Study indicates mental arousal may be more important for women with low sexual desire

New research suggests that subjective feelings of arousal may be particularly important for women with sexual desire and arousal difficulties. The study, published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, found that women with lower sexual desire tended to have a stronger alignment between their physical and mental arousal.

“We studied sexual concordance (the alignment between genital arousal and mental or subjective sexual arousal) and how this alignment is related to sexual functioning,” said Kelly Suschinsky, a postdoctoral fellow at Queen’s University.

“New sexual response models suggest that a person’s sexual desire or interest in being sexual isn’t spontaneous, but rather that it stems from experiencing arousal. We believed that women with low sexual desire might have problems detecting their genital responses and recognizing them as sexual (or less alignment between their genital and mental responses), which could in turn prevent them from experiencing sexual desire.”

In the study of 64 women, participants watched a sexually explicit video and continuously reported their feelings of sexual arousal while a device monitored the physiological reactions of their genitals. This allowed the researchers to compare the women’s subjective arousal with physical signs of arousal.

The participants also completed a questionnaire on sexual functioning, which assessed their general levels of sexual desire, satisfaction, pain, and other factors.

Suschinsky and her colleagues observed that women who reported lower levels of sexual desire tended to actually have higher levels of sexual concordance.

“Interestingly, women with high and low desire showed similar degrees of genital arousal and mental sexual arousal. This suggests that poor or impaired genital or mental sexual responses alone may not affect sexual functioning in our sample of women,” she told PsyPost.

“The women with low and high desire did differ in their concordance, or that alignment between their genital and mental sexual arousal. Women with lower sexual desire (or interest in being sexual) actually showed a stronger alignment or connection between their genital and mental sexual arousal. This was specifically the case when mental arousal predicted changes in genital arousal in these women (i.e., when their bodies got aroused as their minds were becoming aroused).”

“So the mental experience of arousal, or feeling turned on in one’s mind, may contribute one’s body getting turned on, particularly in women with low sexual desire,” Suschinsky explained.

But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“We recruited a large sample of women from the community. Although they had varying degrees of desire difficulties (some low desire, some high desire), we didn’t diagnose women with a sexual dysfunction. We recommend conducting clinical interviews and assessing diagnostic criteria in future research to get a more complete understanding of the relationship between sexual concordance and sexual functioning in women,” Suschinsky said.

“We recognize that this is one study, and shouldn’t make strong claims based on a single study. These results, however, are in line with some other research showing that mental sexual arousal can influence genital responses in women with low desire, and suggest that therapy aimed at enhancing mental sexual arousal may be a way to improve women’s sexual functioning. ”

The study, “The Relationship Between Sexual Functioning and Sexual Concordance in Women“, was authored by Kelly D. Suschinsky, Jackie S. Huberman, Larah Maunder, Lori A. Brotto, Tom Hollenstein, and Meredith L. Chivers.