate reports of sexual behavior in men.

These studies together emphasize the differential and polarizing effects that socialization appears to have on men and women in their reports of sexual behavior, which is important to consider when investigating sex differences in response to sexual stimuli.

This inhibition or enhancement of responding could have significant ramifications, not only for studies measuring subjective reports of sexual arousal, but also for studies of genital arousal or neural activation. Inhibition also influences measures of neural activation, demonstrated by an fMRI study in which men were told to watch erotic films with or without inhibiting their reactions. Thus, if women are more likely to publically inhibit their sexual response their previously reported lower levels of genital and neural arousal in response to sexual stimuli might reflect greater subjective self-inhibition in women than men.

One moderator may be sexual attitudes, as there are significant relationships between these attitudes and reported levels of sexual arousal. Similarly, another study found that although physiological arousal was the same in response to two different types of erotic films, the film that elicited feelings of shame, anger, or guilt received lower subjective ratings of sexual arousal Laan et al.

This disconnect between subjective and physiological arousal is not limited to sexual attitudes, but is also related to sexual orientation. By contrast, their subjectively reported sexual arousal differed between stimuli depending on the sex of the actors in the films and was congruent with their self-declared sexual preferences. Men did not show a similar incongruence. Extreme examples of the female incongruence between cognitive and physiological arousal in women are clinical reports of sexual assault victims describing genital arousal during the incident.

There are multiple cognitive and physiological processes which social influences can differentially influence, altering subjective and genital response.

Women exhibit genital arousal to a variety of stimuli that they would not necessarily report as subjectively sexually arousing, such as the depiction of sexual intercourse between two members of the non-preferred sex or even nonhumans Chivers et al.

If genital arousal occurs to stimuli that women find subjectively unarousing, they are unlikely to engage in sex with those stimuli, even though they are physically capable of doing so. Together, these studies demonstrate in women a disconnect between physiological and subjective reports of sexual arousal. Whatever their cause, such bias may alter female perception of their physiological arousal such that they do not subjectively experience psychological arousal congruent with their genital response.

Alternatively, as a result of perceived social expectations, women may actively inhibit the level of arousal they report, such that it does not reflect the level of arousal they actually experience.

An important area of future research is the role that socialization plays in the shaping of sexual attitudes and how it moderates subjective and physiological responses to sexual stimuli. In addition to social pressures, biological differences between men and women likely contribute to the sex differences in response to sexual stimuli.

Gonadal steroid hormones are likely candidates for biological influences on the cognitive component of sexual arousal, including stimulus evaluation, attention, and sexual motivation.

Hormones may act by altering the attention to and the valence of sexual stimuli. Attention and other cognitive processes may be influenced by testosterone levels in men. A PET study found that activation in the right middle occipital gyrus and right inferior frontal gyrus, areas linked to emotion and motivation, in response to viewing erotic film clips was positively correlated with testosterone levels in men Stoleru et al. Additionally, hypogonadal men, who have chronically low levels of testosterone, do not show neural activation patterns typical of men with normal testosterone levels in response to viewing sexual films Park et al.

However, following three months of testosterone supplementation, hypogonadal men show increased activation in the inferior frontal lobe, cingulate, insula, corpus callossum, thalamus, and globus pallidus, as observed in normal men in response to sexual stimuli.

That they did not find any difference in activation in the amygdala may be a consequence of methodology. Only recently have fMRI scanners developed the resolution to accurately scan this deeply embedded region. Previous studies suggest that testosterone also influences sexual attention in women. Alexander and Sherwin found that attention to auditory sexual stimuli in a subgroup of women, with low levels of testosterone, was correlated with their endogenous levels of testosterone.

All women made more errors in repeating the target message when the distracter was sexual than when it was neutral stimuli.

In the 12 women with lowest testosterone increased, but not in the sample overall, errors to the sexual stimuli was correlated with testosterone, suggesting that there is a threshold for hormone action. Although the results are difficult to interpret because the phenomenon was observed only in women at the extremely low testosterone levels, they do suggest that testosterone may increase attention to sexual stimuli.

This notion is supported by a study that administered exogenous testosterone to normal women and changed their response to sexual stimuli Tuiten et al. While this study needs to be replicated, it does suggest an activational effect of testosterone on cognitive perception of sexual stimuli. Testosterone metabolites, particularly estrogen, may also influence the perception of sexual stimuli in men and women. On a basic level, hormones receptors in the eyes Suzuki et al.

The first common methodological problem is that many studies use subjective units of measurement as indicators of interest in stimuli. In that study, hormonal state at first test session was shown to mediate subsequent levels of genital response to visual sexual stimuli. Females first exposed to visual sexual stimuli during their luteal phase had lower levels of physiological arousal when subsequently tested across other phases of their menstrual cycle than females whose initial exposure occurred at another phase.

In this way, hormones may have primed or conditioned females to have increased responses to stimuli that they were exposed to when they had higher levels of sexual desire. In addition to hormonal influences on overall sexual interest and arousal, female perception of male attractiveness varies with their ovarian cycle. Women show a preference for masculine male traits during their ovulatory phase of the cycle that is not observed during other phases Feinberg et al. In fact, when tested during the luteal phase, women find feminine male faces more attractive than masculine faces Jones et al.

