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Factors that Influence Sexual Arousal in Men: A Focus Group Study

Authors:
  • Institute for Family and Sexuality Studies

Abstract

The goal of this study was to improve our understanding of men's sexual response and its components as well as the factors or types of situations that men describe as facilitating or interfering with sexual arousal. Six focus groups, involving 50 mostly white, heterosexual men (M age = 35.2 years; range, 18-70), were conducted. As it was previously found in women (Graham, Sanders, Milhausen, & McBride, Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33, 527-538, 2004), men described a wide range of physical (genital as well as nongenital) and cognitive/affective cues for sexual arousal. Also, men described the relationship between sexual desire and arousal as being variable and complex, presented a wide range of factors that increased or decreased sexual arousal, and showed substantial variability in both the importance and direction of their effects. The findings may help further development of models of sexual response and inform discussions about gender differences in sexual desire and arousal.
ORIGINAL PAPER
Factors that Influence Sexual Arousal in Men: A Focus Group
Study
Erick Janssen Æ Kimberly R. McBride Æ
William Yarber Æ Brandon J. Hill Æ Scott M. Butler
Received: 21 November 2006 / Revised: 28 June 2007 / Accepted: 10 July 2007 / Published online: 27 November 2007
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007
Abstract The goal of this study was to improve our under-
standing of men’s sexual response and its components as
well as the factors or types of situations that men describe as
facilitating or interfering with sexual arousal. Six focus
groups, involving 50 mostly white, heterosexual men (M
age = 35.2 years; range, 18–70), were conducted. As it was
previously found in women (Graham, Sanders, Milhausen,
& McBride, Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33, 527–538,
2004), men described a wide range of physical (genital as
well as nongenital) and cognitive/affective cues for sexual
arousal. Also, men described the relationship between sex-
ual desire and arousal as being variable and complex,
presented a wide range of factors that increased or decreased
sexual arousal, and showed substantial variability in both
the importance and direction of their effects. The findings
may help further development of models of sexual response
and inform discussions about gender differences in sexual
desire and arousal.
Keywords Sexual arousal Sexual desire
Sexual response models Gender Men
Introduction
Most of what is currently known about the determinants and
mechanisms of sexual arousal is based on research using
quantitative, and in particular psychophysiological, meth-
ods. Masters and Johnson (1966) were among the first to
decrease researchers’ reliance on self-report methods and
animal models by providing them with innovative and
increasingly non-obtrusive procedures and instruments to
observe and measure the physiology of male and female
sexual response. In their milestone book Human Sexual
Response, Masters and Johnson (1966) reported on the
findings of the direct observation of sexual responses in
hundreds of men and women and presented a model of
human sexual response that, while descriptive in nature, has
had a major and lasting impact on both the laboratory study
of sexual response and approaches to the diagnosis and
treatment of sexual problems.
Whereas Masters and Johnson made a significant contri-
bution to our understanding of the physiology of sexual
response, they devoted less attention to the processes respon-
sible for the activation of such responses. In their model,
sexual responses occur when there is ‘‘adequate sexual stim-
ulation. However, they did not define what constituted
effective stimulation (Janssen & Everaerd, 1993). With the
introduction of instruments to quantify penile tumescence
and vaginal blood flow (e.g., Barlow, Becker, Leitenberg, &
Agras, 1970;Freund,1963; Sintchak & Geer, 1975), which
E. Janssen (&)
The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and
Reproduction, Indiana University, Morrison Hall 313, 1165 East
Third Street, Bloomington, IN 47405-2501, USA
e-mail: ejanssen@indiana.edu
K. R. McBride
Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine,
Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA
W. Yarber
Department of Applied Health Science, Indiana University,
Bloomington, IN, USA
B. J. Hill
Department of Gender Studies, Indiana University,
Bloomington, IN, USA
S. M. Butler
Department of Kinesiology, Georgia College and State
University, Milledgeville, GA, USA
123
Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265
DOI 10.1007/s10508-007-9245-5
allowed for more experimental control and privacy for sub-
jects, research on sexual arousal began to incorporate experi-
mental manipulations and to focus more on factors that might
facilitate orinterfere with the activation of sexual response. As
a result, over the past three decades there has been a significant
increase in experimental and psychophysiological studies that
assess the role of processes relevant to cognition (e.g., mem-
ory, attention), affect (e.g., anxiety, mood), hormones, drugs
(e.g., alcohol), and characteristics of the stimulus (e.g.,
whether they are ‘‘male’’ or ‘‘female’’ centered, romantic vs.
explicit, category specific or nonspecific) and the effect they
have on the likelihood that a sexual response will occur. This
development has culminated in a number of sexual response
models that originated from findings of experimental and
psychophysiological research (e.g.,Bancroft & Janssen,2000;
Barlow, 1986; Janssen, Everaerd, Spiering, & Janssen, 2000;
Palace, 1995). Interestingly, although these models all incor-
porate findings from research using samples of men and
women with sexual dysfunction, and although they all could
have implications for the diagnosis and treatment of sexual
problems, as yet little to no research has been conducted to
evaluate their clinical application. Thus, while a rich empirical
database and conceptual framework exists for rethinking the
psychophysiology of sexual dysfunction, both the clinical
literature and clinical practice have been and still are strongly
influenced bythe work of Masters and Johnson and others who
builtonit(e.g.,Kaplan,1977, 1979;Lief,1977).
Recent developments in the diagnosis and treatment of
sexual dysfunction, however, have led scholars to revisit and
critically appraise models of sexual response such as Masters
and Johnson’s and the diagnostic classification systems
derived from them (e.g., Tiefer, 1991), and in the process have
inspired the reintroduction of qualitative research methods
in the study of sexual arousal and related processes (e.g.,
Graham, Sanders, Milhausen, & McBride, 2004;Nicolson&
Burr, 2003). While initially involving concerns about the
introduction of and growing reliance on medical treatments
(e.g., prostheses, intracavernosal injections) for male erectile
dysfunction (e.g., Bancroft, 1990; Tiefer, 1986), the advent of
oral drugs, such as Viagra, shifted the discussion towards
sexual problems in women and moved it away from a mere
criticism of biomedical approaches (or the ‘‘medicalization’
of sex) to a discourse on gender differences and how to best
conceptualize sexual response in women. Thus, in recent
years we have seen a growing number of publications ques-
tioning whether models such as Masters and Johnson’s are
appropriate and relevant to our understanding of women’s
sexual desire and arousal (e.g., Basson, 2002a, b; Tiefer,
2001), while its validity as a model for men has remained
largely unchallenged. Yet, as Masters and Johnson’s model
was based on ndings in both men and women, a discussion on
its validity ideally would include questions relevant to both
genders. For example, while the model has been critiqued for
being ‘linear’ and for not doing justice to the complexities
involved in the relationship between sexual desire and arousal,
a compelling empirical basis for the conclusion that this would
not also apply to men is lacking.
Psychophysiological research lends itself well for certain
types of questions and allows for a level of control that many
other methods lack. When it comes to comparing men and
women, however, psychophysiological methods come with
some unique challenges. Although experimental procedures
can be standardized and made identical for men and women,
researchers commonly rely on the use of different instru-
ments for the assessment of genital responses in men and
women, complicating their comparison. Also, although the
same stimuli can be used, the selection of stimuli can
influence the findings in various and largely undetermined
ways (cf. Janssen, Carpenter, & Graham, 2003). Recently,
researchers have started to use qualitative—in particular,
interview and focus group—methodologies to complement
experimental and psychophysiological approaches and to
provide additional sources of information about factors and
processes that are relevant to sexual arousal (e.g., Graham
et al., 2004; Nicolson & Burr, 2003, but see also Bancroft
et al., 2003, and Bancroft, Janssen, Strong, & Vukadinovic,
2003).
While qualitative methodologies can be used, and argu-
ably more easily than psychophysiological ones, to directly
compare men and women, research in this area seems to
mirror the tendency observable in psychophysiological
research, in that most studies focus on either men or women,
but not both. For example, Bancroft et al. (2003), explored,
using in-depth interviews, the question of how negative
affect (in particular, feelings of anxiety and depression)
influences men’s sexual response and sexual decision-
making. Although this question can be considered of equal
importance to our understanding of women’s sexuality (cf.
Lykins, Janssen, & Graham, 2006), only men were included
in this research. Examples of the opposite, where topics
equally relevant to men have been studied in women only,
exist as well. For example, Nicolson and Burr (2003)
interviewed women about desire and their perceptions of
what constitutes ‘normal’’ sexual satisfaction, and explored
how this related to the experience of orgasm through sexual
intercourse. And Graham et al. (2004) used focus groups to
collect information on possible factors and situations that
promote or interfere with sexual interest and arousal in
women. More specifically, they explored cues for sexual
arousal, the distinction between sexual desire and arousal,
and factors that are related to the activation and suppression
of sexual response.
