Academic journal article
By Gaither, George A.; Plaud, Joseph J.
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 34, No. 3
The penile plethysmograph is believed by many researchers and clinicians to be the most valid and reliable device currently available for assessing male sexual arousal (Howes, 1995; Maletzky, 1995; Proulx, 1989; Zuckerman, 1971). Although the main use of the penile plethysmograph is in the detection and treatment of sexual deviations (e.g., Abel & Blanchard, 1976; Kelly. 1982) and sexual dysfunctions (e.g., LoPiccolo & Stock, 1986), it has also been employed to examine such phenomena as the classical conditioning (e.g., Plaud & Martini, in press; Rachman, 1966), operant conditioning (e.g., Rosen, Shapiro, & Schwartz, 1975), and habituation (e.g., O'Donohue & Plaud, 1991; Plaud, Gaither, Amato-Henderson, & Devitt, in press) of male sexual arousal.
A key element in sexual arousal research and plethysmographic assessments is the stimuli that are presented to elicit sexual arousal. The stimuli may vary within a study or assessment as well as between studies or assessments on a number of different characteristics (Howes, 1995), which can be divided into primary and secondary characteristics. Primary characteristics, for plethysmographic assessments, refer to those stimulus characteristics that are intentionally varied between categories (e.g., deviant versus normal) and are thought to be most salient in distinguishing between men according to their stated sexual preferences (e.g., age or sex of stimulus). For research studies, primary characteristics are those stimulus characteristics that are actively manipulated by the researchers, such as the verbal resistance of a sexual partner (Plaud, Bigwood, & Rosenkranz, 1996) or the description of condom use (Gaither, Rosenkranz, Amato-Henderson, Plaud, & Bigwood, 1996) in an audiotaped description of sexual activity. Again, the defining features of primary characteristics are that they are actively manipulated and thus thought to be the most salient characteristics in distinguishing different categories of stimuli. Therefore, depending upon the research question, some stimulus characteristics may be considered primary for one study (e.g., condom use when that is the characteristic under investigation) but secondary in another (e.g., condom use in some, but not all scripts when that is not the character under investigation).
Secondary characteristics may vary both within and between categories but are not actively manipulated and are not typically considered to be salient: They may even be considered idiosyncratic. The results of plethysmographic assessments are normally considered to be due to the manipulation of primary characteristics; yet, if I they are not controlled, some secondary characteristics may confound those results. The purpose of the current study was to determine whether the manipulation of two stimulus characteristics that are often not controlled in plethysmographic assessments would affect sexual arousal in a sample of male college students.
The mode of stimulus presentation is probably the secondary stimulus characteristic that has received the most consideration in published research. Researchers have repeatedly found that films/videos elicit greater physiological arousal than slides, still photographs, or audiotaped descriptions of sexual activity (e.g., Abel, Barlow, Blanchard, & Mavissakalian, 1975; Abel, Blanchard, & Barlow, 1981; McConaghy, 1974). Many of these studies, however, were, flawed in that the content of the stimuli was not matched between modes.
Julien and Over (1988), in the only study to date to match the content across modes, examined differences in male sexual arousal across five modes of stimulus presentation: film, slides, audiotaped descriptions (spoken text), written text, and fantasy. Julien and Over produced a film that was divided into eight two-minute segments. Each segment consisted of the same man and woman engaging in a different sexual activity. Photographs were taken simultaneously from the same angle as the movie camera for the slides. …