Gender Differences in Sexual Feelings

Our hypothesis is that in women other (stimulus or situational) information beyond stimulus explicitness determines sexual feelings, whereas for men peripheral feedback from genital arousal (and thus stimulus explicitness) is the most important determinant of experience of sexual arousal. This hypothesis fits well with the observed gender difference in response concordance. It coincides with Baumeister's assertion that women evidence greater erotic plasticity than men (90). After reviewing the available evidence on sexual behavior and attitudinal data of men and women, he concluded that women's sexual responses and sexual behaviors are shaped by cultural, social, and situational factors to a greater extent than men's.

Both women's and men's sexuality are likely to be driven by an interaction of biological and sociocultural factors. Evolutionary arguments often invoke differential reproductive goals for men and women (91). The minimal reproductive investment for females is higher than for males. Given these reproductive differences, it would have been particularly adaptive for the female, who has a substantial reproductive investment and a clearer relationship to her offspring, not only to manifest strong attachments to her infants but also to be selective in choosing mates who can provide needed resources. This selectivity mandates a complex, careful decision process that attends to subtle cues and contextual factors. Consistent with men's and women's reproductive differences, Bjorklund and Kipp proposed that cognitive inhibition mechanisms evolved from a necessity to control social and emotional responses (92). Women are better at delaying gratification and in regulating their emotional responses. Beauregard et al. (93) showed the involvement of the prefrontal cortex in the regulation of sexual arousal. They induced sexual arousal by sexual film and imaged brain activity. Subjects were asked to inhibit their emotional responses to the film. The fMRI data show that confrontation with a sexual stimulus resulted in activation of the emotional circuit in the brain, while inhibition of the response was coupled with activation of prefrontal areas.

The emotional significance of events or situations, in addition to the evolutionary point of view, can be put in perspective by looking at the sorts of actions that are instigated by the emotional valence of "sexual" events or situations. These actions, as is predicted by motivation theories, are connected with the satisfaction of concerns, which need not necessarily be sexual, such as satisfaction from orgasm, but may also involve intimacy or bonding. Sexual stimuli, through negative experience, may be associated with aversion and thus turn off any possibility for positive arousal (94). Sustained sexual arousal, which may increase in intensity, must be satisfying in itself or predict the satisfaction of other concerns. This idea also implies that, depending on the circumstances, there may be nonsexual concerns that attract attention with greater intensity, and thus detract attention from sexual stimuli.

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