Arousal Types: What Is Yours?

Just as there are different types of learning (visual, auditory, kinetic), there are different types of sexual arousal.
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Closeup of beautiful young woman and man making love in bed
Closeup of beautiful young woman and man making love in bed

What gets women hot?

Most of us do not analyze what exactly turns us on; arousal just seems to happen. It can appear at the strangest of times, coming upon us with the most unsuitable partners or taboo acts. Or arousal can be more predictable, with the heat coming from a favorite alluring sex scene in a movie or book.

We may have a general impression of what type of man (or woman) we are attracted to, or maybe even know what sexual acts we like. But outside of those vague ideas, sexual arousal is like a black box -- we know it when we experience it, but the inside workings elude us.

Research has determined women's arousal to be 'complex', but has little to say about the specifics. Until the '60s, women were believed to be sexually aroused only by the feminine aspects of sex such as intimacy and soft touch, when Alfred Kinsey (Sexual Behavior in the Human Female), Nancy Friday (My Secret Garden) and Shere Hite (The Hite Report) reported that women's fantasies were often as bold and "dirty" as men's were.

More recently, we have seen women finding 50 Shades of Grey driving them to act on a newfound sexual arousal.

So, what actually does turn women on?

Our erotic map (the complex blueprint of what turns us on) is unique to each individual. It consists of genetics, throbbing hormones and erotic experiences that were 'imprinted' during early adolescence. As we go through life, these erotic maps change slightly as we experience different types of sex and are altered by our environment, stress level, health and partner dynamics.

While each person's erotic map is different, there are general themes that run through the erotic maps of women. After two decades of studying women's arousal in my practice as a sex therapist and a sex researcher, I have identified four primary types of arousal in women.

Each female has four types of arousal influencing her overall pattern, but it is usually only one (or two) arousal themes that are the real driving forces.

What are the benefits of knowing your arousal type?

When a woman knows her primary pattern of arousal, she can have much better sex. It allows her to tap into her arousal when she wants it, as well as reach orgasm more quickly. Also, if her partner understands her "arousal type" he/she will have a map to better arouse her. Conversely, if she knows what arousal type her partner is, she will be much more likely to make her partner's sexual dreams come true, and thus increasing intimacy in the relationship.

Just as there are different types of learning (visual, auditory, kinetic), there are different types of sexual arousal. The four sexual arousal types I have identified are:

  • The Sensual Type is body-oriented and relies on the senses (touch, smell, taste) to fuel arousal. They get hot by the sensation of their skin being stroked, smelling a delicious scent or tasting something erotic.

  • The Cognitive Type is head-oriented, relying on thoughts and imagination to drive sexual feelings. This type is fueled erotically by thinking about/seeing certain sexual acts. Fantasy and porn are important tools used by the cognitive type to imagine different acts in their erotic map.
  • The Intimacy Type's primary motivation is to "connect" with their partner. They thrive when they share with him/her, or when they feel that he/she "gets" them.
  • The Attractor Type gets his/her arousal from arousing their partner. Their main source of arousal is when their partner finds them sexy and appreciates them. Being 'seen' is important to this type.
  • While each person will be a complex mix of all of the types, we can get valuable information about our own main erotic map to control our arousal and make sex sizzle.

    What is your arousal type?

    To discover your sexual arousal type, you can fill out this short questionnaire and (and in the process, contribute to sex research and a greater understanding of women's sexuality). Please note that all answers are confidential and your answers are tabulated by a clinical sexologist, not a machine.

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