Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Marta Meana

Number of Pages



Dyspareunia, defined as genital pain associated with intercourse, holds the unenviable status of being one of the most prevalent yet understudied of the sexual dysfunctions. The coupling of sex and pain creates an interesting theoretical conundrum of clinical significance: are women with dyspareunia distracted from sexual stimuli (as the sexual dysfunction literature would suggest), or are they hypervigilant to sexual stimuli because these stimuli elicit thoughts and expectations of pain (as the pain literature would suggest)? Eye-tracking may be a uniquely relevant tool to measure potential differences in attention between women with and without dyspareunia. The current study tested distraction by presenting women with and without dyspareunia a series of erotic images, each containing a semantically-inconsistent object, while tracking their eye movements as they looked at them. Significant group differences were found for two of the three visual attention dependent variables (total number of fixations, total gaze duration), such that women with dyspareunia looked fewer times and for less total time at the sexual scene regions (i.e., the bodies) than both women with low sexual desire (p = .018, and p = .024, respectively) and the no-dysfunction control women (p = .003, and p < .001, respectively). Women with dyspareunia were also found to have looked at the context scene region significantly more times and for longer periods of time than the no-dysfunction control women (p = .013, and p = .042, respectively). No group differences were found for average fixation duration, or any of the four memory variables (e.g., number of semantically inconsistent objects correctly recalled, number of intrusions, number correctly recognized, number of false positives). Results did not support the attentional hypervigilance that would have been consistent with the pain disorder conceptualization, but were potentially supportive of the attentional distraction hypothesis that is consistent with the sexual dysfunction theory. There appeared to be evidence of a cognitive avoidance process occurring in women with dyspareunia, such that sexual information may have triggered anxiety (due to fear of threat or harm), thus creating overall attentional avoidance of these scene regions. Limitations of the current study and future directions are provided.


Attention; Avoiding; Cognition; Distraction; Dyspareunia; Eye-tracking; Genital Pain; Pain; Sexual; Sexual Dysfunctions; Sexuality; Visual; Visual Distraction

Controlled Subject

Clinical psychology

File Format


File Size

2621.44 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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