• Sexual Arousal;
  • Classical Conditioning;
  • Genital Response;
  • Female Sexual Response;
  • Unconscious Learning


Introduction.  Although the assumption that sexual behavior is at least partly learned is common across theories of sexual behavior, classical conditioning of sexual response in women has been seldom studied.

Aim.  The study of unconscious classical conditioning of appetitive sexual responses in women.

Main Outcome Measures.  Vaginal pulse amplitude assessed by vaginal photoplethysmography, and ratings of sexual affective value.

Methods.  Pavlovian conditioning was examined in 18 sexually functional women by using two erotic pictures as conditional stimuli (CSs) and genital vibrotactile stimulation as unconditional stimulus (US). During the acquisition phase, the CSs were presented briefly (30 ms) and were masked by an immediately following masking stimulus. Only one CS (the CS+) was followed by the US during the acquisition phase. Conditioned responses were assessed during the extinction phase with supraliminal presentations of the CS+ and the CS−.

Results.  Vaginal pulse amplitude was higher in response to the CS+ than during the CS− during the first extinction trial. There was no conditioning effect on ratings of affective value.

Conclusion.  The experiment demonstrates evidence for unconscious conditioning of genital responses in women, but no evidence for evaluative conditioning. The results add to the limited evidence for classical conditioning of sexual arousal in women, and to increasing evidence for associative emotional learning without awareness. Both S, Spiering M, Laan E, Belcome S, van den Heuvel B, and Everaerd W. Unconscious classical conditioning of sexual arousal: Evidence for the conditioning of female genital arousal to subliminally presented sexual stimuli. J Sex Med 2008;5:100–109.