Since 1999, Dr. Chivers has been investigating the relationship between people’s sexual interests and their patterns of sexual response using sexual psychophysiology. This research began by looking at gay, lesbian, and heterosexual people’s sexual responses to films of women and men, and has expanded to include responses to films of nonhumans, a variety of sexual activities, and different stimulus modalities. The results of these studies suggest that women show genital responses to a broader range of sexual stimuli than men do. We are trying to figure out why this difference exists and what it means for women’s and men’s sexualities. Ongoing studies and topics include:
How does nonspecific sexual arousal relate to women’s sexual and romantic attractions and interests, and influence sexual identity as heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, or queer? Researchers have noted that women’s sexuality shows plasticity, meaning that women are more likely to shift in aspects of their sexuality, such as their attitudes and preferences, and their sexuality is more likely to be influenced by situational and contextual factors than men’s (Baumeister, 2000). Women are also more likely to experience shifts in their sexual identity; longitudinal research on women’s sexual identity suggests there is considerable flux in how women define their sexuality over time (Diamond, 2005). What we don’t understand is why women experience these changes in their sexuality. One possibility is that women’s nonspecific sexual response facilitates flexibility in their sexual interests and identity because women have the psychophysiological capacity to become sexually aroused by both men and women.
We are also interested in examining how other sexual interests, such as variation in sexual activity preferences (sadism or masochism) and sociosexual orientation (propensity to engage in casual sex) relate to patterns of sexual response in women and men. Ongoing studies and topics include:
Our research on gender differences in the specificity of sexual arousal highlighted another important difference between women’s and men’s sexual psychophysiology -- sexual concordance, that is, the relationship between genital and self-reported states of sexual arousal. In collaboration with Drs.Martin Lalumière (University of Lethbridge), Ellen Laan (University of Amsterdam), and Teresa Grimbos (University of Toronto), we completed a meta-analysis examining the gender difference in sexual concordance in 132 sexual psychophysiology studies. This paper is published in the January 2010 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior (click here for a link to the article). We were interested in conducting this meta-analysis for two reasons. First, many researchers reported that women’s concordance was very low, but there seemed to be a lot of variability in concordance in the scientific literature. We wanted to quantify the gender difference in concordance. Second, we wanted to find factors that might increase or decrease concordance in women and men, and that might explain the gender difference that many scientists report. Identifying these moderators might also provide some clues as to why women show greater variation in sexual concordance than men. Ongoing studies and topics include:
Led by Dr. Catherine Classen (Women’s College Hospital and the University of Toronto), and in collaboration with Drs. Lisa Barbera (University of Toronto), Sarah Ferguson (University of Toronto), David Wiljer (Princess Margaret Hospital) and Sara Urowitz (Princess Margaret Hospital), we have developed and pilot tested a 12-week, web-based support group for women who have body image and sexual problems due to gynecologic cancer and its treatment. The aim of this project was to develop an online forum in which women can receive information and support from their peers and professionals about the physical, emotional, sexual, and relationship effects of having gynecological cancer and treatment. Qualitative and quantitative data from the pilot study have been published (please see list of publications). With funding from CIHR, our team is currently beginning a randomized controlled trial of the online support group.