Graham et al.’s (2004) study was presented as a first step in
the development of a new questionnaire to assess women’s
propensity for sexual excitation and inhibition (Graham,
Sanders, & Milhausen, 2006). The starting point for this project
Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265 253
123
was the dual control model of sexual response (Bancroft, 1999;
Bancroft & Janssen, 2000), which postulates that separate and
relatively independent excitatory and inhibitory sexual sys-
tems exist within the central nervous system, and that it is the
balance between these two systems that determines whether a
sexual response occurs in any particular situation. Although a
questionnaire to evaluate the propensity for sexual excitation
and inhibition already existed (SIS/SES; Janssen, Vorst, Finn,
&Bancroft,2002a, b), it was originally developed for use with
men. Graham et al. (2004) were concerned that the SIS/SES
questionnaire might not adequately assess factors relevant to
women. Graham et al. indeed found that women reported a
number of themes (e.g., the role of concerns about one’s rep-
utation) that are not represented in the original SIS/SES
questionnaire. They suggested that many of the themes ‘‘ref-
lected factors that may be of particular relevance to women’
(p. 526) and concluded that their ndings supported the
ideas put forward by The Working Group for a New View of
Women’s Sexual Problems (2001) in that inhibition in women
seems to arise from relational and sociocultural factors as well
as physical and psychological ones. However, as the develop-
ment of the SIS/SES questionnaire did not include a qualitative
phase, the possibility remains that men would report similar
themes.
The current study was designed with the goal to improve
our understanding of men’s sexual arousal and its compo-
nents as well as the factors or types of situations that men
describe as promoting or interfering with their sexual
interest and arousal. In order to allow for a comparison with
the findings on women reported by Graham et al. (2004), we
used similar procedures and asked similar questions. Like
Graham et al. (2004), we covered three topics: (1) sexual
arousal and its components (e.g., how do men know when
they are sexually aroused?); (2) sexual desire and its rela-
tionship to sexual arousal (e.g., does sexual interest always
occur before arousal?); and (3) factors that enhance or
inhibit sexual arousal (e.g., what stimuli or situations
enhance or increase and what stimuli or situations prevent or
interrupt sexual arousal?). Whereas Graham et al.’s study
included separately recruited African American and lesbian/
bisexual groups, the current study did not include individual
race or sexual orientation groups, and the majority of sub-
jects were white, heterosexual men.
Method
Participants
All participants were English-speaking men age 18 years
or older recruited from a medium-sized university town
located in the midwestern United States. To ensure diver-
sity in the sample, recruitment strategies included the use of
advertisements in local newspapers as well as flyers distrib-
uted through community organizations, churches, and campus
centers. Men interested in participating were screened by
telephone and, if eligible, were mailed a copy of the informed
consent form and a demographic questionnaire. Following
Graham et al. (2004), the decision was made to conduct
groups that were homogeneous in terms of age (18–24 years,
25–45 years, and 46 years and older), while mixed with
regard to demographic characteristics such as occupational
status, educational background, socioeconomic status, and
ethnic background. Participants were 50 men (M age =35.2
years; SD = 13.9; range, 18–70). The majority (90%) of men
self-identified as heterosexual, three self-identified as bisex-
ual, one as homosexual, and one participant was uncertain
about his orientation. The vast majority had attended college,
technical school, or university (88%). Also, the majority of
men were white (84%); three men were African-American/
black, three Hispanic, one Asian, and one self-described his
racial/ethnic background as ‘other.’’ About 50% of the men
were single/never married, 26% was married, 20% separated/
divorced, and 4% widowed. About 10% of the men were
Catholic, 22% Protestant, 4% Jewish, 42% indicated ‘other’
for religion, and 22% indicated to have no religious affiliation.
Most men (60%) were in exclusive/monogamous relation-
ships, although 36% indicated not currently being in a sexual
relationship, and 4% indicated being in a non-monogamous
relationship. Six groups were conducted in total: two aged 18–
24 years (N = 20; M age = 20.2 years; SD = 1.9), two aged
25–45 (N = 15; M age = 33.4 years; SD = 6.5), and two
aged 46 and older (
N = 15; M age = 52.5 years; SD = 6.8).
Procedure
As recommended by Morgan (1997), moderators who matched
group members’ sex and age conducted each of the focus
groups. Two male moderators facilitated each focus group
session. For each session, at least one senior researcher mod-
erated (EJ, WY), either with the other senior researcher or an
upper level graduate student (SB). Each of the sessions was
audiotaped and transcribed for analysis. Further, moderators
took notes during each session. In order to ensure the ano-
nymity of participants, no individual identifiers were collected.
Focus group sessions were conducted in a private room in
a local public library. Consent forms and background
questionnaires were collected from participants upon arri-
val. Sessions began with introductions by the moderators
and participants. While name cards were provided for each
participant, men were told that they could choose not to use
their actual names and could use a pseudonym. Refresh-
ments were provided during the sessions. At the end of the
2 h session, men were thanked for their participation and
received a $15 payment. Study approval was obtained from
the university’s Human Subjects Committee.
254 Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265
123
Focus Group Discussion Guide
Moderators followed a discussion guide (cf. Graham et al.,
2004), which included the following components:
1. Description of the purpose of the study and the pro-
cedural rules of the focus group.
Men were informed that the purpose of the focus group
was:
To share ideas to help us develop a better understanding
of men’s sexual arousal and its components as well as
the factors or types of situations that promote orinterfere
with men’s sexual interest and arousal.
Men were told that they could share information from their
own experience, things they have observed, or experiences
described to them by other men (i.e., acting as participant-
observers for their peers), and it was made clear they were not
expected to reach consensus on any of the themes discussed.
Further, participants were asked to respect the privacy of the
other participants and not to share contents of the group dis-
cussion with individuals outside of the group.
2. The three topics and questions preceding them:
(a) Sexual arousal and its components. ‘‘How do men
know when they are sexually aroused? What cues
are there? Can you have erections without feeling
sexually aroused or interested?’
(b) Sexual interest/desire. ‘How would you describe
sexual interest? How is it related to sexual arousal?
Is there a clear demarcation between the two in
terms of sequence? Does sexual interest always
occur before arousal?’
(c) Factors that enhance or inhibit sexual arousal. (i)
‘What stimuli or situations enhance or increase
sexual arousal? (ii) ‘What stimuli or situations
prevent you from being sexually aroused or end/
interrupt arousal?’
The facilitators clarified the questions when needed and
the discussion guide also contained a list of possible situ-
ations/variables that could be used as prompts; however, as
much as possible, moderators allowed the group members
to generate ideas and to have participants react to the ideas
and statements of other group members. As in the study by
Graham et al. (2004), the sequence of discussion topics
was not rigidly fixed.
Data Analysis
The methods of analysis were drawn from Graham et al.
(2004) and Morgan (1997). Conceptual categories derived
from the literature on sexuality and gender that represented
factors thought to be relevant to sexual arousal and desire(e.g.,
internal psychological factors such as mood state and self-
esteem) was built prior to the initial analysis. Transcripts from
each of the six sessions were then independently analyzed and
coded by two researchers (KM, BH), independent of the
moderators, to confirm that each conceptual category was
represented in the transcripts. In instances where a category
was not represented in a particular group, the researchers
noted its absence. The researchers then identified recurrent
themes within the categories and specific quotes within each
theme. Following this, the two researchers compared the
categories and themes across investigators and groups. In
the case of discrepancies related to categorization or themes,
the researchers discussed discrepancies until consensus was
reached. Once the themes were organized into broad catego-
ries, refinements were made to both the coding scheme and
labeling of themes. The final coding scheme consisted of six
broad conceptual categories. In the final stage of analyses, the
coding framework was applied to all of the data by annotating
each transcript with the codes that indexed the categories.
Consistency between researchers on all categories exceeded
95%.
Results
The results are presented in three sections, corresponding to
the three discussion topics explored during each group
session: (1) cues for sexual arousal; (2) the relationship
between sexual arousal and interest/desire; (3) factors that
enhance or inhibit sexual arousal. Following the approach
used by Graham et al. (2004), moderators are indicated by
the letter ‘M.’ participants by the letter ‘P,’’ and comments
made by different participants within a discussion segment
(delineated by separate paragraphs) are indicated by num-
bers (e.g., P1, P2). The same letters and numbers do not
necessarily represent the same participants for different
discussion segments (e.g., P can represent any participant
and P1 or P2 can represent different participants for different
discussion segments).
