Sexual Arousal Dampens 'Ick' Factor

Being turned on may make us less prone to getting grossed out, a new study says.

ByABC News
September 12, 2012, 4:13 PM

Sept. 12, 2012 — -- If you're turned on, you're less likely to be grossed out, at least according to a new study.

The small study published Wednesday in the journal PLoS Online asked a total of 90 European women to perform tasks that had an "icky" element to them, such as drinking from a cup containing an insect or wiping their hands with a used tissue. Some of the women were shown an erotic film. Others did not see the film.

Women who were sexually aroused felt less disgust when doing the tasks than the participants who were not sexually aroused, the researchers found. The findings suggested sexual arousal decreases women's so-called disgust response, they said.

Why might this be important? The experiment came about because the researchers realized that sex involves smells and fluids that can be repulsive.

"This results in the intriguing question of how people succeed in having pleasurable sex at all," wrote study lead author Charmaine Borg, a PhD. student with the faculty of behavioral and social sciences at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

"These findings can indicate that lack of sexual arousal may interfere with functional sex, as it may prevent the reduction of disgust and disgust-related avoidance tendencies."

Believe it or not, the role of sexual arousal on our feelings of disgust is of great interest to sex experts.

"I think this study is interesting in that it helps support the idea that sexual arousal lowers inhibitions and often enables one to participate in activities that they might normally find disgusting or off-putting," said Dr. Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and author based in New York City who was not involved with the study.

While the study involved women, the same findings are probably true for men too, wrote Borg.

"In view of the previous research and our data, I am confident that male participants would have a very similar response as our women participants," Borg told ABC News.

The study may help people who suffer from sexual dysfunction disorders, and the findings may also help therapists someday understand how to deal with sexual incompatibility between partners.

"It's not uncommon for people to say that the idea of having sex with [a] spouse or long-term partner is gross," said Debby Herbenick, a research scientist at Indiana University and author of "Sex Made Easy."

"It's a very sad experience for many people," she said. "Many people say, 'I love this person but I feel turned off, I feel repulsed by it.' ... We don't understand that switch, especially when they clearly love and care for that person."

As for people who do not struggle with such issues, the findings may still explain how the prospect of sex still appeals.

"Sex is messy," Kerner said. "Sex is wet, sex is sloppy, sex entices to share and experience our partner's body parts in ways that might otherwise repel us. And that is the power and beauty of sex."