June 18, 2006
Erotic Material Triggers Biggest Brain Response In Women

Using electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements of reactions to a large assortment of types of images shown for several seconds researchers found the minds of women react most strongly to erotic images.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis measured brainwave activity of 264 women as they viewed a series of 55 color slides that contained various scenes from water skiers to snarling dogs to partially-clad couples in sensual poses.

What they found may seem like a "no brainer." When study volunteers viewed erotic pictures, their brains produced electrical responses that were stronger than those elicited by other material that was viewed, no matter how pleasant or disturbing the other material may have been. This difference in brainwave response emerged very quickly, suggesting that different neural circuits may be involved in the processing of erotic images.

"That surprised us," says first author Andrey P. Anokhin, Ph.D., research assistant professor of psychiatry. "We believed both pleasant and disturbing images would evoke a rapid response, but erotic scenes always elicited the strongest response."

As subjects looked at the slides, electrodes on their scalps measured changes in the brain's electrical activity called event-related potentials (ERPs). The researchers learned that regardless of a picture's content, the brain acts very quickly to classify the visual image. The ERPs begin firing in the brain's cortex long before a person is conscious of whether they are seeing a picture that is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

But when the picture is erotic, ERPs begin firing within 160 milliseconds, about 20 percent faster than occurred with any of the other pictures. Soon after, the ERPs begin to diverge, with processing taking place in different brain structures for erotic pictures than those that process the other images.

I wonder if there is any trend as a function of age where the minds of older women might react less strongly to erotic images. I also wonder whether there is a difference with women on hormone suppressing therapies or who have had hysterectomies without replacement hormones.

Women rate erotic material as less appealing than men do. But their brains react as much to it as do the brains of men.

A great deal of past research has suggested that men are more visual creatures than women and get more aroused by erotic images than women. Anokhin says the fact that the women's brains in this study exhibited such a quick response to erotic pictures suggests that, perhaps for evolutionary reasons, our brains are programmed to preferentially respond to erotic material.

"Usually men subjectively rate erotic material much higher than women," he says. "So based on those data we would expect lower responses in women, but that was not the case. Women have responses as strong as those seen in men."

I would expect people with stronger sex drives to react more strongly to erotic materials. I wonder if one could use the EEG results like a biofeedback machine and train oneself to react more or less strongly to erotic materials. If one could train oneself to react more strongly would it provide any benefit for people who feel frigid or who get little pleasure from sex?

I'd also be curious to know whether a fast IQ test delivered after being shown images that elicit a greater brain response would show higher or lower mental ability. Do images that evoke stronger responses make the mind work quicker in general? Or do they divert mental resources away from problem solving?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 June 18 07:27 PM  Brain Sexuality

CASpears said at June 19, 2006 7:40 PM:

This is quite interesting. I do not know many woman, who at least admit, to liking porn. I always thought men were much more visual, as can be shown in all the male oriented pornography. Still, maybe this is because the pornography is predominately male oriented and does not appeal to many woman, because it is viewed as "nasty"...maybe more "tasteful" pornography with more complex background stories and fantasy plots catered more to women is what is needed. I'm 100% sure about 75% of male sexuality is in their pants, whereas for women it is in their brain...so to speak.

Bob Badour said at June 20, 2006 7:39 AM:

The response may be fast and strong, but what part of the brain reacts? Is it possible women report a lower response to erotic images because it does not activate the same parts of the brain?

horny mathematician said at July 13, 2006 2:35 PM:

They have obviously never tested my wife. If she were to see Tom Cruise, or Omar Sharif, or Rock Hudson in the buff, the needle would fall to a negative number, if that were possible. She has about as much sexual interest as a dead grapefruit.

It seems that many women, once they have had their fill of kids, totally lose their sexual drive. And the poor husbands have to fulfill their needs elsewheres, or other method.

That leads to an uncontrolled variable in the study. Would men with varying degrees of sexual fulfillment have different responses to visual stimulation. In other words, would a horny as hell husband who has not gotten any in a long time respond more strongly than a guy who was getting it regularly.

And I would expect two clusters of the former class: the first is horny as hell guys, and the second would be men who were so conditioned to not getting it that synaptic connections had atrophied. With adequate stimulation, and engram or K-line might stimulate old memory allocation.

Has any of this testing been done on positron emission tomography, looking for 3D location in the cortex?

It is also a place for longitudinal analysis, as the exposure is temporal, relegating the results to a time series response.

Kurmudge said at March 26, 2007 1:01 PM:

Nothing I saw in the study description here says that the women's response to the erotic images was positive or desirous- just that it was a strong response. It seems perfectly possible, or even likely, given the engines and sequences of arousal for each sex, that men respond with desire and women respond with disgust.

My wife isn't quite like the mathematician's, thank goodness, but she sure hasn't ever been a testosterone-laden female like some nympho Cosmo plaything either. If she saw erotic pictures of couples, she would be disgusted- whenever we are watching some movie where there is such a scene, she responds negatively.

lindsey said at April 4, 2012 9:08 AM:

The truth is that men are too primative to ever fully understand female sexuality. What is in our mind and what we wish to share with men are two different things. Also the reason many women object top porn is to do with how women are treated in porn, nothing to do with being against sex. Porn has an aspect of sadism about it, and is an expression of male aggression towards women.

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