1. Health
Cory Silverberg

New brain research challenges the myth that men are more visual than women.

By June 19, 2006

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brain map illustrates different levels of activity as brain circuits process erotic and neutral visual materials

It is considered an almost forgone conclusion across research disciplines, among pop psychologists of all stripes, and in the general population that men are more “visual” than women when it comes to the way they get turned on. Men, we’re told, are visually aroused, whereas women just need a good sense of humor, and possibly a strong jaw, and they're on board.

This misguided, but pervasive belief can be linked to a host of other gender stereotypes which are further complicated by sexual politics and differences in social power. So arguments which should be challenged, such as the “fact” that men leer more than women do, that they objectify women’s bodies more than women do men’s bodies, and that they just can’t stop watching porn, are explained as somehow being related to a mix of genetics, patriarchy, and simple mindedness.

Challenging these ideas can be a monumental task. Researcher bias being what it is, science rarely offers support for these "counter-intuitive" ideas. What's worse, when research does start to complicate matters, the media, and even smart bloggers who should know better, distort the findings beyond recognition.

Nonetheless, a recent study published in the journal Brain Research is offering the first preliminary but important evidence to dispel the age old myth that visual imagery is more important to men than it is to women. And it's worth considering without hyperbole.

The study, carried out by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis measured brainwave activity of 264 women as they viewed a series of 55 color slides that contained various scenes from water skiers to snarling dogs to partially-clad couples in sensual poses. The researchers were interested in the speed, strength, and location of brainwave activity of the subjects as they viewed erotic versus non-erotic images.

As they hypothesized, the brainwave activity of participants was markedly different when viewing erotic images versus non-erotic images. But a finding they didn’t expect was that female participant’s response was similar to men. In a prepared statement, lead author Andrey P. Anokhin explained:

"Usually men subjectively rate erotic material much higher than women," he says. "So based on those data we would expect lower responses in women, but that was not the case. Women have responses as strong as those seen in men."

The authors propose that previous findings from other studies which found men to have a stronger response to erotic images than women may have as much to do with research methods, as an actual response by men or women.

This study, which itself carries several limitations, and I would argue more than a few major theoretical flaws, is still one of the first to offer statistically significant empirical evidence that both women and men respond subjectively and significantly to visual erotic material. Which is good news for those of us who believe that our response to sexual or erotic imagery may be a bit more complicated than X or Y.

Reference:
Anokhin AP, Golosheykin S, Sirevaag E, et. al. “Rapid discrimination of visual scene content in the human brain” Brain Research, 2006 May 16; [Epub ahead of print], accessed June 18, 2006.

Read more - Weird Sexual Science: Erotica, Evolutionary Theory, and Women Who Like Porn

Read more - Erotic images elicit strong response from brain

Photo credit: Washington University in St. Louis

Comments
April 22, 2008 at 6:50 am
(1) Boomer says:

Ah yes. I’ve seen it many times myself. It’s plastered all over the internet. “Men are very visual” they say. The saying came into existence a few years ago. Ever since then it has gained in popularity and believe.

Hell, even I have to admit, that I believed it myself for a while. I used to be a bit naďve (about women) back in the day. And the explanation seemed valid. But I grew out of it real quick though. Hehe.

I could explain the entire charade to you right now if I wanted. Why men are perceived as very visual. Why women aren’t etc. etc. But i’m not going to do that (to much work lol).

Instead I’m going to keep it simple. One frase says it all really… I came up with it myself hehe…

Men aren’t visual, women are graphic.

Yes indeed. Tell me how many times you see this kinda stuff (out in the streets or whatever):

Popped cleevage, a shitload of make-up, mini-skirts displaying legs wrapped in stockings or pantyhose, all accentuated by a pare of high-heeled boots (these by the way, have always been the standard attire for hookers and prostitutes), skintight clothing, low-cut clothing (jeans, tops etc.) and a whole lot of ass (by the way, have you noticed how nowadays womens butts are looking more shapely and sculptured? Yeah, that’s because modern female jeans are cut specifically to make them look that way. So even if you have a saggy, shapeless ass, all you need to do is buy a pair of jeans and you can pass for J-Lo anyday.

