Myth: Men Are Not Aroused by Romantic Themes in Erotica

This time’s myth is men are not aroused by romantic themes in erotica. And by erotica, I am really talking about explicit, sexual, erotic films. Now, it’s been taken for granted by most people, and when I say most people I don’t just mean the general public, but also scientists as well, that although romantic themes are important and may even be essential for the interest and arousal of women when it comes to explicit erotic films, romantic content in explicit films is not important and might even be a turnoff to a lot of males when looking at erotic films. However, very little research, if any, had been done until recently to explore this supposition. In this myth-busting session, we’re going to look at some of the recent research that I think is going to reveal some surprising information about what is arousing about explicit erotic films for men, and for women, which I think will assist you personally in choosing a video the next time you want to share something exciting in your home, or in your hotel room, with a partner.

Now, I’m going to start with a study that was conducted to determine whether or not it’s true that women are more aroused by explicit erotic films containing romantic themes, rather than films that don’t contain romantic themes. And while men might be unaffected or perhaps even turned off, perhaps, by the addition of romantic information or romantic stories inside a film, or romantic expressions in a film. Now, the research on sexual fantasies suggests to us that men and women fantasize about different things. And we’ve talked about fantasy before in our myth-a-month videos. For example, in general, women’s fantasies contain more affection and commitment themes, and they have more storylines than men’s fantasies do. And it’s often that women have real stories in their fantasies that build up to the explicit sexual aspects of them. Whereas men can sometimes fantasize about just particular body parts – it doesn’t have to have a story to it at all. Although studies over the past 30 years have shown that men consume more explicit erotic material than do women, the research in recent years has revealed that this gap is diminishing between men and women. Still, men use more material than women do, no question, but the gap that used to be enormous is now getting smaller and smaller. The few research studies which tested men’s and women’s arousal to explicit erotic material, with and without romantic themes, when they have been done, have used written stories as the material. And when they’ve done that, there’s been really no difference found between men and women.

In one such study, which used an erotic film clip as the “end” of the study material, men and women were given a script to read before they saw the erotic film clip, which had sexual intercourse in it, but before they watched that film they were given a script that told them something about the relationship of the couple. The script they read described, in a sense, the nature of the relationship between the man and the woman that they were then going to see in the film clip. And there were three scripts that they could read. One described the couple as married and very loving; the second described a meeting between a prostitute and a john; and the third one was script that told them that this was a couple that had just met at a party and were having a one-night stand. When people were then questioned about what was the most arousing about these situations, it turned out that men and women found that the casual sex – that is, the one night stand, meeting at a party and then going off and being together sexually – was the most arousing. So that’s interesting – it wasn’t a sex difference and it was the casual sex that was the most arousing for both men and women. There was no difference in reaction between the paid personal sex scenario and the married loving sex scenario, with regard to being arousing. Interesting.

Of course, this setup is not the same as an integrated film where the characters are interacting in the relationship through the whole film situation. So a study was conducted at the University of Utah, quite recently, including 85 male and 70 female psychology students, age 21 to 62 years old, using explicit films with romantic and non-romantic themes. 53% of the subjects were single, 36% of the subjects were married, and 11% were divorced, separated, or widowed. All reported that they were exclusively heterosexual in their sexual orientation. They watched two highly explicit videos, including depictions of substantial amounts of detailed genital-to-genital contact in the film clips. One of these videos included the character saying “I love you” and demonstrating substantial hugging, kissing, and pre-sexual and non-sexual and non-genital physical contact. The other was very much focused on genital intercourse kind of behavior. A drawback in this study was that the segment that was non-romantic was somewhat less long than the one that was more romantic, with the kissing and the hugging and the I love you. Each subject only saw one of the two segments and rated them, so people didn’t see both and rate them in comparison. They just saw one, and they rated it as to how arousing it was. So what were the results of this study?

