Psychophysiological and endocrine responses to sexual arousal in women

Julia R. Heiman, David L. Rowland, John P. Hatch, Brian A. Gladue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The unexplored possibility that a sexually induced endocrine response might prime further sexual arousal in women guided the current investigation. Healthy, premenopausal, heterosexual women in the follicular phase of their menstrual cycle were randomly assigned to either an experimental or a control group. The experimental group was exposed to a sexually explicit videotape, while the control group saw a nonerotic videotape. Ninety minutes later both groups saw a sexually explicit videotape. Vaginal vasocongestion and hormones (cortisol, prolactin, luteinizing hormone, testosterone) were measured continuously and subjective responses were sampled at 20-min intervals. Compared to controls, experimental subjects showed a greater amplitude and longer duration vaginal response to the second videotape. Subjective measures showed greater sexual response to the second erotic videotape compared to the first, an effect that was not mediated by the hormones measured here. Prolactin decreased significantly across the session for both groups, and several behavioral and affective responses were significantly correlated with hormonal levels. Commonalities and divergence with results of prior research point to the complexity and subtlety of endocrine interactions with sexual response as well as likely sex differences in hormone-behavioral interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-186
Number of pages16
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 1991


  • endocrine response
  • female sexual arousal
  • psychophysiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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