“Arousometer” Reveals Women Are Turned Off By Disgust More Than Fear

How scientists studied female arousal with a robotic tampon, pornography and videos of people vomiting

Jun 30, 2015 at 12:09 PM ET

Women are more turned off by disgust than fear, a new study finds. Sure, it’s interesting—but not nearly as interesting as how scientists figured this out. Spoiler: it involves an “arousometer”, a lot of pornography, and videos of people vomiting. We’re serious.

For the study, 76 (very brave) heterosexual women agreed to be hooked up to a “vaginal photoplethysmograph” a plastic tampon-like device that measures blood flow to the genitals to determine levels of arousal. There’s some important science behind the decision to measure arousal with a machine—arousometers are far more accurate than self-reports, because no one likes to admit how hot-and-bothered they feel on a scale of one to ten.

But the weirdness didn’t stop at digital tampons. Researchers showed each participant a pornographic video, made by female producers and specifically designed for heterosexual women. In a truly cruel scientific twist, almost as soon as the arousometer indicated that the women were starting to enjoy themselves the screen cut to either a terrifying clip showing natural disasters and rabid animals or a disgusting clip, featuring vomit, feces and decaying corpses.

Naturally, both scenarios caused one heck of a dip in the arousometer readings. But scientists confirmed that, quantitatively, disgust is much more of a turn-off than fear. Experts suggest an evolutionary basis for the results—rotting flesh, and disease in general, could indicate that a potential partner is sick and contagious. Disgust sensibly puts a natural damper on sexual arousal, then, to ensure that we only procreate with the clean & healthy members of the opposite sex.

Thank goodness for evolution.

Read More:

Chocolate Cure For Heart Disease Is Junk Science (Vocativ)
Disgust Vs Lust: Exploring The Interactions Of Disgust & Fear With Sexual Arousal In Women (PLOS One)