Sex differences in visual attention to erotic and non-erotic stimuli

Arch Sex Behav. 2008 Apr;37(2):219-28. doi: 10.1007/s10508-007-9208-x. Epub 2007 Aug 1.


It has been suggested that sex differences in the processing of erotic material (e.g., memory, genital arousal, brain activation patterns) may also be reflected by differential attention to visual cues in erotic material. To test this hypothesis, we presented 20 heterosexual men and 20 heterosexual women with erotic and non-erotic images of heterosexual couples and tracked their eye movements during scene presentation. Results supported previous findings that erotic and non-erotic information was visually processed in a different manner by both men and women. Men looked at opposite sex figures significantly longer than did women, and women looked at same sex figures significantly longer than did men. Within-sex analyses suggested that men had a strong visual attention preference for opposite sex figures as compared to same sex figures, whereas women appeared to disperse their attention evenly between opposite and same sex figures. These differences, however, were not limited to erotic images but evidenced in non-erotic images as well. No significant sex differences were found for attention to the contextual region of the scenes. Results were interpreted as potentially supportive of recent studies showing a greater non-specificity of sexual arousal in women. This interpretation assumes there is an erotic valence to images of the sex to which one orients, even when the image is not explicitly erotic. It also assumes a relationship between visual attention and erotic valence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Arousal*
  • Erotica
  • Eye Movements*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Libido
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Photic Stimulation*
  • Reaction Time
  • Reference Values
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*