Feelings of Disgust and Disgust-Induced Avoidance Weaken following Induced Sexual Arousal in Women – such is the title of a study by the Department of Clinical Psychology and Experimental Psychopathology, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.
Participants were healthy women (n = 90) randomly allocated to one of three groups: the sexual arousal, the non-sexual positive arousal, or the neutral control group. Film clips were used to elicit the relevant mood state. Participants engaged in 16 behavioural tasks, involving sex related (e.g., lubricate the vibrator) and non-sex related (e.g., take a sip of juice with a large insect in the cup) stimuli, to measure the impact of sexual arousal on feelings of disgust and actual avoidance behaviour.
The sexual arousal group rated the sex related stimuli as less disgusting compared to the other groups. A similar tendency was evident for the non-sex disgusting stimuli. For both the sex and non-sex related behavioural tasks the sexual arousal group showed less avoidance behaviour (i.e., they conducted the highest percentage of tasks compared to the other groups).
Women in the “aroused group” said they found both the unpleasant tasks and the sex-related tasks less disgusting than women in the other groups. They also completed the highest percentage of the activities, suggesting that sexual arousal not only decreases feelings of disgust, but directly affects what women are willing to do, the study shows.
Daniel R. Kelly, an associate professor of philosophy at Purdue University and author of the book “Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust” who was not involved in the study, explained that disgust is an “extension of our immune system” that helps prevent people from getting infected by making them wary of things, like bodily fluids, that potentially carry disease or make people vulnerable.
“Disgust is an emotion,” he explained. “What it’s there for, primarily, is to protect us against eating things that might poison us, or coming into close physical proximity to things that might carry infections. That’s its mission.”
David Buss, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas Austin and author of “Why Women Have Sex,” called disgust a “huge issue for women.”
“Women show far more disgust and especially sexual disgust, than men,” he said.
Buss concurred with Kelly that the findings of what “is very likely an evolved psychological defense.”
“It helps to protect women from having sex with the wrong men, such as men who might communicate diseases, men who show signs of a high ‘parasite load,’ men who have poor hygiene and so on,” he said.
What is interesting about the new Dutch paper, the two experts agreed, is that it suggests the mission to avoid the potentially “dangerous” parts of sex takes a backseat when women are aroused. “Sexual arousal can override disgust,” Buss said.