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Effects of age on the subjective sexual response and emotional appraisal of sex pictures in women

Carvalho, J1; Ferreira, L2; Rico, R2; Santos, I.M2

1: , Portugal; 2: Departamento de Educação e Psicologia, Universidade de Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal

Objective(s): Age is expected to influence women’s sexual functioning and behavior, not only due its impact at the organic level, but also given the strong cohort effects that shape women’s beliefs regarding sexuality and relationships. However, most of the current assumptions about the effects of age in women’s sexual response and behavior, relate to the influence of health issues on the propensity for sexual difficulties. Indeed, broader aspects such as sexual and relationship satisfaction, have only recently fallen under the scope of scientific research. Similarly, other aspects relating to the appraisal of sexual contents by older women have been completely dismissed. Accordingly, the aim of the current study was to test the effect of age on the sexual and emotional responses to sex stimuli, as well as to test the adding effects of women’s beliefs regarding sexuality, on the appraisal of these stimuli.

Material and Method(s): Seventy-three heterosexual women, ranging from 18-77 years old, were exposed to a series of romantic, sexually moderate and sexually explicit pictures in a laboratorial context. Women reported on the levels of emotional valence, subjective sexual arousal, and level of sexual content attributed to the pictures in each set. Additionally, women completed a self-report questionnaire aimed at measuring women’s beliefs regarding female sexuality.

Result(s): Findings from hierarchical regression analyses (age entered at step 1 and sexual beliefs entered at step 2) revealed that age did not predict the emotional valence attributed to the sexual pictures; instead, sexual conservatism predicted more unpleasantness attributed to the sexually explicit pictures. Also, age predicted higher levels of subjective sexual arousal to all types of pictures and was further related to the appraisal of romantic and sexually moderate pictures as being more “sexual”.

Conclusion(s): Contrary to some myths supporting the negative effects of age on women’s sexuality, the current results have shown that age was actually a significant (positive) predictor of subjective sexual arousal to all types of pictures (romantic, sexually moderate and sexually explicit pictures), and did not have a negative effect on the emotional valence attributed to the sex pictures. Indeed, sexual conservatism, rather than age, predicted more unpleasantness attributed to the pictures. Accordingly, findings point to the use of erotica as a viable tool aimed at increasing women’s subjective sexual arousal, including in older ages, while sexual beliefs should be monitored at all ages.


Work supported by industry: no.

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