Sex Ed, Videos

The Truth About Unwanted Sexual Arousal (VIDEO)

May 23, 2018 by Justin Lehmiller


Scientists who study sexual arousal have found that when they show participants a pornographic video, many people (especially women) show signs of genital arousal while simultaneously reporting that they do not feel aroused. This so-called arousal “nonconcordance” has presented a conundrum for researchers—which measure is the more valid way of determining what a participant truly wants and desires?

Some have argued that genital measures are the main ones we should look at because “genitals don’t lie.” However, others have argued that the way our bodies respond to a given stimulus doesn’t necessarily reflect how we feel about it—and that’s precisely the point sex educator and author Emily Nagoski makes in the TED Talk below.

As Nagoski argues: “Genital response just means it was a sex-related stimulus; it doesn’t mean it was wanted or liked, and it certainly doesn’t mean it was consented to.” She explains this brilliantly by making an analogy to Pavlov’s dogs. Pavlov conditioned dogs to salivate in response to the ringing of a bell by repeatedly pairing the ringing of a bell with the presentation of meat powder. Eventually, the dogs began to salivate in response to the bell alone—but does that mean that these dogs actually wanted to eat the bell? Nope.

Check out the full video below to learn more.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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