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Gender, sexual arousal, and sexual desire

Meredith L. Chivers

Sexual arousal, like other emotional states, has a distinctive pattern of physiological, cognitive, and affective reactions to specific antecedents or sexual stimuli, colloquially known as “turn-ons”. Despite decades of research examining women’s and men’s sexual arousal and desire, relatively little is understood about what makes a stimulus “sexual”. In this talk, I will discuss a program of research on gendered sexual response that is beginning to fill this gap in contemporary theoretical models of sexual arousal and desire. Evidence for gender effects on three phenomena – specificity of sexual response, sexual concordance, and responsive sexual desire – will be presented and implications for aspects of gendered sexuality, such as adult sexual attractions and paraphilias, will be discussed.


Meredith Chivers PhD is an Associate Professor, Queen’s National Scholar, Canadian Institutes of Health Research New Investigator, and Director of the Sexuality and Gender Laboratory in the Department of Psychology at Queen’s University (Kingston, Canada). She is Associate Editor for the Archives of Sexual Behavior, and serves on the editorial board for 3 other sexuality journals. Her research program, funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, examines gendered sexuality, including sexual psychophysiology, sexual orientations, and sexual functioning, with a focus on women.