Archives of Sexual Behavior vol:43 issue:5 pages:917-930
Affective and cognitive factors play an important role in the activation and regulation of men’s sexual arousal. Barlow (1986) argued that initial affective reactions determine the allocation of attention to sexual stimuli. We applied Barlow’s model to our understanding of the role of sexual arousal in sexual orientation, where sexual arousal patterns have consistently been found to be congruent with self-reported orientation in men, but not in women. Visual attention of 28 heterosexual and 22 homosexual men to same- and opposite-sex erotic stimuli was assessed and experimentally-directed by means of a newly developed software application, while genital (penile rigidity) and affective responses (self-reported and physiological) were measured. In line with previous research, we found “category specificity” in men’s sexual arousal, in that sexual responses were strongest to orientation-congruent stimuli. Also, both homosexual and heterosexual men experienced stronger sexual responses to conditions in which their attention was directed to sexual versus nonsexual content of orientation-congruent stimuli. Only homosexual men manifested higher sexual responses when their visual attention was directed towards the sexual content of orientation-incongruent stimuli. Heterosexual men experienced weaker positive and stronger negative affective responses to orientation-incongruent content, suggestive of potential avoidance or inhibitory mechanisms.