At ovulation, when conception is likely, women may prioritize acquiring fit genes and be more attracted to masculine men. During the luteal phase, in contrast, when hormones are preparing for potential pregnancy, the priority may shift from mating with masculine males to finding a stable partner who can provide more parental investment and resources. A mate choice is a complex decision balancing the potential reward of high genetic quality with the risks of low paternal care or sexually transmitted infection and disease.

It is possible that this is a central cognitive effect and that the hormonal state of an individual sets a cyclically fluctuating context in which potential mates are evaluated. Changes in overall sexual arousal and desire and mate preferences with fluctuations in hormone levels across the menstrual cycle may be due to variability in the cognitive processing of sexual stimuli across the cycle.

This hypothesis is supported by a recent neuroimaging study that found differences in neural activation in women looking at visual sexual stimuli depending on their menstrual phase at the time of testing Gizewski et al. Specifically, women had more activation in the anterior cingulate, left insula, and left orbitofrontal cortex when tested during their mid-luteal compared to menstrual phase.

Eleven women viewed still photos of nude men, neutral photos of people, and babies during their menstrual, ovulatory, and luteal phases. Only during the ovulatory phase, when estrogen levels were elevated, did women show an increase in the late positive component LPC to sexual compared to neutral stimuli.

The LPC is thought to be sensitive to valance and levels of emotional processing. Concurrent with measured changes in the LPC, women reported greater subjective positive valence in response to the sexual stimuli during the ovulatory period. It is possible that the variability that is observed in the literature regarding sex differences in response to sexual stimuli may be partially a result from cyclic variations in sensitivity in women. Although relevant data are comparatively limited at this time, it is apparent that the hormonal state of the subjects is likely an important variable to consider when investigating sex differences in the cognitive response to sexual stimuli.

Previous studies have used women taking oral contraceptives Hamann et al. These design problems have obscured a factor likely to be of significant importance and have increased variability in the results. Future studies need to more precisely investigate the impact of hormonal status on the perception of sexual stimuli and how this relates to differences in men and women.

The currently available data strongly support the idea that men and women differ in the sorts of stimuli that they find sexually attractive and arousing. We still do not know the relationship between these sex differences in preference and differences in physiological arousal as there is not yet a common metric to compare physiological arousal in men and women. A variety of factors clearly moderate responses to sexual stimuli in men and women. Evidence supports that some previously observed sex differences in response to sexual stimuli may, in part, reflect a differential response to the content of the stimuli used.

Men are influenced by the sex of the actor portrayed in the stimulus while contextual factors, possibly allowing for the creation of a social scenario, may be more important to women.

Whether these preferences are learned or innate is unknown. Work by Chivers and Bailey suggests that women are less specific in their arousal patterns then men, possibly as a protective mechanism.

Future work would benefit from the quantification of the characteristics that are differentially appealing to men and women. Understanding these differences is of practical importance to future research on sexual arousal that aims to use experimental stimuli comparably appealing to men and women. The sex differences observed in subjective sexual arousal to visual sexual stimuli are possibly the combined product of social and biological influences on cognitive processes that direct the perception and assessment of these stimuli.

Based on how men and women differently regard these stimuli as positive and arousing, there will result in apparent differences in physiological and psychological responses. Strong support for this notion is evident in the common finding that subjective and physiological measures of sexual arousal in women are often uncorrelated. Further investigation of the cognitive aspect of sexual arousal is very important in our understanding of the sexual arousal process, not only in how participants respond in experimental conditions, but especially in understanding sexual arousal outside of the laboratory.

Current therapy for sexual dysfunction in men and women primarily addresses the physiological component of sexual arousal, such as the ability to maintain an erection or produce vaginal lubrication.

We argue that despite recent pharmacological scientific advancement, the most appropriate treatment is cognitive therapy. Women, especially, may be better served by sexual therapy targeting cognitive components of sexual arousal, rather than pursuing pharmaceutical relief, which may be ineffective. Finally, while the current review focuses on sex differences in the cognitive processing of visual sexual stimuli, differences in attention and preferences for different contextual element s of pictures may not be unique to sexual stimuli.

Rather, differences in response to visual sexual stimuli could be one example supporting the idea that the brains of men and women differ functionally in their environmental assessment to produce sexually differentiated behavioral response patterns.

National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Arch Sex Behav. Author manuscript; available in PMC Sep 8. Heather A. Rupp , Ph. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Rupp, Ph.

Copyright notice. The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at Arch Sex Behav. See other articles in PMC that cite the published article. Abstract This article reviews what is currently known about how men and women respond to the presentation of visual sexual stimuli. Keywords: sexual stimuli, sex differences, sexual arousal. Sexual Arousal To understand fully sex differences in response to visual sexual stimuli, it is first necessary to present the theoretical construct describing the multiple processes we believe to be involved in producing a response to sexual stimuli.