Cues for Sexual Arousal
Findings from Graham et al. (2004) indicated that women
experienced a wide range of cues for sexual arousal. Similar to
their findings, within and among groups, men described a
diverse range of cues that indicated sexual arousal, including
physiological (genital and nongenital responses) and cogni-
tive/emotional (e.g., interest, fantasies, heightened sense of
awareness) indicators. Physiological genital responses were
Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265 255
123
described as erection, and sensations of tingling and warmth,
while nongenital responses included increased heart rate,
increase rapid breathing, increased tactile sensitivity, changes
in body temperature, and flushing of the face.
Though erection was described as one cue of sexual
arousal, the majority of men responded to the question,
‘Can you have erections without feeling sexually aroused or
interested?’ by indicating that they could, indeed, experi-
ence erection without feeling sexually aroused.
M: Can you have erections without feeling sexually
aroused? Does that happen to you? Often? Every now and
then?
P1: Something that happens every night (18–24 group).
P2: It just has a mind of its own (18–24 group).
P: No, I don’t think it always does because sometimes you
just wake up with one and it might be that just more blood
is in the penis than that you’re horny (46 and over group).
P: I can sit at the PC and be working and just my body
position, I can get one and not be thinking about it (25–45
group).
P: Riding in a bus, sometimes I will get an erection. Or in a
bumpy car. Or just waking up in the morning (18–24 group).
P: It was the last part of Vietnam, stateside. I had guys
coming back and telling me stories. One guy was a gunner
on one of the apache helicopter. When they would go into a
hot zone he would get a real hard erection. Now he wasn’t
sexually aroused but the stimuli of going into a live fire
flight, where you are the object of a thing everybody is
going to be firing at (46 and above group).
Just as women in the focus group study by Graham et al.
(2004) indicated that they could feel sexually aroused without
experiencing vaginal lubrication, men reported that they could
feel sexually aroused without having an erection, as illustrated
by the following (but see also the next section, about differ-
ences between sexual desire and arousal):
P: Well, I have gone to the strip bar several times and
watched the girls, get sexually aroused but not get a hard
on (25–45 group).
P: I think one of the things that I have noted about getting
older is the fact that I can be aroused without getting an
erection (46 and above group).
These findings suggest that, at least as subjectively expe-
rienced, erection is neither an adequate nor a sufficient cri-
terion for sexual arousal in men.
Sexual Arousal and Sexual Interest/Desire
Prior research suggests that the relationship between sexual
arousal and desire is complex, and that individuals often
have difficulty distinguishing between the two (Graham
et al., 2004). Consistent with that research, we found that
many men did not clearly differentiate between sexual
arousal and sexual interest/desire. However, the relationship
between sexual arousal and sexual desire appeared to be
different for solo sexual activities versus sexual activities
with a partner.
Partnered Sex
P: You can be aroused by someone and not really be
interested in doing anything with it. I mean, you can go to
the movies and see beautiful women all over the place and
you don’t want, necessarily, to have sex with them, but it
really catches your eye (18–24 group).
M: Can you become aroused and then interested or does it
usually begin with interest and then arousal?
P1: I think it depends on the situation. As a student out
here, I see several out here that I would see as potentials,
but didn’t really pursue after (25–45 group).
M: So that may have been interest but no arousal?
P1: Correct (25–45 group).
P2: Then the other could occur. Say your partner comes
up and starts to have foreplay. You don’t have the interest
there yet but they are providing the arousal first (25–45
group).
P: When I become aroused I am not necessarily hard at all.
It is the potential to become so, given the opportunity to
actually participate in intercourse or some other form of
sexual activity (25–45 group).
P: Yeah, you can be interested in someone and not be
aroused by them. I mean, you can be aroused by people
you are not interested in (18–24 group).
P1: You know, like you said earlier, I just, for no reason,
get an erection. I may not have been thinking about sex or
anything else and it just happens. And my next thought is,
‘okay now you’ve got it, what are you going to do with
it’ (46 and above group).
P2: It’s called automatic penis syndrome (46 and above
group).
Masturbation
Views on masturbation differed among participants. While
some participants indicated that masturbation was a major
part of their sexual expression/repertoire, others indicated that
they infrequently engaged in masturbation. In comparison to
partnered sexual behaviors, the distinction between desire and
arousal seemed less intricate, and the association between
desire/arousal and behavior stronger for masturbation.
256 Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265
123
P: I mean, like, you are home alone and you just wake up
and then you might masturbate. If your partner is there,
you might engage your partner (25–45 group).
P: I think masturbation is all about, just like, when I am in
a funk it’s a great way to get out of it. If I am just sitting
there and everything sucks and I am just like tired. I mean
even when I was in a serious relationship it was just like
the option was there but like, it is so much work ya know?
It’s like masturbation is just, like, give me 5–10 min and
we’re done. There is no build-up (18–25 group).
P: I think masturbation is more of a release than it is
sexual (above 46 group).
P: I think if you are with a partner, you’re there. You are
feeling sexually aroused because of that woman. But if
you just want to masturbate, I mean you are thinking of
something that will give you an erection. You know you
want to do it and that is all there is to it (above 46 group).
P: I feel like masturbation is a mechanical thing. It is
something you do when something just feels off and you
need to fix that. I don’t know, sex seems to be more
something that is real (18–24 group).
Thus, many of the men did not seem to consider mas-
turbation as really being ‘sexual,’ or to integrate it into their
views of themselves as sexual beings, in contrast to their
experiences of sexual interactions with a partner.
Aging
A number of age-related themes emerged during the ses-
sions. One of the most obvious differences between the older
and younger groups related to the ability to obtain and
maintain erection. Older men reported experiencing changes
in the quality of their erections and that such changes had a
direct effect on their sexual encounters, including for some a
stronger focus on the partner and her sexual enjoyment.
P: ...but several years ago I started to realize that I am not
getting an erection like I used to and yet I am still having
sexual or sensual fantasies. Now, more often, there is a
cognitive aspect to it, with either focusing on somebody
specifically or wishful thinking. But more and more, I am
not really experiencing erection anymore. I just accept it
as a fact of aging (46 and above group).
P: I think my desire is the same as when I was 18. I find
that sex is better. I enjoy it more now. Sometimes the
performance, physical erection part, isn’t as great as it
used to be (46 and above group).
M: What about something like erectile difficulties that
you are having?
P1: No (18–24 group).
P2: No, not yet. I would break down and cry (18–24
group).
P3: Oh no, I would have to get help (18–24 group).
In addition to changes in erection, older men also con-
sistently mentioned that they became more careful and
particular in choosing a sexual partner.
P: That you have a girlfriend type of relationship, that you
are in love with. And it makes the sex much better. I have
lost years in the kind of casual one-night stand type of
thing, years ago. It always seems so shallow, so super-
ficial nowadays (46 and above group).
P: I think it is all age-related, too, because when I was
younger I didn’t care as long as I was having sex with
somebody (25–45 group).
P: ...there was a time in my life when any girl—I wasn’t
very discriminate because if I was aroused, that was it. I was
going to sleep with this girl. I have been this way for a
couple of years now, to where I am much more discrim-
inate. Just because I am aroused, I am not going to do it (25–
45).
Factors that Enhance or Inhibit Arousal
Factors that enhanced or reduced sexual arousal (see
Question 3) were classified into six broad categories, each
containing several subcategories. Much like the findings
reported by Graham et al. (2004), factors that were reported
to be ‘inhibitors’ by some men were described as ‘enhan-
cers’ by others, and even as both by the same men, depen-
ding on the specific situation described. For example,
negative mood states, such as depression, were reported by
some men as inhibiting their ability to become aroused and
by others as enhancing it. Likewise, the possibility of being
heard or seen while having sex was described as arousing by
some men and inhibiting by others. Although individual
differences appeared to play a role, men also reported
that the context of the interaction was important, particu-
larly whether they were with a new or causal partner versus
a long-term or committed partner and the quality of that
relationship.
A variety of themes emerged across the different age
groups. However, men did consistently raise specific themes
in all groups, including feelings about one’s self, feeling
desired by the sexual partner, importance of partner attri-
butes, self and partner’s mood state, and feeling emotionally
connected to their sexual partner.
Feelings About One’s Self
In terms of facilitating sexual arousal, men frequently cited
feeling good, attractive, or positive about one’s self (e.g.,
one’s accomplishments or appearance) as an enhancing
factor:
Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265 257
123
P: When you feel confident in yourself in one way, you
can feel sexually confident and more likely to approach
women (25–45 group).
P: Like I am a musician, so after a concert, if I have done
really well, it is a good time (18–24 group).