Isn’t it obvious? Women look so “perfect” these days that men can’t help but ogle them. But it’s all fake. As a matter of fact, the average woman is fake.

Do you have any idea how many cosmetic enhancements are available to women? I haven’t even metioned plastic surgery yet. Half the time you see a woman with nice tits, you can’t even be sure if they’re real or not.

Just to get an idea of how far women take cosmetics, you should ask yourself how many of these “enhancements” are available to men.

And it get’s even worse. It’s not just young women and little girls that are doing this. No no, even old(er) women are doing it. Heck, I’ve seen women that I would classify as grandma’s walk around like some cheap trick. It’s proposterous.

And all the while, men are taking heat for it. Men are visual, men only think about sex. How can you not think about something if it’s bombarded into your brain every second of the day. It’s women who are obsessed with sex, not men. That’s why they’re also so obsessed about how they look.

Women have always been deemed as superior in the dating game. And not just as superior but also as more righteous. It’s never their fault. And men should always treat women right no matter what.

What a crock.

But it’s cool though. Men all over the world are getting tired of the chokehold women have on moral. And a revolution is on the way. The men will set things straight. We always have.

June 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm
(2) Beaumont says:

More studies need to be made. Men look at alot more porn then females. If we were equally visual then that wouldnt be the case.

June 27, 2010 at 6:53 am
(3) KIKKy says:

Please! This is true for 1 women in a million!

September 17, 2010 at 10:26 am
(4) SO TRUE says:

Boomer I’m a female and I agree with you 100 percent. Our society smh….

November 14, 2010 at 3:47 am
(5) Really? says:

Men look at porn more than women because 99.69& of porn is made for men! Even Playgirl is basically for gay men.

December 2, 2010 at 6:26 pm
(6) Boomer_is_Dumb says:

Men will set things straight—-and they always have?? Who the hell are you kidding, Boomer? How exactly will they set things straight? By wielding their guns and shooting at people? No, there most definitely will not be a ‘revolution’ as you stated. In nature it is ALWAYS up to the female to choose her mate, as it is in human mate choosing. You are correct about the female having the power though. We do want a man that is virile and we will do anything it takes to reign a decent one in for us.

However, unless ALL of nature takes a complete turn and leaves the choosing of a mate up to the male, there is simply no possibility of that revolution of which you have spoken.

And saying men are more visual is nothing but yet another ridiculous excuse for a man to use when they decide to be promiscuous. Whether it be because they have more testosterone than us women, or because they are more ‘visual’ (remember—we have eyes TOO!), or perhaps because they are better at geometry….it always comes back to being nothing more than an excuse to undercut the actual ability of a man to be morally stronger than a woman.

Monogamy is strength, and if a man deems himself ‘visual’ and having to ‘spread his seed’ via sleeping around with as many women as possible, then he is nothing more than a weakling in nature. The natural world finds one mate and stays with it because it saves energy from constant searching season to season for a new prospect.

So keep making up these excuses men, it just shows us women that you’re nothing more than a shitty mate for us when you make these kinds of statements about how different you are from us. As you continue to wonder why we keep dumping your ass after you make these statements, we will find another, better male that is more intelligent than you and higher in the evolutionary chain of life.

So enjoy the strip clubs, losers!

January 3, 2011 at 8:18 am
(7) Janan says:

The myth was used to put women at a lesser or second level in society.It’s rediculous that anyone would even believe it since everyone is an individual and no one for sure can ever know what makes each person tick.The far right and born again christian set are notorious for stating this myth on their websites.It’s how they weed out women as the object to give her less human qualities and more the role of a tempteress which makes men fall.It’s time society views each person as a unique individual and stops catagorizing people by what is called gender specific behaviors.Pop psychologists have done so muich harm to society that they should be considered a sort of criminal because they stole to minds of many and turned them into a pool of respective mindless mush.Thank for yourself and take each person at face value.

