What Causes Sexual Excitement?

Sexual arousal is not merely a reflex response; it is affected by learning. Ellis (1984) told of a male researcher on a remote island who noticed acceleration in beard growth the day before he visited his sweetheart on the mainland. Similarly, sailors have reported beard growth (which is controlled by testosterone) before putting into port.

What is evidence that anticipation stimulates sex hormone production?

The beard growth is an example of classical conditioning of sexual hormones. This fact that sexual responses could be conditioned was discussed in Chapter 5. Graham and Desjardins (1980) provided male rats with sexual partners in the same environment each day. Soon the rats showed an eightfold rise in sex hormones when placed into the cage, even if there were no other rats present. They had associated the location with sex, and that was enough to get their hormones going.

Often problems labeled "lack of desire" stem from a too-busy schedule or an expectation that sexual responsiveness in the partner should be quick and automatic after years of marriage. The opposite is more likely to be true. Sexual response is more effortless when sex is expected and both parties desire the interaction, as when a couple is newly married.

Sometimes long-married couples must be encouraged to resume some of the rituals of dating they used during courtship. Romantic music, kissing, or sensual rituals such as long, slow, body massages are very effective in producing a classically conditioned warm-up response, even in couples who have been together for many years. This was discussed under the heading of sensitization in Chapter 13 (Therapy).

How does novelty affect sexual arousal?

Novelty leads to higher levels of sexual activity. Macrides and colleagues (1975) showed that a strange female increased plasma testosterone levels in mice more than a familiar female. In many species a male who has mated with a female then stopped will resume activity if presented with a new female. A male bull, ram, or goat may be stimulated into activity by the same female if she is led away and brought into the pen again as if new (Bermant, 1976).

What is the most common sexual fantasy among married couples?

Humans are also stimulated by novelty. Research shows the most common sexual fantasy among married couples is "a different partner." Within stable, long-term relationships (such as good marriages) variations in fantasy help to keep the same partner interesting.


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