P: I feel like whenever I have accomplished something, and
especially when I have accomplished something signifi-
cant to me, I have a swell of endorphins or something and I
want to have sex (25–45 group).
P: If you have one of those days where everything is just
going your way, it is like, hmmm, I wonder what else I can
do (18–24 group).
Or conversely:
P: If I am in a situation where I am just not feeling attractive,
like maybe if I haven’t bathed for a couple of days, went out
hiking, or something like that. Or, I am just feeling scruffy
or something like that. I am just definitely not interested in
having sex (25–45 group).
Partner’s Sexual Desire
Regardless of age, a number of men reported that their part-
ner’s sexual desire, and feeling desired by their partner,
affected their own desire and arousal. Specifically, being with
a sexual partner that made one feel desired was considered to
be an enhancer while being with a partner who did not make
their desire explicit was considered inhibiting.
P: I like my wife to initiate, rather than me initiating for
the sex act. That means more to me. It really turns me on
when my wife gets horny (46 and above group).
P: I think another factor is inhibition. When a woman
becomes uninhibited and really lets loose, to me that is an
incredible turn on (25–45 group).
P: The biggest turn off for me is when my partner loses
interest, in the middle... (46 and above group).
P: A lack of communication can kill my arousal. I think
whether it is verbal or internal dialogue that you are
sharing with someone. If it’s not there, I guess I feel I need
to be told that it is pleasurable (25–45 group).
P: I would have to say the number one thing is feedback. I
mean, if you show any sign of interest and you get a sign
of interest back that is a good thing (18–24 group).
Partner Attributes
For most men, the physical and psychological characteristics
of a woman were reportedly very important in terms of
enhancing or inhibiting sexual arousal. While individual dif-
ferences in specific preferences were vast, some of the most
commonly reported attributes involved physical appearance,
intelligence, scent, and sexual experience (i.e., number of
previous partners).
Physical Characteristics Men reported a broad range of
preferences in terms of the physical characteristics of a
potential sexual partner.
P: I usually go about 50% on looks and 50% on body
because there has got to be something worth getting
underneath the clothes for (18–24 group).
P: A good-looking face. I look at that. I think the eyes—
when I look into someone’s face. They have to have pretty
eyes. I think just that look, you know, let’s do it (18–24
group).
P: Just getting back to turn off, I think bad hygiene, for me,
is an absolute killer. I like a woman to have good breath, to
taste good, and to smell good. But then it is a combination of
factors (29–45 group).
M: What about things you consider visually stimulating?
What do you consider visually stimulating?
P1: The back (25–45 group).
P2: Lower back (25–45 group).
P3: Buttocks (25–45 group).
P4: Legs (25–45 group).
Intelligence A large proportion of men reported that they
found intelligent women to be a turn on, particularly in, but
not limited to, the context of a relationship.
P1: Intelligence is a real plus (46 and above group).
M: Intelligence is a turn on?
P2: A big turn on (46 and above group).
P: Being with intelligence. I feel like something that leads
up to sexual arousal or interest is conversation. If we can
have a conversation and we can see eye to eye, I won’t
have much trouble taking the next step (25–45 group).
M: Do you all think that intelligence is an important trait
or not? Or some who is not intelligent?
P1: In a long term, I would say yes (18–24 group).
P2: If you are just looking for sex, then no. But if you are
looking for a long term, definitely (18–24 group).
P3: I find it even important in the short term. Like I just
find it really attractive. Like it would mesh with the
physical qualities and would be hard to distinguish (18–
24 group).
Others indicated that intelligence was not important as an
enhancer to sexual arousal, although it was often preferred
even when it was not considered essential.
P: Smart, wise, I don’t really care if the person is smart at
all. That’s not the number one thing I look for (18–24).
P: I don’t find dumb women to be a turn off, but I am
definitely attracted to women who are intelligent (25–45
age group).
258 Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265
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Scent Across groups, men indicated that scent played an
important role as either an enhancer or inhibitor of sexual
arousal, depending on whether the scent was considered to
be pleasant or unpleasant. Furthermore, scent served as a
memory trigger, for some men, recalling positive or nega-
tive previous sexual experiences contributing to their sexual
arousal.
P: Yeah, for me scent is one of the big things. I don’t like
women who smell like Ivory. I like women who smell like
women (46 and above group).
P: My last years’ relationship, she wore the same basic
perfume. It was great. It was identifying, you know? It
became a turn on, you know, because it was something I
related to, like, the physical aspect (18–24 group).
P: It’s the hormonal response to a stimuli, you know, I
don’t know whether it’s getting a whiff of wet pussy or the
pheromones, and all of that, but for me it is the same turn
on (46 and above group).
P: A woman’s scent is definitely one of the things that I
find very arousing. A friend and I were talking about this.
I asked him why it didn’t work out and he said she didn’t
smell right. It is so core (25–45 group).
Number of Sex Partners One theme that consistently
emerged from the groups related to the number of previous
sex partners that a woman has had. Graham et al. (2004)
found that women, particularly those in the younger age
groups, were concerned about their reputation and that such
concerns had a negative impact on their sexual arousal.
Similarly, several younger men indicated that the number of
previous sexual partners a woman had been with could
influence their sexual desire and arousal. Interestingly, this
seemed to be related to fears about ‘not measuring up’
rather than concerns about reputation, sexually transmitted
infections, or other factors. Women with more sexual
experience were often considered more threatening because
they had more varied experience and/or more partners to
compare the participants to. However, the opposite was also
reported, where a more experienced partner was considered
more arousing, and for older men, the number of previous
sexual partners seemed to be less important.
P: I find that the number of partners that your partner has
had will often times be a kind of downer on you (18–24
group).
P: Because if you are with a girl and she has never done
anything with anyone before it is kind of like a clean slate,
you know. You are not being compared (18–24 group).
P1: ...I am always concerned that I might not measure up
(18–24 group).
P2: I would agree (18–24 group).
P1: It’s just that if there were numerous people, where do I
fall in? (18–24 group).
M: How about some of the rest of you? If it is a partner
that is experienced, does that enhance arousal or inhibit
it?
P: That enhances for me. I prefer more experienced
partners... (18–24 group).
P: The idea that she was smart and a slut. That was a turn
on...that was a turn onin and of itself because I knew she has
been with 50 guys but was sleeping with me for 6 months,
so I’m, like, it was a turn on and made me feel good (25–45
group).
Mood State
Self The majority of men indicated that their mood played an
important role in their sexual arousal, as well as interest or
desire to engage in sexual activity. While many men
reported that a positive mood state was an enhancer and a
negative mood state was an inhibitor, some men indicated
that negative mood states, such as stress or anger, could also
facilitate, or at least not interfere with, their sexual arousal.
P: Relaxation always contributes to arousal, as opposed to
a tense state or a worried state. Sometimes you can be in a
tense state and that can contribute to a sexual thing, often
masturbation, because in a tense state you might not want
to be with someone. But a certain tension, say a sexual
release, can be very good (46 and above group).
P: I noticed when I am in a good space and just like
flowing; I just get a lot more attraction from women...just
subtle stuff (25–45 group).
P: Yeah, I see. It is all about my partner. I can be angry,
sad, depressed, or mad. If she is interested, I can get over
it really quick (46 and above group).
P: But if I am down, and generally, if I am alone, no. If I
am with somebody, then yes. Because they can take that
pain away, at least momentarily (25–45 group).
P: I have had experiences where I have been down and
depressed and my partner says, hey, let’s have sex and you
will feel a lot better. We will have sex and I feel great when
we are having sex,and then we are not havingsex, I am back
down again, literally, and physically (25–45 group).
P: Most of my moods don’t usually make a difference
(18–24 group).
Partner Not only did men indicate that their own mood
state could act as an enhancing or inhibiting factor, but also
that the mood state of their partner was also an important
factor:
P1: If your partner is in a great mood and feeling wonderful
and is going to do whatever, then that is great. So that puts
you in a good mood. I mean, it is contagious. It is a lot like
laughing (18–24 group).
Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265 259
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P2: If they are having a bad day, you are having a bad day,
in most cases (18–24 group).
M: So the mood of the partner is an important factor?
P1: Oh yeah, most definitely (46 and above group).
P2: That is probably, for me, most important (46 and above
group).
P: But when they get angry sometimes that turns me on as
well. So if they are in any kind of emotional state already I
am like all ready. Sometimes when they are angry that is
the best sex I have ever had (25–45 group).
Relevant to mood was the idea that a woman’s self-
esteem, or feelings about herself or her body, could impact a
man’s sexual arousal. This finding is particularly interesting
given the findings of Graham et al. (2004) who reported that
women indicated that they felt less sexually aroused when
they were feeling uncomfortable or negative about them-
selves or their appearance.
