Women's Sexual Arousal and Affect: The Effect of Feminist Identification and Male Dominant versus Female Dominant Sexual Scenarios

By Vaughn, Lisa M.; Lansky, Leonard M. et al. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Women's Sexual Arousal and Affect: The Effect of Feminist Identification and Male Dominant versus Female Dominant Sexual Scenarios


Vaughn, Lisa M., Lansky, Leonard M., Rawlings, Edna I., The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


ABSTRACT: The purposes of this study were to examine the differences in women's sexual arousal and affect toward male dominant and female dominant sexual scenarios, and to determine if a woman's level of feminist identification (as measured by the Feminist Identity Development Scale) was related to her sexual arousal and affect toward the sexual scenarios. Four hundred and one women were tested on the Feelings Scale before and after they read a male or female dominant sexual scenario. They also completed a Demographic Questionnaire and the Feminist Identity Development Scale (FIDS) on which a woman is categorized into one of four stages based on her feminist identity. The four stages on the FIDS from lowest to highest feminist identity are: Passive Acceptance; Revelation; Embeddedness; and Active Commitment. Contrary to predictions, women who read the female dominant scenario, not the male dominant scenario, did not have a larger increase in either reported sexual arousal or positive affect. As predicted, women who read the male dominant scenario, not the female dominant scenario, had a larger increase in reported negative affect. As predicted, positive and negative affect toward the scenarios was different depending on the woman's stage of feminist identification. Women in the earliest feminist stage (Passive Acceptance) had larger changes in positive affect toward the male dominant scenario, while women in the second feminist stage (Revelation) were just the opposite -- larger changes in positive affect toward the female dominant scenario than the male dominant scenario. There were large differences in negative affect toward the two scenarios for the women in the second feminist stage (Revelation) and the third feminist stage (Embeddedness), and minimal differences for the least feminist women (Passive Acceptance) and the most feminist women (Active Commitment).

Key words: Sexuality Feminism Women Sexual arousal Dominance

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The authors thank Amy Hanfbauer and Yvonne Wakefield for their help in collecting data and Richard Melton for his help with data analysis.

It was not until the 1980s that sex researchers began to show a particular appreciation for the fact that women's sexual responses and patterns of sexual arousal often differ from men's. In recent years, there has been an increase in erotic books and films which are written or produced by women for women and are focused on women's erotic needs, fantasies, and attitudes (Renner, 1986; Montefiore, 1993; Martin, 1994; Chalker, 1995; Royalle & Britton, 1995). Given the scope and variety of current research on female sexuality, it is surprising that so few researchers have studied what women find sexually arousing and what women like sexually. The present study was designed to test several hypotheses about women's responses to sexual stimuli, and about the correlates of those responses. Our two major purposes were: (1) to examine the differences in women's sexual arousal and affect toward male dominant and female dominant sexual scenarios; and (2) to determine if a woman's level of feminist identification is related to her sexual arousal and affect toward the sexual scenarios.

SEX OF THE DOMINANT CHARACTER IN EROTICA

In their review of the literature on the psychological determinants of genital and subjective sexual arousal, Dekker and Everaerd (1989) reported that sexual arousal in response to erotica was enhanced by dominance, which they defined as "taking the initiative in sex and guiding the sexual interaction" (p. 361). There are three key studies that support Dekker and Everaerd's claim about dominance in erotica (Heiman, 1977; Garcia, Brennan, DeCarlo, McGlennon, & Tait, 1984; Laan, Everaerd, van Bellan, & Hanewald, 1994).

Heiman (1977) investigated psychophysiological components of sexual arousal by presenting variations of a sexual narrative. She found that a female-initiated, female-centred audio tape was more genitally arousing for women than the other variations of the narrative. …

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