In the first study, women watched short videos, and in the second study, women listened to stories about interacting sexually with a woman or a man.
Genital response was measured with a vaginal photoplethysmograph – a clear acrylic device that illuminates the capillary bed of the vaginal wall-and participants also self-reported their sexual arousal.
In both studies, the lead researcher Meredith Chivers from the Sexuality and Gender Laboratory at Queen’s University showed that only heterosexual women who were exclusively attracted to men showed similar genital responses to both female and male sexual stimuli.
Heterosexual women who also report some attraction to women, however, showed a different pattern of response – their genital responses were greater to female stimuli, similar to other sexually-diverse women.
“Both exclusively and predominantly androphilic women (women attracted to men) showed sexual response patterns that differed from their self-reported sexual attractions,” Dr Chivers noted.
“Sexually-diverse women showed genital and self-reported arousal responses that were more similar to their self-reported sexual attractions,” she noted.
As a whole, this research illustrates the complex relationship between sexual identity, sexual attraction, sexual arousal and genital responses to sexual stimuli.
Earlier research on women’s sexual orientation and patterns of sexual response has previously focused on women’s genital and subjective sexual arousal relative to their sexual identity, as heterosexual, bisexual or lesbian.
Among women, however, there is significant diversity among women in their sexual attractions to other women and men, regardless of sexual identity.
For example, a substantial minority of heterosexual women (20 per cent in some studies) also report some attraction to women.
“The new research provides a window of opportunity to understand how women’s sexual response relates to her experience of sexual attraction and desire, addressing gaps in contemporary models of sexual response,” concluded Dr Chivers in the journal PLOS ONE.