P: I would say a woman being proud of her body. I mean,
because if you were with a girl that just hates her body and
just doesn’t want you to see it, and everything, that is a
total turn off (18–24 group).
P: When a woman feels good about herself, I feel much
more drawn to her. To me it has to do with whether it is
chronic or not. Everybody can have an off day but when a
woman is dealing with chronic self-esteem problems it is
impossible, I have found, to be with them sexually... (25–
45 group).
P: When she is down on herself. When she is really sad
about herself and, like, she is not good enough. That inhibits
me (18–24 group).
Feeling Emotionally Connected
The majority of men in this study indicated that an emotional
connection with their sexual partner contributed to, and
sometimes was central to, their sexual arousal. Specifically,
men reported that having a strong emotional connection
enhanced their sexual arousal and having little or no emotional
connection inhibited their sexual arousal. This theme was
particularly dominant among the older men; however, many
of the younger men also spoke of the importance of emotional
connection.
P: As I have gotten older, the ability to connect with my
partner in other ways has becomes more important (46
and above group).
P: For me, it is always, like, I like to be alone with the
person and I have to have some kind of connection with
them (18–24 group).
P: I think when I am in love with a woman that is when I
am at my highest level of arousal (25–45 group).
P: I have never really hooked up with anyone, I guess.
It is for me, it is like, there have been opportunities but
it is just like once I have had the emotional connection
and experienced it, like just the physical side without
the emotional connection it is like impersonal (18–24
group).
P: Now it is more emotional that I am looking for, instead
of just jumping in bed and get out. It has got to have that
something more to it now (46 and above group).
Further, men noted that the context of the relationship,
either established or casual, had a direct effect on the actual
likelihood of engaging in a sexual behaviors with a specific
woman.
P: Finding a mate and finding somebody for sex are two
different things (age 25–45 group).
P: You look at people that you are attracted to in different
ways. You are looking at them as potential sex partner or
as a potential mate, life mate. If you have already got a
mate you are not necessarily looking for another mate,
unless they have really turned your head. Mostly just
looking for somebody who arouses you (25–45 group).
P: It wouldn’t, probably, matter how smart they were. If
I wasn’t in a relationship, it would be pure physical
attraction (18–24 group).
Erotica
We found great variation within and between age groups in
the role (and effects) of erotica in sexual desire and arousal.
While some men reported that they enjoyed viewing erotic
materials, and that it enhanced their sexual arousal, others
reported the opposite.
P1: My wife and I still like to see, together, a porno flick.
That’s why you said video. I guess I don’t agree with you
(46 and above group).
P2: Bores me to death (46 and above group).
P1: Really? We find that turns both of us on (46 and above
group).
P1: I am not big on it (18–24 group).
P1: It doesn’t do it for me at all (18–24 group).
P2: I think it degrades the real thing. I have never been like
one to be like, get a porn, ya know? Ya, know, almost like
the sanctity of it. I am not like religious, ya know, but it is
like when you watch porn all the time it is commonplace. It
is like sex is just sex rather than like the connection (18–24
group).
260 Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265
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P3: I am a fan. A big fan of pornography. I love it (18–24
group).
P: I have to say there are some things I see in pornos that
really turn me off, and turns my wife off. S&M is just really
offensive to us and that could even turn off our desires, so it
is what is happening (46 and above group).
Contextual Variables
In all three age groups, a number of men reported that con-
textual variables, such as setting, season, and alcohol con-
sumption, could influence their sexual arousal. As with other
factors, the same variables could be enhancing or inhibiting.
For example, some men reported that the possibility of being
heard during sex was a strong inhibitor while others found it to
enhance their arousal.
Setting In terms of setting, an overwhelming majority of
men reported that engaging in outdoor activities enhanced
their sexual desire and arousal.
P1: I find outdoors, on a beautiful day... (46 and above
group)
P2: Yeah, just being outdoors, walking in the woods,
going on a picnic in the woods, and spending hours back
there. That is a perfect setting (46 and above group).
P3: Going on a camping trip, you know, for a few days (46
and above group).
P: Camping is a good time. Something about the tent.
Something about the sleeping bag. You can’t fight it. If
there is a small amount of, you know, attraction there, the
tent will seal it (18–24 group).
P1: Yeah, nature is a turn on for me (25–45 age group).
P2: Sex outdoors is great, especially if under an open sky
(25–45 age group).
More variable in terms of acting as an enhancing or
inhibiting factor was the proximity of others and/or the pos-
sibility of being seen or heard during sex.
P: I have children. If the children aren’t in the house, it is a
better situation. My wife doesn’t share the sympathy with
me and she doesn’t mind. She likes to make noise. It
inhibits me (25–45 group).
P: In fact, I have decided that there is something to be said
for having sex in places that you can be discovered having
sex at (25–45 group).
P: You know, when I was in the dorms the neighbor, we
could hear everything, at all times. That made me never,
ever, ever want to have sex in the dorms (18–24 group).
P: I don’t like people who keep animals in the room. Period.
It is kind of creepy when the family dog is standing there
watching. (25–45 group).
Season Another contextual variable that was mentioned
in all of the groups, with the exception of the 46 and above
groups, as influencing sexual arousal was the season; how-
ever, there was great variation in preference.
M: How about things related to time of day or certain
seasons or something like that that enhances arousal?
P1: Fall (18–24 group).
P2: Winter (18–24 group).
P3: Spring (18–24 group).
P4: I would say fall probably more than spring (18–24
group).
P1: My hormones seem to peak around January and
August (25–45 group).
P2: Definitely fall and winter (25–45 group).
P3: For me, winter because you are spending more time at
home, more time in bed (25–45 group).
P4: Working around a university, the first couple of warm
days of spring when they go back to bearing it all, you
know. Those are definitely peak times (25–45 group).
Alcohol The role of alcohol was mentioned frequently.
While the majority of men considered consuming a ‘few
drinks to enhance their sexual arousal, they indicated that
being very intoxicated would be an inhibiting factor or could
interfere with the ability to become aroused. Alcohol was
attributed to the inability to achieve and maintain an erection;
however, sexual interest/desire only decreased concurrently
or following the inability of obtaining or maintaining an
erection.
P: I find that having some drinks turns me on, although,
how did Shakespeare put it...heightens the desire but
lessens the performance...too many drinks, and I have had
that occasion where I have had too much to drink (46 and
above group).
P1: I am a little bit opposite there. My wife doesn’t drink
but when I was with other women and we would go out
drinking all night long. This was just a must by the time
we were completely plastered (25–45 group).
P2: It is like you said, a few drinks will release your
inhibitions, but completely trashed, I mean, I had an
almost immediate erection from that (25–45 group).
P3: I think too much can be a turn-off (25–45 group).
P: Alcohol is fine. Good times (18–24 group).
M: Can they also be too skinny or...
P1: Yeah, too tall and skinny (46 and above group).
P2: Wasn’t curvy enough, I like curves (46 and above
group).
P1: Now, don’t get me wrong. When I’m drinking’ all that
stuff could change (46 and above group).
Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265 261
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Discussion
Three topics related to men’s sexual arousal were explored in
this study: (1) sexual arousal and its components; (2) sexual
interest/desire; and (3) factors that enhance or inhibit sexual
arousal. The findings were, to a large degree, consistent with
those reported by Graham et al. (2004) on sexual arousal in
women, and challenge a number of relatively common
assumptions about men’s sexual response. A first conclusion
this study appears to justify is simple and straightforward:
Men differ. For example, men differ in the importance they
attribute to penises, partner characteristics, and to the need for
intimacy or interpersonal connection during interactions with
a partner. Whereas both scientific and popular discussions of
sexual arousal in men tend to emphasize erections, the find-
ings from our study suggest that men experience a wide range
of physical (genital as well as nongenital), psychological, and
behavioral indicators that characterize sexual arousal. Accor-
ding to the men who participated in this study, erection was
only one of the physiological changes that can be experienced,
indicating it is often present but not a necessary condition for
the experience of sexual arousal.
Also compatible with Graham et al.’s (2004) findings in
women, our study found that men did not consistently, or
easily, separate sexual interest from sexual arousal. In fact,
questions about the two constructs often led to some degree of
confusion. When erections were part of the discussion, the
distinction between arousal and desire seemed easier to make
(with either one regularly experienced in the absence of the
other). However, after dismissing a central role for the penis,
which many men did, differentiating between the experience
of sexual arousal and the experience of sexual interest seemed
a challenge for many. Also, men tended to describe the rela-
tionship between sexual interest and arousal differently for
solo activities (e.g., masturbation) than for sex with a partner.
