Sexual arousal in women doesn’t overcome disgust, study finds

New research suggests that sexual arousal doesn’t do much to overcome feelings of disgust.

“My interest for the topic came from my broader interest in what goes on in our minds when we are having sex,” remarked study author Florian Zsok of the University of Portsmouth and University of Zurich.

“I had encountered the topic before at an internship with Charmaine Borg at the University of Groningen and therefore decided to write my master’s thesis on the topic with Diana Fleischman. I still find it fascinating how people enjoy sex so much, even though it involves so many things that are kind of gross if put out of context.”

The study of 91 female psychology undergraduates examined whether sexual arousal could suppress women’s disgust towards potential mates with a visually-noticeable disease.

The women were shown either an erotic video or a hiking video before rating the attractiveness of photographs of men’s faces. The faces varied in attractiveness, and some had blemishes.

As expected, blemished faces elicited more disgust than unblemished faces and reduced attractiveness.

But the researchers found that sexually aroused women didn’t rate attractive faces with blemishes any higher than women who were not aroused. In other words, sexual arousal did not decrease disgust towards attractive men with a blemish.

“To some extent the finding answers the question ‘How do we manage to have sex without being grossed out?’ by saying: ‘Because we pick partners we are less easily disgusted by’.”

The research was published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.

“My study consisted of a relatively small sample of young female college students and should therefore be generalized with caution,” Zsok told PsyPost. “It is also not sure to which extent these women experienced pleasant sexual arousal in the study that translates to actual sexual arousal in the proverbial bedroom. But this is the difficulty of doing psychological research, especially on such a sensitive topic. There are always caveats.”

“Regarding future research, I think we should look more closely at what disgust-related sexual problems people experience. At the end of the day, we want to apply research to help people.”

The study, “Disgust Trumps Lust: Women’s Disgust and Attraction Towards Men Is Unaffected by Sexual Arousal“, was co-authored by Diana S. Fleischman, Charmaine Borg, and Edward Morrison.