Both males and females rated the high-explicit, high love and affection video as more arousing than the high-explicit, low love and affection video. So both men and women found the video that included the affectionate interaction along with the highly explicit sex, as more arousing than the video that was just explicit sex. There was no difference on the questionnaire in the level of arousal between males and females to the high-explicit, high love and affection video. Now the subjects were also asked – and this is what I think is quite interesting too – is how would they predict other men and women would react to these films? And here’s where the cultural stereotypes come into play. Here’s what females said. Female subjects said that women in general would be more sexually aroused to the videos than male subjects predicted that women would be. So the women thought that women would be highly aroused, but the men thought they would be less aroused than the women thought they would be. And both males and females predicted that females in general would exhibit greater sexual arousal to the affection video as compared to the low affection video, and they were right about that, that was true. What was the male response? Female subjects predicted that men in general would be more aroused by the videos than the male subjects predicted that men generally would be. So females think that men are going to be more aroused than, in reality, they are. So women think that men are oversexed, and men think that women are undersexed. These findings, again, fit with the stereotypes of our culture about men and women and their sexual arousability. However, when rating their own sexual responses, both men and women reported being more aroused by the same sexual material presented with physical and verbal expressions of love and affection, rather than without them. So it’s very important to realize that men, too, are turned on when there’s more to it than just the physical acts of love. People like sexuality when it’s contextualized within some kind of a relationship. Even if that relationship is falling madly in love at first sight at a party and rushing off to fall into bed together, which is what we saw in that other study. But that was more arousing than a prostitute and a john, certainly for most people.

Now I want to add these findings to the results of another very interesting study, an even more recent study, about explicit erotic films. And again, I think this is going to help you make decisions about your own life. So. This research examined sex differences in responsiveness to erotic films; that is, how do men and women respond differently or similarly to explicit films. And it was done to try to understand what kind of films have the most appeal for men and women. This is an important question for researchers, who want to know what kind of films will make the best presentations to cause arousal in their subjects in the laboratory when they’re doing research on sexual arousal. But it also should be of special interest to anyone who has a partner with whom he or she would like to share erotic experiences that might include films and videos. And I think more and more Americans are doing that. Now, research over the years has demonstrated that erotic films are more effective for arousal – for most people – than stories, slides, photographs, or fantasy instructions. And in some research they would give people instructions to have fantasies, or they’d give them fantasy stories. Films are the best way of getting people aroused. And that’s true in eliciting sexual arousal whether it’s genital or whether it’s what people report to you. So there are ways to actually measure genital arousal in a laboratory, but also you can ask people how aroused they feel. In either case, movies work the best, films work the best.

Although men self-report higher levels of arousal than do women, under all sort of experimental circumstances, the meaning and significance of this difference is very unclear to us. It may be that, culturally, women tend to under-report and men tend to over-report their arousal. It may just be that that’s how we are in our culture. The themes of many erotic films, which often include dominance of men over women, and sometimes exploitation of women, may diminish women’s positive responses to them, and that might have something to do with the fact that they don’t have a full arousal response. Or, it’s been suggested that men are biologically wired for greater appreciation of visual stimuli. And I think I’ve mentioned it before, in other of our talks, that men are more visual animals than women are, and that’s related evolutionarily to hunting, whereas women are more involved with caretaking and agriculture, and so we have slightly different abilities when it comes to far and close kinds of work, evolutionarily, and men do have better vision and better visual skills than women do. Women have better skills with hearing and with smell than men do. They are small differences, but they’re there, nevertheless. Most available erotic films are produced by men, for men – not all, there are women-made films. But the vast majority are made by men for men, and that may affect why women are not as aroused. And it also may be as simple as the fact that when your sex organs are hanging outside your body, it’s a lot easier for them to be aroused and you’re a lot more aware of them being aroused than when your sex organs are more hidden, and a large part of them are inside your body.

Anyway – whatever the reason is, women seem to – by the way, when you do sexual arousal measurements in the laboratory with the instruments we have, that are obviously different for a sexual organ that’s outside and a sexual organ that’s inside, you can’t tell the difference. Women seem to be fully aroused and men seem to be fully aroused. So you just have to take that for what it’s worth. But there have been studies that have reported greater sexual arousal in women to women-centered erotica when compared to typically male erotica. So it may be that whoever makes the films, or whether the films are more centered around a woman’s point of view, may make a difference as to how arousing it is for women. But research that has measured both self-reported levels of the arousal and genital arousal in women has found that there really is no difference in genital arousal between women-made and men-made erotic films, despite the differences in the reported level. So the reported level was different – women say that they’re more aroused by women-made ones. But when you’re measuring their genital response, you can’t tell the difference between the male ones and the female ones. But no one would deny that how one feels about what one is looking at is exceedingly important, particularly when it comes to expressing emotions and having pleasure. So we always have to keep in mind that what somebody tells you they’re feeling, or how they’re feeling, is number 1 when it comes to pleasure and joy. And so everybody must keep that in mind when they’re dealing with their partner – it’s not what YOU think they should be enjoying, it’s what they are enjoying that counts, on every level.