Women do not live in the world this way. They are not exposed everyday to images that legitimize their lust; instead, the images teach women that they are the object of that lust. In light of this, Sociologist Beth Eck did a series of interviews attempting to tap into what it felt like for men and women to look at male and female nudes. Her findings were pretty fascinating. First, she asked men and women to look at naked images of women, including this one of Cindy Crawford:.

Women viewing images of female nudes almost inevitably compared themselves to the figure and felt inadequate. Said one women:. Women ended up feeling bad whether the model conformed to conventional norms of attractiveness or not. When looking at a heavy set woman, they often responded like this:. Men, in contrast, clearly felt pandered to as holders of a heterosexual male gaze. They knew that the image was for them and offered praise for a job well done or criticism for failure to live up to their expectations.

Both men and women, then, knew exactly how to respond to female nudes: women had internalized their object status and men had internalized their subject status. Men responded by either expressing extreme disinterest, re-asserting their heterosexuality, or both. Eck explains:. They know she is there to arouse men.

Thus, they do not have to work at rejecting an unwanted advance. It is not for them. Many women also did not feel lustful when looking at male nudes and those that did often experienced lust mixed with guilt or shame. Men, over and over again, reject the seductive advance [of a male nude].

While some women welcome the advance, most feel a combination of shame, guilt, or repulsion in interacting with the image…. Source: Eck, Beth.

Just because males don't externalize that they compare themselves to other men doesn't mean they don't internalize these things. However, men do not verbally pick themselves apart in the manner women do, I've found. Women look at themselves in parts and, finding a single flaw on their body, they're suddenly utterly unattractive where as men look at themselves as a whole body.

Women may also just be verbalizing that they feel uncomfortable with the naked male body when really they enjoy it - in private. I think it's important to remain objective with studies that tell you how people reacted to images based on how they said they felt about them. While it often reveals a valid point of people trying to live up to social standards, it's not always the most accurate portrayal of how they actually feel about something, and more about how they feel they should feel about something.

Interesting post. You don't have to be attracted to men to tell. Personally I didn't feel very interested in either of the nudes, or have a strong reaction. Cindy Crawford meets the beauty standard and all that, but I have limited concern about whether I do, due to gender identity differences.

Sylvester Stallone isn't my type, so I wasn't interested in gawping at him either. His pose isn't dominant given that he's turned away from the camera and imitating a famous sculpture so I wasn't repulsed by him, and I grew up consuming lots of images of men as sexual objects, so I didn't feel ashamed or guilty to look at him either.

I found myself concentrating on details such as the weird pink shroud in the Crawford pic and the shiny orange-ness of Stallone's skin.

Men like to look at naked women, because they have low costs of Sex and just need good genes and a good Body. Women are reminded of competion beautiful women or their one shortcomings heavy women because beauty is one of the main attraction switches for men.

Women like men with a high status and more commitment than men because sex carried a high price costs of beeing pregnant. Clothes can show status easier then naked skin. So they do not care so much about the naked men or having easy sex with him because it is just Sex, something they can easily have but do not want as much as men. The Men just respond to the sexuality pointed at the viewer of the photo. The competion is low, because they know of the importance of status over nakedness for women.

I've had pretty similar experiences with non-artists' reactions to nude photography in the US. A few variables worth exploring:. I haven't seen any indication of the cultural diversity of the group of interview subjects, but the project appears to have been conducted entirely in the US. I'd submit that this makes a huge difference. Audiences in northern Europe, for example, would be accustomed to a similar gender binary when it comes to the mass media, but to a very different cultural attitude toward nudity itself.

Germans, for example, read similar fashion magazines but also socialize in mixed-gender nude environments such as saunas, where the exposed body is not associated with sex. And while the most famous male celebrities of the UK and France have frequently appeared nude in pop culture, this is absolutely not true of the US.

It would be interesting to see how broader attitudes toward and prior exposure to nudity affect the way we process commercial images of it. How were the images in the study selected for symmetry? In available photos of nude males, Stallone is certainly an outlier; he's instantly familiar, and yet we're not trained to view him as an object or cipher. On the other hand, plenty of male models occupy a role more similar to that of Crawford, in that the casual viewer need not trip over the baggage of popular movie characters to gaze upon them as objects.

I wonder how much of the way we view these "cheesecake" nudes is impacted by the blatant effort to conceal features such as genitalia, body hair, and female nipples.

The composition announces that the subject has something to hide, which is presumably too "dirty" to be shown in polite society. The concealment sexualizes the images more than what is actually revealed; the darkened shadow between Stallone's thighs and the crossing of Crawford's arms acquire a heavy symbolism that no exposed penis can match. For anyone who is able to read the paywalled article, are any differences addressed between types of nude images, and how they effect the viewer's reaction?

None of this is to dispute the general thrust of the argument. But ironically, I think the sociology is the component this study is missing. It has bothered me for the longest time that men just being attractive is so often "Homoerotic" where as women making out with each other is just "hot". I bet it would be interesting to compare with reactions to clothed male celebrities associated with the female gaze, like Mathew Macon Why is it that in Hollywood films, when guys are naked, it's usually done in a mocking way -- haha!

A lot of heterosexual females, it seems, have been brainwashed by partiarchy to think that women are better looking than guys, but!! It doesn't make sense to me.