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Genital responses to sexual imagery in women with and without sexual problems: preliminary findings

Krejcova, L1; Janssen, E2; Wells, TJ1; Klapilova, K1

1: National Institute of Mental Health, Czech Republic; 2: Institute for Family and Sexuality Studies, University of Leuven, Belgium

Objectives: Problems with sexual function are highly prevalent in women (~11% of women in Czech Republic). However, the results of psychophysiological studies have shown that genital responsiveness does not differ between women with or without problems with sexual functioning. The two groups are commonly compared in response to visual erotic stimuli but not to other types of stimuli, e.g. sexual imagery. The aim of our study was to compare genital response of women with and without sexual difficulties to two types of erotic stimulus: erotic video and sexual imagery combined with mindfulness instructions.

Material and Methods: Genital responses were assessed using vaginal photoplethysmography. So far, a group of 9 women with self-reported sexual problems (low sexual desire/low sexual arousal; mean age=31.6) has participated. Matching on age, we included (from a larger sample of 52 women) a control group of 9 sexually healthy women (mean age=32.1). Women were presented six 3-minute erotic videos without sound, in random order. Two videos depicted non genital interactions (courtship behaviour) between a man and a woman, two videos depicted solitary masturbation of woman, and two videos depicted a man and a woman engaging in sexual intercourse. Each video was followed by a return-to-baseline period combined with a distracting cognitive task. In addition, audiotape of directed imagery focused on body sensation with mindfulness instructions (inspired by Brotto & Heiman, 2003) were used, including solitary sexual arousal sensation instructions as well as the imagery of sexual interaction with desired partner. Mean VPA per category of stimuli was counted in both groups.

Results: The groups did not differ in genital response (VPA change from baseline; F(2,18)=1.16, p=.30) to erotic videos, but a significant main effect of group was found for sexual imagery (F(2,18)=5.65, p=.03). Using Pearson´s correlation coefficients, we found no significant association between genital and subjective arousal in either group for each of the two types of stimulus (all p>.05).

Conclusion: In agreement with previous studies, genital responses of women with and without sexual problems did not differ in sexual reactions to erotic video stimuli. However, we found significantly lower genital responses in women with sexual difficulties in response to sexual imaginary. These preliminary results highlight the potential effectiveness of using guided imagery to identify problems with sexual functioning in women.


Work supported by industry: no.

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