A study was recently conducted at the Kinsey Institute – my old alma mater, that I was director of for 11 years – to see how films are selected and how that would make a difference in how they’re perceived by men and women. They started out with 100 full-length, commercially available, adult films, and these were viewed by 5 male and 6 female research assistants. Their average age was 25 years old. Now, all of these research assistants were heterosexual and all but one was unmarried. And after a long process of elimination and so forth, three-minute clips were selected from these films, depicting consensual, heterosexual petting, oral sex, and intercourse between one man and one woman. So there were no menage a trois, in these little clips that they picked, because they wanted to make them all similar, no sado-masochistic or other fetishistic activities were allowed, no sex toys could be used in these clips, like vibrators or dildos, and finally, the last instruction to the research assistants was that they were to choose segments that they personally found to be highly arousing. So the final set of clips was shown to participants in the study – there were 20 of them altogether. 7 of the clips were chosen by female research assistants and 7 of the clips were chosen by male research assistants. And they were the 7 that the male research assistants found in the end, as a group, were most arousing to them, and 7 that the female assistants felt were most arousing to them. Then 2 male and 2 female clips which were recommended by other researchers in the field, and then 1 male clip and 1 female clip that the Kinsey Institute had been using in its research in the past. So 10 male, 10 female ones. Each clip was three minutes long, and it consisted of approximately 1 minute of kissing and petting, 1 minute of oral sex, and 1 minute of intercourse. And the oral sex was giving and taking for both partners, so that you’ve got the male doing something to the female and the female doing something to the male. Now, these 20 clips were shown to 15 male and 17 female study subjects in a random order, and each one watched the 3 minute clip, and then there was a 2 minute pause where they were able to rate the clip in terms of how arousing it was. And the viewing, of course, was done in complete privacy. Now, what were the results? Overall, men rated the clips as more arousing than did the women. So as we find in most all of the studies, that was no surprise. There was no difference between the reports of arousal, between the men and the women, to the clips chosen by the women. So both men and women found the women’s clips equally arousing. However, women reported higher arousal to the film clips chosen by women than they did to the film clips chosen by men. So women research assistants were better able to choose clips that other women would find arousing. But the men also found them arousing. And the men reported higher arousal to the clips chosen by the male research assistants than they did to the ones chosen by the women. So it looks like each sex chooses the best and most arousing film clips, what they find the most exciting, for their own sex. And that makes perfect sense. Doesn’t it make perfect sense to you? It makes perfect sense to me. And the biggest difference was in the responses to the male-selected film clips. That is, both sexes enjoyed the female clips, but there was a difference in enjoyment, of males and females, to the male-chosen clips, with males enjoying them much more than the females did.