June 19, 2011 at 1:15 am
(8) Jessica says:

As a woman I’ve always known this. All women I know watch porn and masturbate to it. Any woman who tells you otherwise is lying.

August 1, 2011 at 9:17 pm
(9) Red Joe says:

Good article and I have come to this conclusion personally as I hear women compliment and oogle over us guy’s physiques… they aren’t much different after all, but they can be more reserved. And Boomers rant is pretty cool

August 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm
(10) Visualise this says:

@ Boomer: Are you sure you’re not the one with a problem – seeing all women as sexualised. Maybe they’re just walking down the street, in their jeans and their makeup, with their female anatomy and all…you know, just being people. You’re the one who is reading the anti-male conspiracy theory into it.

@ Beaumont: I agree, the more studies into human sexuality the better. but you can’t just keep asking for re-tests if the results challenge your cherished but erroneous beliefs. Why is it so hard to accept women and men both respond to sexual images? And aside from that, women DO consume porn, you just might not be aware of it – look at the wide popularity of fanfiction, yaoi manga and anime, romance fiction, ‘hunks’ cast in movies and boy bands aimed at tween girls. Just because women’s sexuality doesnt get as much mainstream media coverage as mens, don’t assume it’s not there.

@Jessica: It’s great that you and your friends are having fun watching porn and masturbating to it. Really. But please don’t say that you and your friends represent ALL WOMEN EVAAAR. Women are not a monolithic borg hive-vagina. Some of them masturbate to porn, some dont, just like men. Just like…real people.

Aaaanyway. Great article, bookmarked for further reference.

August 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm
(11) visualise this 2 electric boogaloo says:

Regarding the “why don’t women look at porn then?” arguments:
Women are conditioned by society not to show an interest in sex and sexuality. If they do, they get slut-shamed. There might well be a market for visual porn aimed at women, but because women would be culturally discouraged from going into shops and buying porno mags, the porn for women does not get published and the market never gets established.
Also, mainstream culture is so suffused with the Male Gaze and sad old tropes that say women are outsiders, just passive objects and men are the ones who act and have agency. This is why we see sexualised images of women used to advertise just about everything – because despite women making up half the worlds population and women having significant amount of spending power our culture still assumes that all audiences are male. This is why shows who have female lead roles are categorised as ‘womens’ interest’ and shows that feature male heroes are not only in the vast majority but also seen as just generic. Female sexuality is never explored in the media, both men and women are conditioned to never think about what women might think and feel and want when it comes to sex. Hence, no one thinks to even make porn for women, because hey, women aren’t sexual (at least good women aren’t) right?

September 9, 2012 at 11:44 pm
(12) vadrudijeus says:

Thanks for sharing dear you are really doing a wonderful job.

December 5, 2012 at 11:08 am
(13) TropicalLady says:

Good article! I roll my eyes every time I hear that statement about how men are visually stimulated,as if we women are not, or can not be as well. I mean, lets take a rational look at this: We women generally pay great attention to details concerning the appearance of our home & personal attire. While men recognize primary colors as blue & red,we females see colors in shades and hues, thus the reason many men have no clue what sky blue, royal blue, fuscia or hot pink is. Knowing this,wouldn’t it make logical sense that we also use this way of seeing when it comes to our notice of the opposite sex? I have no doubt that there are scads of women out there who,for watever reason,have never been, or have given up being in-tune with their feminity & sexuality. For them, sex has probably always been a chore, so when a stunning male crosses their path, its nothing more than a yawn. However, for those females who ARE in-touch & comfortable w/ their sexuality as the healthy and normal thing it is, you can better believe we are not blind nor unfeeling. If this wasnt the case, the amt of women viewing porn (solo)would not be as great as it is. The last I read, it was 3 to 1(male to female). (continued)

December 5, 2012 at 11:09 am
(14) TropicalLady says:

