Classical Conditioning of Sexual Response in Women: A Replication Study


Stephanie Both, PhD, Department of Psychosomatic Gynecology and Sexology, Leiden, University Medical Centre, Albinusdreef 2, 2300 RC, Leiden, The Netherlands. Tel: *31715268032; Fax: *31715266950; E-mail:


Introduction.  According to incentive motivation models, sexual stimuli play a crucial role in eliciting sexual arousal, desire, and behavior. Therefore, it seems highly valuable to investigate the process through which stimuli acquire motivational value. Although many theories of human sexual behavior assume that sexual stimuli obtain arousing properties through classical conditioning, systematic research on classical conditioning of sexual responses in humans is scarce. Recently, however, our research group observed conditioned genital responses in women using a differential conditioning procedure and genital vibrostimulation as unconditional stimulus (US).

Aim.  The aim of the present experiment was to perform an extended replication of this previous study to test the efficacy of our conditioning paradigm.

Methods.  A differential conditioning experiment was conducted in 32 sexually functional women. Neutral pictures served as conditional stimuli (CSs) and genital vibrostimulation as US. Only one CS (the CS+) was followed by the US during the acquisition phase. Conditioned responses were assessed during the extinction phase.

Main Outcome Measures.  Vaginal pulse amplitude (VPA) and skin conductance level were assessed, and ratings of affective value and sexual arousal were obtained.

Results.  As expected, during the extinction phase, VPA was higher in response to the CS+ than to the CS−. Also, the CS+ tended to be evaluated as more positive and as more sexually arousing than the CS−. In addition, the magnitude of conditioned subjective affect was related to scores on the Sexual Inhibition\Sexual Excitation Scales. Skin conductance levels showed no conditioning effect.

Conclusions.  Genital and subjective sexual responses were successfully modulated by the differential conditioning paradigm. This replication of our previous study confirms the effectiveness of our conditioning procedure and indicates that it may provide a fruitful paradigm for further research on associative sexual reward learning in humans. Both S, Brauer M, and Laan, E. Classical conditioning of sexual response in women: A replication study. J Sex Med 2011;8:3116–3131.