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International Academy of Sex Research Presentations

The Role of Mixed Emotional States in Predicting Menís and Womenís Subjective and Physiological Sexual Responses to Erotic Stimuli

Peterson, Z. D. and Janssen, E., The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Indiana University, 313 Morrison Hall, 1165 East Third Street, Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA (email: zdpeters@indiana.edu or ejanssen@indiana.edu)

Many researchers have explored the impact of positive and negative emotions on sexual response (i.e., subjective sexual arousal and physiological sexual arousal). However, the role of ambivalent affect (i.e., co-occurring positive and negative affect) has not been explicitly analyzed in any of these studies. If individuals can experience both positive and negative emotions in response to erotic stimuli, understanding the role of these co-occurring emotional states could contribute to our understanding of the complex relationship between affect and sexual response.

This study aimed to clarify the role of positive, negative, and ambivalent (or mixed) affect in predicting subjective sexual arousal and physiological genital response. Twenty-six female and 19 male participants observed three erotic film excerpts and a film excerpt depicting a coercive sexual encounter. These multiple conditions were chosen to maximize the likelihood that both men and women would experience mixed or ambivalent emotional responses during their participation in the study. Genital responses were recorded throughout the study using a vaginal photoplethysmograph or a RigiScan device. Participants rated their mood and subjective sexual arousal following each film excerpt.

Multiple regression analyses were conducted with subjective sexual arousal and genital response as criterion variables. Predictor variables for each regression were gender, positive and negative affect, and the interaction between positive and negative affect. The interaction between positive and negative affect was included to more explicitly evaluate the role of ambivalent emotional states in predicting sexual response. Results showed that positive affect was strongly and positively related to subjective sexual response, but not to genital response. Negative affect was generally a poor predictor of subjective sexual arousal; however, for women it was positively associated with genital response in some conditions. Ambivalent or mixed affect was consistently associated with relatively high levels of subjective arousal, whereas, affective indifference (i.e., low positive and low negative affect) was associated with relatively low levels of subjective arousal and genital response in some conditions. Results point to the importance of recognizing the role of ambivalent or mixed emotional states when evaluating the relationship between affect and sexual response.

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