Regardless of age, several participants reported that mastur-
bation tended to be a perfunctory act that served to eliminate
sexual tension, while interest and arousal for partnered sex
was generally described as more complex with numerous
influencing factors.
The existing research literature on sexual desire and
arousal seems to endorse, if not reinforce, the belief that men
and women differ in their experiences of those states and
includes many references, some more explicit than others, to
the idea that women are more sexually complex than men,
with more variables influencing their desire and arousal. The
results from this study challenge this view and suggest that
men’s sexual arousal is also complex and multifaceted, and
that men and women share a number of commonalities. For
example, men reported that contextual variables, such as
ones related to setting or timing, played an important role
in their sexual arousal. Further, individual factors, such as
the effect of mood on sexual arousal, were reported to have
vastly different effects on arousal among our participants.
These findings, however tentative, suggest that it might be
both appropriate and conducive to progress in this area of
research to reconceptualize some of our notions about sexual
response, putting less emphasis on—while not ignoring—
differences between men and women and giving more atten-
tion to differences among men and women. This conclusion is
consistent with findings from research on the dual control
model of sexual response (Carpenter, Janssen, Graham, Vorst,
&Wichters,2007;Grahametal.,2006; Janssen & Bancroft,
2007), which show that whereas women, on average, score
lower on sexual excitation and higher on sexual inhibition
compared to men, larger variability can be found within than
between groups of men and women (Carpenter et al., 2007).
Future research is needed, however, to establish the validity
and stability of our findings in more representative and eth-
nically diverse samples. For example, the racial homogeneity
of the current study is a limitation, and work with other
populations, preferably involving direct comparisons of men
and women, is needed to ascertain the generalizability of our
findings.
While there were a number of within group differences
among all age groups, distinct differences between the younger
and older groups were also identified. While men in the
younger age groups tended to rely more on erection as an
indicator of sexual interest/arousal, men in the older age groups
reported focusing more attention on psychological and emo-
tional indicators, as their erections became less reliable. For
example, older men reported that as they aged the physical
characteristics of their female partner became a less important
factor in their sexual arousal and the emotional connection with
a partner became more important.
Another age-related difference that warrants discussion
relates to the ‘‘sexual double standard,’’ the notion that men
are allowed by, and often socially rewarded for having many
sexual partners, while women are socially chastised for
the same behavior. In this study, a number of men in the
younger age groups reported being concerned about the
number of previous sexual partners that a woman has had,
and considered a woman who has had a ‘high number’ of
past sexual partners to be a ‘turn off.’ In comparison, men
in the older age groups often reported that number of pre-
vious partners was either irrelevant or that a woman with
more sexual experience was considered a ‘turn on.’ This
finding is interesting from a developmental perspective, as
men in the older groups often reported that the sexual
experience of a partner was more important when they were
younger, and seems consistent with Graham et al.’s (2004)
study, in which it was found that younger women were more
likely to report feeling the need to ‘put on the brakes’ or
stop themselves from becoming sexually aroused out of fear
of gaining a bad reputation. To some extent, this finding may
be explained by the fact that the younger men also reported
262 Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265
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fearing comparison to previous sexual partners and ‘not
measuring up,’’ which may, in part, explain their preference
for women with less sexual experience. Conversely, older
men tended to report that ‘measuring up’ was less of a
concern for them, expressing more confidence in their own
sexuality and their ability to please their partner.
One finding worthy of discussion relates to a theme iden-
tified in Graham et al.’s (2004) study. Women in Graham
et al.’s study consistently reported that their feelings about
themselves had a great influence on their sexual arousal and
desire for sex. Likewise, several men in the current study
reported that how a woman felt about herself had a significant
influence on their sexual arousal and desire for sex with her.
For example, some men reported that when a woman expe-
rienced low self-esteem they were less likely to become
aroused by that woman, regardless of other characteristics,
such as physical attractiveness. In contrast, when a woman
was feeling good about herself, men reported that they were
more likely to become sexual aroused and to desire sex with
her. The same, however, seemed true for men’s feelings about
themselves. For example, several men reported that when
they did not feel attractive or were having an ‘‘off’ day, they
were less likely to become sexually aroused, while at times
when things were going ‘right’ served to enhance their sexual
arousal.
A number of other findings are worthy of discussion,
including the role of factors such as scent, intelligence, feed-
back from the partner, pornography, and the influence of
alcohol on desire and arousal. However, for all these topics,
too, the most salient finding seems to be the large variation in
the importance the men attributed to them. Remarkably
absent, however, were discussions of contraception (including
condoms) and specific sexual behaviors. In fact, specific
sexual behaviors as either an enhancing or inhibiting factor
were not discussed in a single group. This topic was not
explicitly raised by the moderators, but as participants
seemed, in general, relatively comfortable with bringing up
topics (e.g., intelligence, intimacy) that were not always
introduced by the moderators, the complete absence of com-
ments on sexual positions and specific sexual activities (e.g.,
oral or anal sex), as well as of those on penis size, female
orgasm, or contraception, is intriguing and may be due to, or
associated with, a number of factors, including a more general
lack of interest in or discomfort with such topics or certain (not
established) characteristics of the sample of men who partic-
ipated in this study.
Although the study was not designed to specifically explore
gender- or masculinity-related notions—our questions were
aimed at the assessment of factors that men report facilitate or
suppress their sexual arousal—our findings nevertheless point
toward complex interactions between gender, masculinity,
and men’s narratives about desire and arousal (cf. Dworkin &
O’Sullivan, 2005; Seal & Ehrhardt, 2003; Tolman et al.,
2004). For example, our findings resonate with the work and
views of Brod (1988)andConnell(1995), who have long
challenged more traditional and one-dimensional views of
men’s sexuality and who have contributed to a more complex
understanding of the interplay between masculinity (or mas-
culinities; Connell, 1995) and men’s sexuality. On the one
hand our findings point at shared themes and communalities
among men, and possibly their sexual scripts (e.g., Dworkin &
O’Sullivan, 2005). Indeed, several of the men’s narratives
seem to reflect more traditional, perhaps even hegemonic
(Connell, 1995), notions of masculinity (e.g., desiring sex
when performing well, wanting to know how one measures up
with other men).
1
On the other hand, our findings show large
differences among men in how important they consider the
influence of various factors, and the role that context, situa-
tion, and relational cues play in their experience of sexual
desire and arousal. Although our small and demographically
homogeneous sample sets limits to generalization and to the
discussion of gender differences and similarities, our findings
transcend notions of indiscriminate and unfaltering male desire
and arousal, and point at more complex and diverse patterns in
men, some compatible with more traditional notions of mas-
culinity, some consistent with ideas more commonly associ-
ated with women’s experience of desire and arousal (e.g.,
Basson, 2002a;Grahametal.,2004).
The findings from this study add additional support for the
use of focus group methodology to gather information on
topics that are sensitive in nature (Seal, Bogart, & Ehrhardt,
1998; Wilkinson, 1999). Yet, a number of limitations should
be acknowledged and warrant discussion. For example, as was
alluded to above, the sample was self-selected and consisted
of men who, overall, were comfortable discussing topics
related to sexuality. Also, men may, in varying degrees, have
felt pressured to conform to stereotypical notions or gender
ideals of what ‘real’ men are supposed to be turned on or off by
(cf. Anderson & Sorenson, 1996;West&Zimmerman,1987).
Yet, despite such potential biases we found substantial vari-
ation in how men describe the variables and processes
involved in sexual desire and arousal. In addition, we found
support for the idea that men exist for whom the mechanisms
of sexual arousal, at least in their own subjective experience,
appear to be more compatible with more recent conceptual-
izations of sexual desire and arousal in women (e.g., Basson,
2002a, b) than with more traditional models of sexual
response (e.g., Masters & Johnson, 1966). Although the cur-
rent sample may not be representative of men in the general
population, the same applies to research and insights based on
clinical samples. Where the current study may possibly suffer
from an overrepresentation of men who feel comfortable
1
While this implies a role for social and cultural factors (e.g.,
socialization), these findings can also be considered consistent with
parental investment and evolutionary theory (e.g., Buss, 1994).
Arch Sex Behav (2008) 37:252–265 263
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talking about their sexuality,themen and women on whom the
clinical observations and research findings are based that
informed and inspired the recent introduction of models that
propose that the determinants of women’s sexual desire and
arousal are different from men’s (e.g., Basson, 2002a, b), may
have included disproportionate numbers of women whose
partners might not only be different from the men who vol-
unteered for the current study, but who also do not represent
men in the general population.
