Attention and emotional responses to sexual stimuli and their relationship to sexual desire

Arch Sex Behav. 2008 Dec;37(6):934-49. doi: 10.1007/s10508-007-9236-6. Epub 2007 Oct 18.


Little is known about why individuals vary in their levels of sexual desire. Information processing models, like Barlow's (Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 54:140-148, 1986) model of sexual functioning, suggest that individuals with higher sexual desire attend more and respond with more pleasant emotions to sexual cues than individuals with lower levels of sexual desire. In this study, 69 participants (36 women, 33 men) completed a dot detection task measuring attention capture by sexual stimuli and a startle eyeblink modulation task indexing the valence of emotional response to affective stimuli. Participants with high levels of sexual desire were slower to detect targets in the dot detection task that replaced sexual images but did not differ in startle eyeblink responses to sexual stimuli. The results suggest that the amount of attention captured by sexual stimuli is a stronger predictor of a person's sexual desire level than the valence of the emotional responses elicited by such stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal
  • Blinking / physiology
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Erotica / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Libido / physiology*
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*