Visual attention to erotic images in women reporting pain with intercourse

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The coupling of sex and pain creates an interesting theoretical conundrum of clinical significance: Are women with dyspareunia distracted from sexual stimuli, or are they hypervigilant to sexual stimuli because these stimuli elicit thoughts and expectations of pain? This study measured attention to sexual stimuli in women reporting persistent pain with intercourse, women reporting low sexual desire, and women reporting no sexual problems. Participants viewed a series of erotic images, each containing an object intended to distract from the erotic scene regions, while an eye tracker recorded their eye movements. Women with pain looked for shorter periods of time and fewer times at the sexual scene region than did both women with low sexual desire (p = .024 and p = .018, respectively) and the no-dysfunction control group (p < .001 and p = .003, respectively). Women with pain also looked at the context (nonsexual) scene region significantly more times and for longer periods than did the no-dysfunction control women (p = .013 and p = .042, respectively). Results are interpreted to be potentially supportive of the cognitive distraction hypothesis associated with sexual dysfunction, with an additional component of cognitive avoidance of sexual stimuli for the women reporting sexual pain.


Dyspareunia; Pain--Psychological aspects; Psychosexual disorders; Sexual disorders; Sexual excitement; Women--Sexual behavior


Community-Based Research | Counseling Psychology | Health Psychology | Medicine and Health | Psychiatry and Psychology | Psychology


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