Another limitation, and possible threat to the validity of our
findings, involves the reliance on subjects’ self-knowledge and
report. The men may have felt comfortable discussing the
factors that influence their sexual arousal and desire, but this
does not mean their responses were accurate, complete, and
based on actual experiences. For instance, participants at var-
ious times appeared to talk about the factors that increased or
decreased their willingness to engage in certain behaviors
rather than their sexual desire or arousal. Thus, some of the
responses may have reflected the conditions that need to be met
for a participant to take initiative or (continue to) engage in
sexual behavior more than actual sexual arousal patterns. In
addition, the attributions and interpretations the participants
expressed may have been based on real-life experiences, but
they may also have guided their real-life decisions and behavior
and thus precluded certain experiences. For example, although
most participants indicated that certain characteristics of a
potential partner could be a ‘turn-off’ (e.g., high numbers of
previous partners, low intelligence, absence of an emotional
connection), such characteristics may have a stronger effect
at the level of partner selection than that they might predict
the actual ability to become (physically and/or subjectively)
aroused in a sexual situation with that person. This is not to say
that we believe all experiences reported by the men in this study
should be considered to be unreliable or invalid. The increasing
popularity of qualitative research methods appears to coincide
with a revival of introspection in the social and biological
sciences, which has, for example, even been recommended to
be used as additional source of information to help interpret
findings from studies using behavioral and brain imaging
techniques (e.g., Jack & Roepstorff, 2002). Yet, the reliance on
people’s self-report and self-knowledge in the study of com-
plex mental, emotional, and social processes has long been
recognized as being potentially problematic (Nisbett & Wilson,
1977; Wilson & Dunn, 2004). This seems especially the case
when the questions involve feelings, behaviors, or situations
that require retrospective analysis and that may not be com-
monly or frequently experienced (e.g., Robinson, Johnson, &
Shields, 1998).
While acknowledging the limitations of focus group
methodologies in general, and of the current study in partic-
ular, we believe our findings are informative and valuable, and
may help inform discussions about the adequacy of existing
sexual response models (e.g., Masters & Johnson, 1966)in
explaining both men and women’s sexual desire and arousal.
Our findings support the idea that concerns that have been
raised about the appropriateness of such models to our
understanding of women’s sexuality (e.g., Basson, 2002a, b;
Tiefer, 2001)—in that they are too focused on the genitals,
make distinctions between interest and arousal that do not
reflect the experiences of many women, and minimize the
numerous factors that can affect arousal—also apply to men.
In addition, we believe that studies like the current one, and
also Graham et al.’s (2004), provide various insights that
could inspire hypotheses for future studies, both qualitative
and quantitative.
Acknowledgments This study was supported by the Office of the
Associate Dean for Research of the School of Health, Physical Edu-
cation and Recreation, Indiana University.
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Supplementary resource (1)

... Despite men perceiving pressure toward masculine ideals of stoicism and performance (McDonagh et al., 2017;O'Brien et al., 2011;Pinnock et al., 1998;Tyler et al., 2016), as noted above, men also highlight the importance of intimacy, emotional closeness, and affection in their relationships (Fileborn et al., 2017;Heiman et al., 2011;Sandberg, 2013). Qualitative studies into male sexual desire suggest that it is more complex and relational than previously considered, and less dissimilar to our understanding of female sexual desire (Janssen et al., 2007;Murray & Brotto, 2021). In a large survey of different age groups in the US, Forbes et al. (2017) found that the quality, not quantity, of sexual encounters was important to older men and women. ...
... In one study those whose partners were unwilling to discuss sexual issues or seek professional help tended to report a negative effect on relationship quality (Hinchliff et al., 2018). Furthermore, in qualitative studies of younger age groups (reported means were 35-42 years old) male sexual desire was shown to be more similar to female experiences of sexual desire than previously thought, with more contextual and relational factors such as lack of communication and emotional connection, and romantic, non-sexual touch impacting experiences of desire for heterosexual men (Janssen et al., 2007;Murray et al., 2017;Murray & Brotto, 2021). It is therefore important to explore qualitatively whether this may also be the case for older men. ...
... Though greater attention on sexual functioning and the rise of pharmaceutical treatments for men does help to dispel earlier stereotypes of sexlessness in later life (at the risk of being labelled "dirty old man", however), the lifelong sexuality discourses risk oversimplifying sexual desire and sexual wellbeing in later life. Previous research into sexual desire in younger heterosexual men found male desire to be more complex and more similar to female experiences of desire than previously thought, with young men highlighting the importance of non-sexual touching and emotional connection (Janssen et al., 2007;Murray et al., 2017;Murray & Brotto, 2021). Our findings suggest that this is also the case for older men (the one exception being Simon, who stated he would "settle for just sex"). ...
Thesis
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... This implies that the social script for masturbation may likely vary across subcultures and individuals (Kirschbaum & Peterson, 2018). Indeed, several qualitative studies suggest a great variety of motives, meanings, and perceptions associated with masturbation (Hogarth & Ingham, 2009;Janssen et al., 2008;Onar et al., 2020). Experiences, for example, range from very negative to indifference, from perceiving masturbation as conflicted to feeling empowered; still others describe their masturbation as a perfunctory and predictable way to release sexual tension (Fahs & Frank, 2014;Hogarth & Ingham, 2009;Janssen et al, 2008;Kaestle & Allen, 2011). ...
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... It is interesting that this seems to be the case for both men and women, when traditional ideals of masculinity tend to position male sexuality as concerned with only sexual performance and function (Plummer, 2005;Sandberg, 2016). In qualitative studies of younger age groups (reported means were 35-42 years old) male sexual desire was shown to be more similar to female experiences of sexual desire than previously thought, with contextual and relational factors such as lack of communication and emotional connection, and romantic, non-sexual touch impacting experiences of desire for heterosexual men (Janssen et al., 2007;Murray & Brotto, 2021;Murray et al., 2017). It is therefore important to explore qualitatively whether this may also be the case for older men. ...
... Though greater attention on sexual functioning and the rise of pharmaceutical treatments for men does help to dispel earlier stereotypes of sexlessness in later life (at the risk of being labeled "dirty old man," however), the lifelong sexuality discourses risk oversimplifying sexual desire and sexual wellbeing in later life. Previous research into sexual desire in younger heterosexual men found male desire to be more complex and more similar to female experiences of desire than previously thought, with men highlighting the importance of non-sexual touching and emotional connection (Janssen et al., 2007;Murray & Brotto, 2021;Murray et al., 2017). Our findings suggest that this is also the case for older men (the one exception being Simon, who stated he would "settle for just sex"). ...
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Full-text available
The aim of this study was to explore the sexual lives of older adults in the UK to elucidate their experiences of sexual changes and problems, and the role of intimacy and interpersonal support in coping with these changes. We conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 31 participants (aged 66-92, mean = 74, 16 women and 15 men), analysed using reflexive thematic analysis. Our analysis generated three themes: Sexual Changes are “Natural”, Sex is the Icing on the Cake, and Maintaining Sexual Connection and Relationship Satisfaction. The participants often rationalised and accepted sexual changes and problems as part of the natural aging process, or as a consequence of other age-related health issues. Sexual activity was seen by many as the “icing on the cake” of a satisfying romantic relationship, built on strong foundations of intimacy, connection, and companionship. Relationship satisfaction and sexual wellbeing can be maintained despite changes to sexual function by retaining a sexual connection through shared experiences, emotional closeness, and support. The findings have important implications for researchers and health providers, and suggest that adopting an “affirmative older age” perspective would be useful for not only future research but also when providing support for older adults with sexual difficulties.
... Previous research demonstrated that other sexual performance factors, such as relationship status and relationship satisfaction can contribute to an individual's perceived sexual performance. This same study also pointed to psychological and emotional factors being related to perceived sexual performance [73]. To provide a more comprehensive understanding as to what variables or sets of variables have the most significant relationship with sexual performance indicators, these factors should also be considered in the context of future work related to exercise and sexual performance. ...
... Incluso ahora se establece el derecho al placer sexual, donde se incluye el autoerotismo como fuente de bienestar físico, psicológico, intelectual y espiritual (World Association for Sexual Health, 1999). Por otro lado, se ha considerado la masturbación como una actividad consecuente del aburrimiento o, en su caso, soledad, más que una conducta para satisfacer el deseo sexual (Janssen et al., 2008). Un estudio preliminar encontró que hombres diagnosticados con trastorno de deseo sexual hipoactivo se masturban más que hombres sanos, lo que llevó a los autores a concluir que muchas veces esta práctica es un método para reducir la ansiedad o la inhibición del deseo sexual (Nutter y Codron, 1985). ...
