Laser Doppler Imaging of Genital Blood Flow: A Direct Measure of Female Sexual Arousal


Samantha E. Waxman, MA, Department of Psychology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada. Tel: (613) 533-3276; Fax: (613) 533-2499; E-mail:


Introduction.  Female sexual arousal is a challenging construct to measure, partly because of the subtle nature of its indicators, vaginal lubrication and genital swelling. As a result, many instruments have been used in an attempt to accurately measure it; however, problems are associated with each. Furthermore, the relationship between subjective and physiological indicators of arousal appears to be influenced by the instrument used to measure physiological arousal. Specifically, instruments measuring physiological arousal internally yield lower correlations between measures of physiological and subjective arousal than instruments examining the external genitals. Laser Doppler imaging (LDI) is a direct measure of external genital blood flow.

Aim.  The purpose of this study was to investigate the usefulness of LDI for measuring genital blood flow in women in response to erotic visual stimuli, and to explore the relationship between physiological and subjective sexual arousal.

Method.  Sixty-five participants watched three 15-minute films during LDI scanning.

Main Outcome Measures.  Two nature films (measuring acclimatization and baseline blood flow levels) and one randomly assigned experimental film (erotic, anxiety, humor, or neutral) were used. Participants rated their level of subjective arousal following the third film.

Results.  Results indicated a significant effect of film condition on genital blood flow, P < 0.001, with the erotic condition differing significantly from the other three conditions. In terms of the relationship between physiological and subjective sexual arousal, physiological arousal was significantly predicted by subjective ratings of sexual arousal (P < 0.001).

Conclusions.  LDI appears to be able to differentiate blood flow during erotic and nonerotic conditions. In addition, physiological sexual arousal was significantly predicted by women's reported subjective sexual arousal. These findings suggest that LDI is a useful instrument for measuring female sexual arousal, and that women may be more aware of their level of physiological arousal than previously assumed. Waxman SE, and Pukall CF. Laser Doppler imaging of genital blood flow: A direct measure of female sexual arousal. J Sex Med 2009;6:2278–2285.