Subliminal sexual stimuli facilitate genital response in women

Arch Sex Behav. 2010 Oct;39(5):1073-9. doi: 10.1007/s10508-009-9587-2. Epub 2009 Dec 30.


Visual sexual stimuli (VSS) are believed to undergo an automatic process of stimulus appraisal and (genital or subjective) response generation. Consistent with this belief, studies have found that subliminal VSS can facilitate responses to subsequent sexual stimulus presentations. We tested whether subliminal sexual stimuli facilitated a genital response in women and, furthermore, whether this genital response could be modulated by both opposite-sex stimuli and same-sex stimuli (i.e., whether the genital response to subliminal stimuli is category-specific or nonspecific). Twenty heterosexual women underwent vaginal photoplethysmography while being subliminally (20 ms) exposed to same-sex, opposite-sex, and nonsexual slides in a priming experiment. Vaginal pulse amplitude was increased when target stimuli were preceded by both opposite-sex and same-sex priming stimuli relative to nonsexual priming stimuli. This finding suggests that subliminal VSS were subjected to automatic stimulus processing, thereby facilitating nonspecific genital response preparation. Results are discussed in terms of implicit and explicit memory access and the evolutionary benefit of female nonspecific genital response.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Erotica*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Photoplethysmography
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology
  • Subliminal Stimulation
  • Vagina / blood supply*
  • Women / psychology*