A Psychophysiological Investigation of Sexual Arousal in Women with Lifelong Vaginismus


Corresponding Author: Elke D. Reissing, PhD, School of Psychology, University of Ottawa, 136 Jean-Jacques Lussier (4010), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 6N5. Tel: (613) 562-5800 ex. 4449; Fax: (613) 562-5169; E-mail: reissing@uottawa.ca



Relatively little is known about the subjective reactions of women with lifelong vaginismus to erotic stimuli and genital arousal has never been investigated. Reports of maladaptive cognitions and fears regarding sexuality and intercourse suggest that anxiety may interfere with sexual arousal in women with vaginismus.


To examine the genital and subjective responses to sexually explicit film stimuli of women with lifelong vaginismus compared with women with lifelong dyspareunia and women with no pain.


Forty-five women (15 vaginismus, 15 dyspareunia, and 15 no pain) viewed two neutral and two erotic film sets, one depicting sexual activity without vaginal penetration and the other depicting intercourse, over two testing sessions.

Main Outcome Measures

Vulvar temperature was recorded using an infrared camera. Participants completed a measure of subjective responses after viewing each film.


All groups experienced increased vulvar temperature during the erotic films regardless of activity depicted. In response to the erotic films, the vaginismus group reported less mental arousal than the no-pain group and a range of negative subjective responses, including threat and disgust. Overall, participants showed concordance between peak subjective sexual arousal and temperature change from baseline to peak arousal.


Despite negative subjective responses, women with vaginismus responded with increased genital sexual arousal to erotic films. The resilience of genital arousal may have resulted from moderate levels of anxiety experienced in the laboratory setting facilitating sexual response regardless of subjective appraisal; however, anxiety experienced in a dyadic context may interfere more substantially.