Now, how did viewing the film clips affect arousal? What do people do when they watch a film? And think about it for a minute. Do you think of yourself as a participant in the film when you’re enjoying it? When you’re watching it, are you fantasizing about being a participant? Or do you fantasize being an observer of what’s going on in the film? Well, a number of characteristics of the films were revealed when the subjects were asked about that. What was important to them for producing higher levels of sexual arousal? And this was different for men and women. Imagining being a participant was most important for the arousal of both sexes. And this was related to being able to identify with the same-sex actor and with the attractiveness of the opposite-sex actor. So being a participant, fantasizing about being a participant, is the most important aspect of a film being sexy, being arousing. And it’s important that you be able to identify with the actor of your own sex and finding the actor of the other sex attractive. Watching the film as an observer was important to the arousal of males, but was not at all important for the arousal of females. So voyeurism does not appear to be an important component of arousal for women in general. And that’s something that we sort of know. That doesn’t mean that some women don’t really enjoy watching other people have sex, because of course they do. But in general, it’s certainly not as important for women as it is for men. We know that it’s again eyes – the men, eyes are very important for arousal in men. And remember, for a man to be able to have sex, for a man to be able to reproduce, again going back into evolution, he has to have an erection. In order for his sperm to get into a female, he has to have an erection, and he has to be able to get an erection – evolutionarily, if you’re out in the caves, as quickly as possible, otherwise some other man is going to get in there, or some tiger is going to come and eat him up. So he has to be able to get an erection quickly and get those sperm where they need to go quickly. So the faster he can gain an erection and have intercourse, and deposit his sperm, the better. So if he can get turned on by sight, from a distance, he’s in better shape to pass his genes on to the next generation. So visual is very important to the male, going way back into our evolution, back into the evolution of our ancestors, our primate ancestors. Now the attractiveness of both actor and actress was of equal importance for the arousal of women. But the attractiveness of the actress was far more important than the appearance of the actor for the arousal of men, of males. And that’s very true – if you look at some of the old stars, some of the old porno stars, some of the males were really unattractive. I’m trying to think of the name, and I can’t remember who he was, but there’s a very famous one who’s really quite unattractive. He’s rather unskinny, he’s rather unattractive, but it didn’t matter – because the male viewer of the video takes his place, and it’s the female actress that is the important character for the erotic arousal value of that video for the man. He really doesn’t want to be in competition with the man in the movie, and it’s even nice for him, perhaps, to feel that he’s far more attractive than the man in the movie. So it’s the female that counts. But for a woman, both people seem to be important – the actor and the actress, person whose place she is taking and the one who she is having sex with in her fantasy. And males paid far more attention to the female actress as it related to their arousal than females to the actor or the actress. So the visual is much more important, in a sense, to the male – what things look like. Finally, for women, if there was something in the film that they didn’t like, that was repulsive or a turn-off for them, it decreased the sexual arousal value of the whole film, but that was not true for males, for the sexual arousal for the males. They would take note of it, but if everything else was good, it didn’t decrease the arousability, the sexual excitingness of the movie. But for females, if anything was in that movie that was negative or a turn-off or repulsive, the whole arousability of the movie went down. And we know that’s true about women – they’re affected by the whole picture.

So what are my conclusions from this research, which I think is interesting research for all of us who are interested in having a good sex life. It’s always important to remember, when looking at differences between the sexes, that there is an enormous overlap between the sexes – in other words, sex differences are not big in human beings, they’re small in human beings – not big, small. Averages only tell a small part of the story about individuals. In this case, although on average the men responded strongly to the 20 erotic clips, approximately 1/3 of the women responded more strongly to all the clips than did 1/3 of the men. So 1/3 of the women were more aroused than 1/3 of the men were. So even though overall the men were more aroused than overall the women, 1/3 of the women were more aroused than 1/3 of the men, or more highly aroused. So I’m saying, when you look at individuals, it tells you a different story than when you look at averages. Mostly we hear about averages – sex differences are averages over a whole bunch of people. But there are always men who are at the top and the bottom, and there are always women who are at the top and the bottom. So again, you always have to take into account what you’re hearing about.

Looking at it another way, even though most of the women were more aroused by the clips selected by women, 1/4 of the women reported higher levels of arousal to the male-selected clips, in comparison with the female-selected clips. So even though women in general liked the women-selected clips better, some of the women liked the male-selected clips better. However, all the men gave their highest ratings to the male-selected clips, so they’re more of a homogeneous group. You can predict the men better than the women. But there are some women who like male stuff better than female stuff. It’s important to remember that these clips were all standardized with regard to the depiction of sexual behaviors. Remember there was kissing, there was petting, there was intercourse, but lots of things weren’t allowed in these clips because they had to make them similar. Showing additional behaviors may well have provided some different results. For example, 1997 a study found that men reported a very strong preference for movie depicting threesomes, whereas women preferred portrayals of vaginal intercourse. So there’s particular preferences – again, averaged – about what people want to see. And again here, we’re talking about heterosexuals. We haven’t even touched people who have same-sex preferences and what they like to see in their movies.

What can we learn from this, or should I say, what can we take home, so to speak. These researchers concluded by saying “to maximize responses in women, fill clips are probably best selected by women.” And I would agree with this, because even the women who like the male films, how do you know that unless you let them pick the films that they’re going to watch. And I would say that if you are a man, or a woman, selecting an explicit erotic film video, for pleasure with a partner who is female, choose a highly-explicit one with vaginal intercourse and other kinds of sexual activity that is female-centered. And if there are romantic, affectional themes included, you really should have a great time. An alternate for men is to encourage their female partners to choose the videos for your evening’s entertainment. And if you do that, things ought to work out very well. And that’s my advice: my research for this month, my advice for this month. And now go out and check it out for yourself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.