Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology


Clinical Psychology



First Advisor

James O. Prochaska


This study evaluates and compares the subjective and physiological arousal responses of heterosexual males and heterosexual females. Although several researchers have studied the patterns of sexual responding in reaction to erotic stimulation for males and/or females (Wincze, Hoon & Hoon, 1977; Heiman, 1977; and Sanford, 1974), to date there has been no systematic attempt to compare the patterns of sexual responding for these two groups using comparable measuring devices. With the recent development of more sensitive measuring devices, it is now possible to research this area.

The goals of this study were several; (1) to evaluate and compare males' and females differential patterns of physiological responsivity to a variety of erotic stimuli, (2) to evaluate and compare differential patterns of subjective responsivity for males and females, (3) to examine the relationship between measures of the physiological arousal response and the reported subjective arousal for males and females, and (4) to determine the extent to which a surface photoplythesmograph transducer was capable of discriminating sexual arousal from nonarousal states for males.

Methodologically, a group comparison paradigm was employed. Eight males and eight females were shown a variety of erotic and nonerotic films. The films were sequentially presented then withdrawn. During this time, both physiological and subjective measures of sexual arousal were continuously recorded. Dependent measures included vaginal vasocongestion, penile circumference, penile vasccongestion, and continuous report of subjective arousal. In addition, several self-report instruments designed to ascertain sexual experience and behavior, sexual arousability, sexual attitudes, and sex-role stereotypes were administered.

The results of this investigation indicate that for both males and females the erotic film sequences produced significantly more sexual arousal than the neutral film. Males and females differed in their physiological responses to erotic film content. The males displayed the highest levels of physiological arousal in the presence of the group sex and lesbian activity films. The highest levels of physiological arousal for the females were observed in the presence of the group sex and heterosexual activity films. A film depicting male homosexual behavior produced the least sexual arousal for the males as well as for the females. These results are discussed in terms of a model of social acceptability/unacceptability. Differences between the two groups' subjective reports of sexual arousal were also observed. The males reported the highest levels of subjective arousal during a group sex film. The females reported being the most subjectively aroused in the presence of a heterosexual activity film. There were significant correlations between penile circumference and subjective arousal for all of the males. However, the relationship between vaginal vasocongestion and subjective arousal was significantly high for only 5 of the 8 females. The measure of penile vasocongestion did not discriminate between aroused and nonaroused states for the males. Potential reasons for this finding were discussed. Suggestions were made for the development of more refined instrumentation for assessing sexual arousal.



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