Q&A: Differences in Sexual Arousal Response Between Men and Women

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QUESTION: When men see women they are usually sexually aroused, but what happens when a woman sees a man? Does she get sexually aroused too?

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Photo: mariaclarah (flickr)

When women feel aroused – whether by a man or another woman – their bodies react in different ways.

Like men, women may become sexually aroused when they see someone they are attracted to or desire sexually, whether that person is a woman or a man. After all, not all men are attracted to women and not all women are attracted to men.

Key Differences

There are some key differences in regard to men’s and women’s sexual arousal response, however. One of the biggest differences in many people’s minds is that men’s erections are visible whereas women’s arousal is more hidden.

If a man becomes so mentally or physically aroused that his penis becomes partially or fully erect, then it may be noticeable to those around him.

When women feel aroused – whether by a man or another woman – their bodies react in different ways. Like men, blood flow increases to their genitals when women feel sexually aroused.

However, unlike men, the increased blood flow doesn’t cause an erection. Rather, sexual excitement and increased blood flow to the genitals in women helps to promote an increase in a woman’s natural vaginal lubrication. If you’ve ever heard of a woman becoming “wet”, the wetness being referenced is a woman’s vaginal lubrication.

Inner Signs

Unlike men’s erections, though, vaginal lubrication is typically not visible. Although lubrication increases during arousal, there is typically not so much of it that it soaks through a woman’s clothes. She may notice feelings of wetness in her underwear but no one else would notice.

Women may also feel warm or tingly in their genital area when they feel aroused. Some women, like men, describe feeling physical sensations in their stomach, such as nervousness or excitement.

Both women and men may also find it difficult to think about anything else except the person they long for and they may also notice changes in their breathing, heart rate or even in how warm their body feels.

Recommended Reading

To learn more about women’s and men’s sexuality, check out The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex.

Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
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