A scientific oddity: Does being sexually aroused trump disgust?

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We’re all grossed out by things like eating a biscuit with a worm in it, or putting someone else’s used pants in the washing basket, but a study at the University of Groningen has found that women are less likely to be repulsed by disgusting things, if they are sexually aroused. This research builds on studies with demonstrate a similar thing with men – most notably a study showing that men who are aroused would consider having sex with women they’d previously (when not aroused) told researchers they wouldn’t consider sleeping with. Some psychologists think that having sex makes us less grossed out by the less appealing aspects of it at the time. It turns out that participants in the study who were shown female friendly erotic to make them sexually aroused before completing a disgusting task found it less disgusting that non-aroused participants. They also completed more tasks (83% of sexually related tasks, and 85% of non sexual tasks) than a group that were only positively aroused (74% of sexually related and 67% of non sexually related) and those who were the controls (65% of sexually related, 66% of non sexually related).

Straight up from the Study:

90 female students from the university were split into three groups. One group was shown female friendly erotic films to induce sexual arousal, one group was shown high adrenalin or sports based films to induce positive arousal, and the final group was show a neutral train ride. There were sixteen tasks for each participant to complete; 4 in each disgust type: Core (eg. eat a biscuit with a worm in it), Animal-Remainder (eg. hold a bone of an animal in your hand), Contamination (eg. pick up dirty pants) and Moral Disgust (eg. put on the shirt a paedophile wore during sex). Some of these tasks were of a sexual nature, and some were not. The participants were instructed over a speaker system to observe the task, rate the impression of the task and whether they would do it, conduct the task and then rate the task after completion.

The results are in line with expectations from male participant based studies. The impact of arousal was evident in all except the Moral Disgust, where the study had low internal consistency. The researchers had also thought that arousal would lessen the feeling of disgust after performing the task, but found no evidence for this in the study. The researchers suggest that a lack of sexual arousal may lead to inability to have sex due to the natural reduction of disgust to sexual acts leading to hesitation in the approach.  Researchers highlighted that the study is based on subjective rating completed by the participants, and that a study of physiological arousal could give less objective results. The findings of this study not only concurred with previous findings that tasks are perceived as less disgusting if the subject is aroused, but also showed that actual approach to stimuli was greater in sexually aroused subjects.

To see the full study, click here.