Chapter
A lo largo de la historia y de las diferentes culturas se han descrito y documentado las manifes-taciones de la sexualidad humana. La vida sexual es regulada por diversas normas, en particular biológicas, aunque en las sociedades también intervienen varias cuestiones morales y religio-sas de la época. Estas normas derivan en creencias dogmáticas que, sin embargo, se basan en "verdades" del momento histórico específico y algunas veces carecen de fundamentos lógi-cos. Por un lado, se ha estigmatizado la práctica sexual que no conduce a la reproducción, sobre todo por instituciones religiosas, como la Iglesia católica, cuyo auge oscila entre poco antes de la caída del Imperio romano de occidente en el año 476 d. C., hasta comienzos del Renacimiento alrededor del año 1400. Durante la reforma protestante del siglo XVI, Martín Lutero reconoció el valor del sexo dentro del matrimonio, mientras que Juan Calvino (teólogo francés) argumentó que el sexo marital era permisible si tenía como finalidad aligerar y faci-litar los cuidados y tristezas de los deberes hogareños (Taylor, 1970). Estos movimientos ideológicos llevaron a la apertura del pensamiento con respecto al coito con fines lúdicos, permitiendo el desarrollo de una gran diversidad de prácticas sexuales. Es claro que el fin último de la conducta sexual es la reproducción. Sin embargo, para que los animales (incluyendo a los humanos) tengan sexo, la evolución misma ha propiciado que se experimente placer durante su práctica, de tal forma que los organismos sexuales buscan este acercamiento para obtener placer. Al experimentar placer durante el sexo, los animales incre-mentan la búsqueda de parejas sexuales y a su vez la satisfacción del deseo sexual durante la ejecución del acto mismo. Por lo anterior, se puede notar con claridad que la conducta sexual tiene dos fases, una apetitiva y otra consumatoria. La primera involucra aspectos motivacio-nales e incluye todas aquellas conductas de búsqueda de pareja sexual, predisposición e inicio de la interacción con la pareja; la segunda es de índole más ejecutivo, con conductas como caricias, besos, penetración, entre otras, que culminan con la eyaculación y, en su caso, el or-gasmo. A diferencia de otras especies, entre las que la conducta sexual no tiene otro significado más que sexo (Agmo, 1999), en el ser humano subyace un complejo sistema que incluye un com-ponente neurobiológico, uno cognoscitivo-psicológico y uno sociocultural, que derivan en desen-volvimiento del impulso sexual, es decir, aquella motivación por búsqueda del placer sexual.
... The present study had the objective of validating the SIS/SES on an Italian sample, to evaluate its validity and effectiveness concerning sexual functioning in men and women in the country. The statistical analysis showed a positive fit for the threefactor model, highlighting differences found in previous studies (Carpenter et al., 2011;Janssen & Bancroft, 2007;Janssen et al., 2008), according to which women tended to have higher indexes in factors related to sexual inhibition, while men did so for factors related to sexual excitation. Even in the Italian sample, despite possible cultural differences, SIS/SES proved to be valid tools for measuring aspects related to human sexuality. ...
Article
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The Sexual Inhibition Scales and Sexual Excitation Scales (Janssen et al., 2002a), based on the dual control model by Bancroft and Janssen (2000), are part of a 45-item self-report questionnaire evaluating individual tendencies to sexual inhibition or excitation according to three factors: two inhibition factors, SIS1, threat of performance failure, and SIS2, threat of performance consequences, and one excitation factor, SES. In this paper, we aimed to validate and explore psychometric properties of the SIS/SES in a sample of 2260 Italian men and women aged 18 to 75 years. Confirmatory factor analyses showed that the three-factor structure proposed in the original version of the scales fit with our sample. Moreover, our data confirmed the results of the original validation sample: Women scored higher on the SIS and lower on the SES than men did, but no significant differences appeared in the factor scores by age group, except for a gender × age interaction, where younger women had higher SIS2 scores. The SIS/SES appeared to be an effective, appropriate cross-cultural measurement of human sexuality in Italian samples, also shedding light on sexual arousal differences in women and men in our country. We also discuss clinical and therapeutic aspects.
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Hypersexuality in medicated patients with PD is caused by an increased influence of motivational drive areas and a decreased influence of inhibitory control areas due to dopaminergic medication. In this pilot study, we test a newly developed paradigm investigating the influence of dopaminergic medication on brain activation elicited by sexual pictures with and without inhibitory contextual framing. Twenty PD patients with and without hypersexuality were examined with fMRI either OFF or ON standardized dopaminergic medication. The paradigm consisted of a priming phase where either a neutral context or an inhibitory context was presented. This priming phase was either followed by a sexual or a neutral target. Sexual, compared to neutral pictures resulted in a BOLD activation of various brain regions implicated in sexual processing. Hypersexual PD patients showed increased activity compared to PD controls in these regions. There was no relevant effect of medication between the two groups. The inhibitory context elicited less activation in inhibition-related areas in hypersexual PD, but had no influence on the perception of sexual cues. The paradigm partially worked: reactivity of motivational brain areas to sexual cues was increased in hypersexual PD and inhibitory contextual framing lead to decreased activation of inhibitory control areas in PD. We could not find a medication effect and the length of the inhibitory stimulus was not optimal to suppress reactivity to sexual cues. Our data provide new insights into the mechanisms of hypersexuality and warrant a replication with a greater cohort and an optimized stimulus length in the future.
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In most theoretical models, sexual desire for one’s partner is predominantly conceptualized from an individual perspective. There is, however, a growing body of empirical evidence on the dyadic aspects of sexual desire. That evidence is as yet not well-integrated into theoretical conceptualizations of sexual desire. Aiming to fill this gap, we present the Dyadic Interactions Affecting DyadIC Sexual desire model (DIADICS), a new conceptual model inspired by systems theory that describes how dyadic interactions between partners influence dyadic sexual desire in romantic relationships. After defining dyadic sexual desire, we discuss (1) the structure of dyadic interactions, (2) their content, and (3) the process through which they affect dyadic sexual desire in a romantic relationship. Thereafter, we review theoretical, clinical, and empirical insights underscoring the relation between dyadic interactions and (dyadic) sexual desire, use DIADICS as a framework for understanding fluctuations in dyadic sexual desire in long-term relationships, and conclude by discussing implications of DIADICS for research and clinical practice.
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Background Little is known about pornography use and its relationship with sexual health outcomes in the general population. Aim To assess frequency of pornography use and the association of sexual health outcomes with frequent pornography use in Sweden. Methods Cross-sectional analysis of 14,135 participants (6,169 men and 7,966 women) aged 16–84 years in a Swedish nationally representative survey from 2017. We used logistic regression to assess the association of sexual health outcomes with use of pornography ≥3 times/wk. Outcomes Frequency of pornography use (never; less than once/mo to 3 times/mo; 1–2 times/wk; 3–5 times/wk; and daily or almost daily) and sexual health outcomes (eg, sexual satisfaction and sexual health problems). Results In total, 68.7% of men and 27.0% of women used pornography. Among men aged 16–24 years, 17.2% used pornography daily or almost daily, 24.7% used pornography 3–5 d/wk and 23.7% used pornography 1–2 d/wk. Among women aged 16–24 years, the proportions were 1.2% for daily or almost daily, 3.1% for 3–5 times/wk, and 8.6% for 1–2 times/wk. Frequency of pornography use decreased with age among both men and women. While 22.6% of all men and 15.4% of all women reported that their or a sex partner's pornography use predominantly had positive effects on their sex life, 4.7% of men and 4.0% of women reported that the effects were predominantly negative. Variables indicating sexual dissatisfaction and sexual health problems were associated with use of pornography ≥3 times/wk: for example, dissatisfaction with sex life (age-adjusted odds ratio [aOR]: men 2.90 [95% CI 2.40–3.51]; women 1.85 [95% CI 1.09–3.16]), not having sex in the preferred way (aOR: men 2.48 [95% CI 1.92–3.20]; women 3.59 [95% CI 2.00–6.42]) and erection problems (aOR: men 2.18 [95% CI 1.73–2.76]). Clinical Implications While frequent pornography use is common, potential effects on sexual health outcomes are likely to differ between individuals. Strength & Limitations We used a large and recent nationally representative survey with detailed information regarding frequency of pornography use. The temporality of associations of sexual health variables with frequency of pornography use could not be assessed. Conclusion In this analysis of a nationally representative survey in Sweden, we found that frequent pornography use was common among young men; that reporting predominantly positive effects of pornography use on the sex life was more common than reporting predominantly negative effects; and that sexual dissatisfaction and sexual health problems were associated with using pornography ≥3 times/wk. Malki K, Rahm C, Öberg KG, et al. Frequency of Pornography Use and Sexual Health Outcomes in Sweden: Analysis of a National Probability Survey. J Sex Med 2021;XX:XXX–XXX.
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