Researchers from the University of Portsmouth have found that disgust can be a bigger passion-killer for women than fear. The team was led by evolutionary psychologist Diana Fleischman, who explained the reason behind the study:

“Sexual arousal motivates us toward closeness with others and their bodies while disgust motivates us away. Given these competing motivations, every one of our ancestors had to overcome disgust in order to have sexual contact and reproduce.”

So, the question for women is which desire is more powerful?

To find out, the researchers gathered 76 heterosexual women to participate in the study (ages ranging from 18 to 42). They were exposed to one of the four following conditions outlined in the paper:

“...rate disgust stimuli then watch a pornographic clip; watch a pornographic clip then rate disgust stimuli; rate fear stimuli then watch a pornographic clip; or watch a pornographic clip then rate fear stimuli.”

It should be noted that the erotic clips were filmed by women and intended to be appealing to women. The fear images were pictures of violent people, dangerous animals, weapons, heights, tornados, and fire, while the disgust images were ones of diseased or injured humans and human corpses, feces, and people vomiting.

In order to measure arousal, the researchers used self-reporting as well as a vaginal insert — kind of like a tampon — called a photoplethysmograph. The device was used to measure blood flow to the vagina, which would indicate arousal (or lack thereof).

The researchers write of their results:

“Women who were exposed to disgusting images before erotic content showed significantly less sexual arousal than women in the control condition or women exposed to fear-inducing images before erotic content.”

This shows that, for women, disease avoidance trumps our reproductive instincts. 

Many scientists wonder why we evolved to have sex and why it continues to be the popular mode of reproduction for humans. Bill Nye explains that there are many other safer and more advantageous ways to reproduce.

Read the press release at Science Daily or read the full study at Plos One.

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