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Keywords:

  • Classical Conditioning;
  • Female Sexual Response;
  • Appetitive Conditioning;
  • Aversive Conditioning;
  • Sexual Arousal

ABSTRACT

Introduction.  There is only limited evidence for appetitive classical conditioning of female sexual response, and to date modulation of female sexual response by aversive conditioning has not been studied.

Aim.  The aim of this article is to study appetitive and aversive classical conditioning of sexual responses in women.

Main Outcome Measures.  Vaginal pulse amplitude was assessed by vaginal photoplethysmography and ratings of affective value were obtained.

Method.  Two differential conditioning experiments were conducted. In Experiment 1, on appetitive conditioning, neutral pictures served as conditional stimuli (CSs) and genital vibrotactile stimulation as the unconditional stimulus (US). In Experiment 2, on aversive conditioning, erotic pictures served as CSs and a pain stimulus as US. In both experiments, only one CS (the CS+) was followed by the US during the acquisition phase. Conditioned responses were assessed during the extinction phase.

Results.  In Experiment 1, during the extinction phase, as expected vaginal pulse amplitude was higher in response to the CS+ than during the CS−. Also, the CS+ was rated as marginally more positive than the CS−. In Experiment 2, during the extinction phase, as expected vaginal pulse amplitude was lower in response to the CS+ than during the CS−, and the CS+ was rated as more negative than the CS−.

Conclusions.  The results provide evidence for appetitive classical conditioning of sexual response in women, and are the first to show attenuation of sexual response in women by aversive conditioning. Both S, Laan E, Spiering M, Nilsson T, Oomens S, and Everaerd W. Appetitive and aversive classical conditioning of female sexual response. J Sex Med 2008;5:1386–1401.