Eventually, he said, this technology could be used to conduct cross-cultural studies of sexuality, given that pupil dilation is universal and doesn't depend on labels of sexual orientation that may not translate across all languages. Some people can suppress their genital arousal , or simply don't have genital responses in a laboratory environment. The method could even be used to help people who are confused about their sexuality sort through their desires, Savin-Williams said.
But straight women dilate basically equally in response to erotic images of both sexes, despite reporting feelings of arousal for men and not women. Eventually, he said, this technology could be used to conduct cross-cultural studies of sexuality, given that pupil dilation is universal and doesn't depend on labels of sexual orientation that may not translate across all languages. One theory is that because women have been at risk of being raped throughout history, they evolved to respond with lubrication to any sexual stimulus, no matter how unappealing. In women, things are more complex, Savin-Williams said. In 16th-century Italy, women would take eye drops made from the toxic herb Belladona, which kept their pupils from constricting and was thought to bestow a seductive look. And then there's the invasiveness issue. The videos were all matched for brightness so that differences in light wouldn't skew the results. It's also difficult to ask direct questions about sexual orientation in many cultures, Savin-Williams said. Sex researchers aren't sure why this happens. People also reported their own feelings of arousal to each video. In men, this pattern is generally straightforward: These measurements have drawbacks, Savin-Williams said. Traditionally, researchers have studied arousal and sexual orientation by asking volunteers to watch erotic movies or pictures while attached to instruments that measure blood flow to the genitals. The results showed that pupil dilation matches the pattern seen in genital arousal studies. Gay women show more pupil dilation to images of other women, similar to the pattern seen in straight men. Straight men respond to sexual images of women, and gay men respond to sexual images of men. For men, this involves a circumference measurement of the penis, while women use a probe that measures pressure change in the blood vessels of the vaginal walls. Pupil dilation is an accurate indicator of sexual orientation, a new study finds. In fact, Savin-Williams said, the pupils dilate slightly in response to any exciting or interesting stimulus, including a loved one's face or a beautiful piece of art. This idea holds that women who did so were less likely to experience trauma or infection after sexual assault, making it more likely that they would survive to pass on their genes. The method could even be used to help people who are confused about their sexuality sort through their desires, Savin-Williams said. The researchers detail their findings today Aug. When people look at erotic images and become aroused , their pupils open up in an unconscious reaction that could be used to study orientation and arousal without invasive genital measurements. They recruited men and women, including gay, straight and bisexual participants. A gaze-tracking camera recorded the pupils during these videos, measuring tiny changes in pupil size. The dilation is a sign that the autonomic nervous system — the system that controls involuntary actions like pulse and breathing — is ramping up. These volunteers watched separate one-minute videos of a man masturbating, a woman masturbating and neutral landscape scenes.
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