Visual stimuli and sexual desire

Sexual desire can be triggered by external stimuli, i.e. visual, tactile, auditory and olfactory stimuli, or by internal stimuli, such as memories or fantasies.


However, few studies have examined these components of sexual desire. It is characterized by an increase in the frequency and intensity of sexual thoughts / fantasies towards a target (Basson, 2005, 2006, 2008), an increase in the will to achieve a potentially pleasant, but short-term goal (Bianchi – Demicheli et al., 2016). It can be triggered by a wide variety of situations: talking to an attractive person, looking at sensual images, fantasizing, smelling some smells (Basson, 2005,2006; Kaplan, 1995; Ortigue and Bianchi – Demicheli, 2007, 2008). With the exception of patients suffering from hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), which is defined, according to DSM IV, as “persistent or recurrent (or absent) deficiency of sexual fantasies and sexual desire”, which causes “marked anguish or interpersonal difficulties”, every human being has experienced it in his life. Therefore, it is concerned to find out which parts of a person arouse this desire.

The present investigation has focused specifically on visual stimuli, with the aim of establishing whether or not there is a specific visual processing model linked to the sexual exploration of men and women. In other words, the authors wanted to investigate which parts of the body are most relevant in stimulating sexual desire. To this end, the research was conducted using the eye-tracking method while the participants expressed a judgment on sexual desire, while viewing explicit visual stimuli. 44 heterosexual single volunteers (22 men and 22 women) participated in the research, with an average age of 25 years.

The stimuli consisted of 120 non-erotic photographs of heterosexual individuals: they depicted female and male figures, of the same age group as the participants, attractive in swimsuits. Each had to report whether or not he felt, for each stimulus presented, the sexual desire, or the presence of sexual interest and sexual thoughts or fantasies related to the image represented in the photo. Two elements were measured through the eye-tracker: the average number of fixations and the total duration of all fixations (in seconds).

The results showed that 54.7% of the photographs aroused sexual desire in men, who observed the body longer. Specifically, the thorax was fixed longer than the genital and abdominal areas. Therefore it was possible to conclude that the body seems to be more relevant for men than the face due to the onset of sexual desire. As for women, in 29.5% of the cases, the photographs aroused their sexual desire. For them too, the body seems to be more influential in the development of sexual desire, precisely the abdomen is observed longer than in the chest and genital area. However, it appears that men observe the genital area more frequently than women, who, on the contrary, they fix the abdomen more frequently than men. Finally, the thoracic area is equally relevant for both sexes for the purpose of sexual desire.

In the future, it would be of great interest not only to deepen this theme for homosexual subjects, but to investigate how sexual desire is activated in the face of visual stimuli depicting couples.