the puzzle of heterosexual women [placeholder post]

No thirty at thirty post today -- simply because I didn't get my act together to write one. So look for the "work and vocation [#9]" installment next week. In its place, I offer this three minute clip from the World Science Festival (via io9). It's part of a 90-minute panel on the origins of orientation: sexuality 2011 which I fully intend to watch sometime in the near future.

There is not a transcript currently available; sorry for that.

The researcher in the clip, Meredith Chivers, describes how self-identified heterosexual women are actually the most puzzling population for sexologists who are seeking correlation between identity and arousal. That is, women who identify as lesbian, bi (or anything other than 100% straight in their attractions) usually show a strong correlation between their self-identified attractions and patterns of arousal when shown erotic images of men or women (the more same-sex attraction you articulate, the stronger your arousal to same-sex imagery). But heterosexual women show no correlation between their interest in men and differential arousal: their baseline is equal attraction to men and women (in the physical arousal sense).

I have lots of questions about this type of research as a measure of someone's orientation -- for starters, how can researchers tell whether the person studied is reacting to the erotic nature of the pictures or the sex/gender of the body on display? -- but I do think the data are an interesting starting point for asking more questions.


  1. I know I'm really late on this one, but I think you have a point about the difference between physical arousal based on the erotic nature of the material being shown and physical arousal due to sexual attraction to the gender and/or sex of the person being shown in an erotic context. To be horribly anecdotal, what does one do in the case of an asexual who becomes physically aroused by erotic imagery? This has been documented. Obviously, there's an additional element besides just sexual attraction that is factoring into the arousal response.

  2. Yes, in part I was actually thinking of your descriptions of some asexuals erotic experiences when I made that point about the research. I realize that sexologists have to come up with some way of isolating and measuring what is a very subjective experience ... but these "let's show people erotic images" studies that seem so ubiquitous as a way to measure orientation seem really simplistic. I realize I'm bi/fluid so perhaps I'm not a good case study but ... I can feel aroused by watching people experience pleasure even if a) they're people I personally would not be interested in sexytimes with, and b) they're doing stuff that I personally don't find pleasurable but they are enjoying it. That's the power of empathy and imagination -- that you can put yourself in the space of someone for whom the persons and activities are profoundly erotic and enjoy that fact -- and be aroused by it. It just seems strange to me that the people designing these experiments wouldn't just ... get that given that they themselves are likely sexual beings in some form or another.