It is understandably difficult to get a universal grasp on something as intangible as sexual fantasy, but Katherine L Goldey from the Department of Psychology, University of Michigan and Sari M Anders from the Department of Psychology, Program in Neuroscience, University of Michigan have carried out a clever quantitative experiment which pretty much proves what Rosemary Basson has been saying for many years.
The study which was published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine contradicts the popular assumption that sexual desire occurs spontaneously, and lends support to more recent models (such as Basson’s) that propose that desire responds to sexual stimuli.
The aims of the experiment were to assess whether sexual stimuli increased sexual desire. To do this they compared how sexual arousal and desire responded to three modalities of sexual stimuli: erotic story, unstructured fantasy, and the Imagined Social Situation Exercise (ISSE) where participants imagined and wrote about a positive sexual encounter with a self-defined attractive person.
The study was carried out online and the participants (128 women, 98 men) were randomly assigned to one of the four arousal conditions. One group completed an imagined social situation exercise in which they imagined a positive sexual encounter and then answered open-ended questions about it. The others engaged in typical unstructured fantasy (imagining sexual situations but not writing about them), while others read an erotic story of the researchers’ choice or took part in a neutral exercise (writing about the room they were in).
Then they rated their perceived genital arousal (how they felt physically), as well as their “state” desire (whether they wanted to have sex). The results: The first three groups all reported experiencing increased genital and psychological arousal, as well as higher “state” desire, compared with the neutral group. The group who engaged in unstructured fantasy had the greatest levels of arousal. Interestingly, though, the researchers also measured “trait” desire — sort of a person’s general set point for sexual desire, once believed to be unchangeable — and discovered that the group who imagined a positive sexual situation, reported significantly higher trait desire after the exercise.
The results highlight the responsiveness of sexual desire and the need to address context in discussions of women’s and men’s desire. Male sexual response is more likely characterised by “spontaneous desire,” whereas female sexual response is typically characterized by “responsive desire,” Responsive desire’ is when motivation to have sex begins after sexual behavior has started: a woman may not feel quite so “into” sex in the beginning, but her desire and arousal grows as she engages in intimacy.
This new study provides evidence that fantasy can create real changes in the female body, moving you from thinking about sex in the abstract to fuelling real sexual desire and arousal.
Goldey, Katherine L., van Anders, Sari M. ‘Sexual Arousal and Desire: Interrelations and Responses to Three Modalities of Sexual Stimuli’ The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2012;9: