The Partner's Presence in the Sex Research Lab Differentially Affects Sexual Arousal in Women and Men

J.J.D.M. van Lankveld*, D. Hubben, M.V.E. Dewitte, J. Dingemans, C. den Butter, A. Grauvogl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


IntroductionThe present study addressed the ecological validity of the individual-focused experimental paradigm in sex research.

AimThe aim of this study was to investigate the effect of partner presence vs. absence in the laboratory testing situation, and of manipulation of attentional focus, on genital and subjective sexual arousal of healthy women and men.

MethodsSexually functional heterosexual men (n=12) and women (n=12) and their partners participated in this study. During partner presence, the partner sat opposite to the participant; self-focused attention was experimentally manipulated by introducing, respectively, a semi-reflecting glass pane, and a wall-mounted camera.

Main Outcome MeasuresPerceived state self-focused attention and genital and subjective sexual arousal during presentation of audiovisual erotic film stimuli were assessed.

ResultsPartner presence resulted in higher perceived self-focus ((2)(p)=0.22) and lower genital responses to erotic stimulation ((2)(p)=0.21). The interaction of partner presence and increased self-focused attention differentially affected genital arousal in female and male participants ((2)(p)=0.38). The mean genital response in men was lower during private self-focus than during non-self-focus with the partner present but was higher during private self-focus with the the partner absent ((2)(p)=0.23). The genital response in women to public self-focus was lower than to private self-focus and to non-self-focus with their partner present ((2)(p)=0.36). With the partner absent, the genital response in women to private self-focus was lower than to non-self-focus ((2)(p)=0.23). Retrospective subjective arousal of women was higher with partner present (M=3.2) than with partner absent (M=2.9), whereas men reported higher retrospective subjective arousal with their partner absent (M=3.5) than present (M=3.1).

ConclusionsThese findings suggest that mere presence of the partner impacts the sexual response differentially in women and men. Enhancing the ecological validity of the individual-based laboratory paradigm for sex research warrants closer examination in future research. van Lankveld J, Hubben D, Dewitte M, Dingemans ME, den Butter C, and Grauvogl A. The partner's presence in the sex research lab differentially affects sexual arousal in women and men. J Sex Med 2014;11:697-708.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-708
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of sexual medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • Genital Sexual Arousal
  • Individual Sex Research Paradigm
  • Laboratory Tests for Sexual Arousal
  • Partner Presence
  • Self-Focused Attention

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