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April 14, 2015

The Science of Arousal: Men versus Women. {Adult}

The arousal systems of men and women are both designed to help us find the best partner to produce offspring with.

Our arousal systems are largely controlled by our subconscious brain and are most interested in signs of genetic strength. That is about as far as the similarities extend. In fact, in many ways, the arousal systems of men and women actually compete against each other.

Men: When our subconscious notices something it finds arousing, it automatically searches for other arousing features. Our eyes uncontrollably dart around to try and find reasons to get more turned on. Basically, our brain tries to convince us to be more aroused. 

Women: When your subconscious notices something it finds arousing, it engages a filter mechanism. Rather than looking for other arousing features, it looks for signs of danger, deceit and incompatibility. Basically, your brain tries to talk you out of being aroused. 

These competing mechanisms start to make sense when you consider that, evolutionarily speaking, a woman takes a far greater risk when procreating. Not only will she be vulnerable during sex and while pregnant, but she may be left to raise a child on her own. This forms part of the ‘cheap sperm, precious egg’ theory of evolutionary psychology.

Our arousal systems can be broken down into two pathways: mental and physical. There are other factors, but they tend to have less influence.

Physical Arousal involves direct touching to the genitals or erogenous zones in the body. It can be direct or indirect (think dirty dancing).

Mental Arousal is the thought process of becoming aroused (i.e. thinking about any aspect of sex or the potential of sex)..

One of the most important differences between men and women is that men’s physical and mental arousal pathways are so closely linked that most men cannot separate them. When a man becomes physically aroused, he starts to become mentally aroused and vice versa. This is why men often need less “warm-up” time. 

The arousal system in women is far more complex. Women’s mental and physical arousal pathways are almost completely separate and seem to work in a feedback style system.

In a practical sense, it’s as if women need to begin with mental arousal first and then, if the potential partner passes the safety filters, physical arousal can begin. This may be why erotic novels are far more popular with women than they are with men. Their graphic descriptions tend to appeal to women’s mental arousal pathways.

For men, our arousal system is like an ignition switch. Once it is engaged, it is hard to turn it off. For women, it is more like a threshold that needs to be met. It’s kind of like when you need to show 100 points of ID to get a new drivers license, except in this case you need to provide 100 points of arousal to get her “in the mood”.

Each stimulus has a different maximum value, much like each type of ID has a different value. While your passport is worth 80 points, a student ID is only worth 20 points. Likewise, confidence may be worth 40 points, while wealth is only worth 10 points. How you get to 100 points is determined by the woman’s individual preferences.

Researcher Meston has published over 50 peer-reviewed studies on female arousal. One of her studies found that, “In research on males there’s a very high correlation between their erectile response and how aroused they say they are. But in women we get low, if any correlations.” Essentially, arousal for women is often so subtle that sometimes even the individual isn’t consciously aware of what triggers her own arousal. It’s no wonder men are so confused.

Why do women typically want to cuddle after sex while men typically don’t?

During sex, particularly when climax is reached, women release a hormone called Oxytocin. This is considered to be one of our strongest bonding hormones. It is thought to be responsible for feelings of closeness, connection and even love.

Men, on the other hand, release the hormone prolactin, which is thought to depress Dopamine levels. This is called the refractory period, a period where it is impossible for him to have sex again. Since Dopamine is one of the major endorphins responsible for drive, low levels are linked to feelings of apathy. This is one theory which might explain the cuddle vs non-cuddle phenomenon. It’s not that ‘he has got what he wants and no longer cares,’ he is more likely struggling with his rapidly declining hormone levels. Ironic huh? All this time we thought that women were the ‘hormonal ones’. As it turns out, men are also slave to their hormones, albeit in a different way.

So, what can we take away from this little insight into arousal?

Men, try to be more aware of her need for mental arousal. Save the physical stuff later. Start with suggestions, build a scene, be romantic. Become the master of working her into a mental frenzy.

Women, remember that he might need some “down-time” after sex. It doesn’t mean he is no longer into you; he’s just in recovery mode.

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Relephant: 

5 Easy Ways to Grow Arousal.

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How to have a fun, sexy, heartfelt, genuine, mutual experience when making love.

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Author: Garrick Transell

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Flickr

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Image: Rosália Toledo Toledo / Flickr