(continued)The problem is,when this myth began many decades ago,women (in general)did not feel as free & comfortable to admit they enjoyed sex, thought about sex, masturbated, or had a sex life outside of their spouse. Why? To do so would get women labled as sl_ts,nymphos,dirty, & used. So, in order to avoid such cruel & unfair mockery, and so we could indeed wear that white wedding dress which represented purity, we learned quick it was best to keep our sexual sides private. Hidden. This includes our notice & appreciation of fine males. If men could peer into our brains for a day, they would see that while we may be more descrete, & we may not be as vocal, trust me, we notice. Now, HOW FAR that visual can take a woman can be as diverse as the colors of the rainbow,with the low end being a brief appreciative glance & the imagine immediately leaving her memory, and the high end being a tingling in the loins, & a lingering lustful fascination.

Again, lets look at reality here, & see how it could have also promoted this myth that it is generally men who are visually stimulated. From a biological standpoint, men are physically able to get an erection in a moments time given the right stimuli. However, women, even when given the right stimuli, our bodies take longer to create a noticeable response. To be blunt, we dont get instantaneously lubricated. And as we females well know, lack of sufficent lubrication is no real indicator of arousal.

December 5, 2012 at 11:10 am
(15) TropicalLady says:

(cont. final)Deep down at their core, I believe men have this knowledge within them, but because they have been fed this misinformation for so long,they wont intellectually accept it. However, their every action & behavior shows that they DO KNOW women can be visually-stimulated..because many of them do what it takes TO be noticed & appreciated, such as work out at the gym, dress attractively,adorn themselves with acceptable jewelry. At the beach they seem to instinctively KNOW the appeal of a nice V-shaped trunk, & the other bits of male goodness we healthy and alive females are wired to appreciate, and which have inspired us as humans to seek out so we may procreate.

The long and short of it(no pun intended)is, looking,even getting involuntarily turned on from something our eyes may see,and to which God created, is not harmful,bad,wrong or something to be ashamed of. If we as females in a committed relationship are not obcessed with another man, and we are faithful to our spouse,isnt that really what is most important?

June 16, 2013 at 10:40 am
(16) cl0ne says:

Im sorry, you lost me when you started using feminist buzzwords like patriarchy.

November 21, 2013 at 6:04 am
(17) Alena says:

Men who think that they are more visual than women don’t have a clue about them.
I am a woman and when I see a good looking men I get aroused, undress them with my eyes and imagne things with him – just like men do it with women.
I don’t need to be in love to be attracted to somebody sexually and have sex with this person – the thing is that women don’t talk too much about this because it isn’t socially excepted.
When my female friends talk about men (without men being present), they also say phrases like “Oh he is so hot.” / “Look at this guy, he is handsome.” / “His body is insane.” etc. – just like men talk about women.
We are not so different after all and the only reason why women don’t watch as much porn as men is the simple reason that women in porn movies mostly get degraded (and no woman in her right mind would desire to be treated like these women) and that the men mostly look digusting. It is as simple as that.

February 12, 2014 at 1:38 pm
(18) Tiffany says:

Actually, most women watch porn too. See, society has been telling us our entire lives that we’re not SUPPOSED to be visual. That we’re MEANT to be monogamous. But truth is, MOST sperm can’t even impregnate you. It acts as a natural spermacide against OTHER sperm that may be in the womans who who. We’re no more monogamous or no less visual than men are. PORN is made for men. If porn actually had HOT GUYS I would watch it, but we get ron jeremy and men get hot chicks. Who wants to imagine themselves having sex with ron jeremy? Um – NOT ME. Porn is geared FOR men, but if it weren’t WOMEN would watch it too. If porn was full of chicks like honey boo boo, nobody would watch that either. Not to mention that when women hit our mid 30s, OUR testosterone rises while MEN grow moobs. We become chemically similar. By mid 40s, we’re VERY chemically similar.

If you men think women are any more monogamous or any less visual than you are, you’re very naive.

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