Adhering to the view that emotional reactivity is organized in part by underlying motivational states--defensive and appetitive--we investigated sex differences in motivational activation. Men's and women's affective reactions were measured while participants viewed pictures with varied emotional and neutral content. As expected, highly arousing contents of threat, mutilation, and erotica prompted the largest affective reactions in both men and women. Nonetheless, women showed a broad disposition to respond with greater defensive reactivity to aversive pictures, regardless of specific content, whereas increased appetitive activation was apparent for men only when viewing erotica. Biological and sociocultural factors in shaping sex differences in emotional reactivity are considered as possible mediators of sex differences in emotional response.