Assessing women's sexual arousal in the context of sexual assault history and acute alcohol intoxication

J Sex Med. 2010 Jun;7(6):2112-2119. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.01786.x. Epub 2010 Mar 30.


Introduction: Few studies have examined differences in women's sexual arousal based on sexual assault history (SAH) or in-the-moment alcohol intoxication. Only one has examined combined effects. Findings regarding the relationship between SAH and arousal are contradictory.

Aim: We aimed to determine the relationship between SAH, alcohol intoxication, and sexual arousal.

Methods: Women were randomly assigned to an alcohol (target blood alcohol level = 0.10%) or control condition and categorized as having an SAH or not. After beverage administration, all women watched erotic films while genital arousal (vaginal pulse amplitude; VPA) was measured. Afterward, self-reported sexual arousal was measured.

Main outcome measures: Genital response was measured by VPA using vaginal photoplethysmography while watching erotic films. Self-reported sexual arousal was assessed after watching erotic films.

Results: Women with an SAH had smaller increases in genital arousal in response to the films than women without an SAH. Intoxicated women had smaller increases in genital arousal than sober women. However, no differences for SAH or intoxication were found in self-reported arousal.

Conclusion: SAH and alcohol intoxication are associated with smaller increases in genital arousal compared to women without an SAH and sober women, suggesting that these co-occurring factors impact sexual arousal.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Intoxication / physiopathology
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Erotica
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Libido / physiology*
  • Photoplethysmography
  • Rape / psychology*
  • Reference Values
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Vagina / blood supply*


  • Ethanol