J Sex Med.

2013 Apr;10(4):990-1000. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12032. Epub 2013 Jan 15.

Dawson SJ, Suschinsky KD, Lalumière ML.


Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.



Laboratory studies have revealed two well-replicated sex differences in sexual arousal patterns: category specificity and sexual concordance. Men’s genital responses are dependent on specific sexual cues and are concordant with subjective reports of arousal. Women’s genital responses are much less dependent on specific sexual cues and are much less concordant with their subjective reports. The preparation hypothesis provides a functional explanation for these sex differences and posits that women’s genital responses are not tied to sexual preferences but rather occur automatically in the presence of any sexual cue to protect the genital tissues from injuries incurred through sexual activity. This hypothesis leads to the expectation that women’s genital responses may not habituate as quickly or as completely as men’s.

To determine whether there is a sex difference in the habituation of genital responses and to further test the preparation hypothesis of women’s genital responses.


Twenty men and 20 women had their genital responses measured while they were exposed to nine consecutive presentations of the same erotic film clip (habituation), followed by two presentations of different erotic film clips (novelty), and followed by two presentations of the original erotic film clip (dishabituation).


Genital responses were measured continuously using penile strain gauges (assessing penile circumference) and vaginal probes (assessing vaginal pulse amplitude). Participants reported subjective sexual arousal, perceived genital arousal, and attention after each film clip presentation.


Men and women displayed very similar patterns of genital responses, consistent with habituation and novelty effects. Effects of habituation and novelty were eliminated once subjective reports of attention were covaried.


Contrary to the prediction from the preparation hypothesis of women’s genital responses, men’s and women’s responses showed similar patterns of habituation upon repeated exposure. Future research should attempt to maintain participants’ attention in order to further test the preparation hypothesis.