Sex research lacks experimental studies in which both partners participate in a laboratory procedure. This is relevant in the context of genital pain because painful vaginal sensations often occur in the presence of the partner.
To examine the effects of partner presence, sexual stimulation, and vaginal pressure on the appraisal of vaginal sensations and sexual arousal, ultimately aiming to increase the ecologic validity of laboratory designs.
A community sample of 42 women and their male partners watched sexual and neutral films while separated or together. We induced gradually increasing vaginal pressure in the women using an intravaginal inflatable rubber balloon.
Women reported on pleasant and painful vaginal pressure and perceived genital arousal. Men and women reported on subjective sexual arousal. We also examined whether these appraisals were moderated by relationship satisfaction.
The appraisal of vaginal pressure varied as a function of relationship satisfaction. Less satisfied women reported more painful pressure than women who were highly satisfied and highly satisfied women appraised the pressure as more pleasant in the context of a sex film and in the presence (vs absence) of their partner. In men and women, although partner presence had a negative effect on subjective sexual arousal, the presence of the partner did increase women’s perception of genital arousal when vaginal pressure was induced during a sex film, particularly when women felt highly satisfied with their relationship. Also, the effects on subjective sexual arousal were moderated by relationship satisfaction. For couples in which the woman was less satisfied, the induction of vaginal pressure resulted in higher subjective sexual arousal when the partner was absent compared with when he was present, whereas when the man felt less satisfied, partner presence had a positive effect on sexual arousal.
Interventions need to focus on the importance of sexual arousal during vaginal pressure stimulation and the way this is shaped by partner and relationship variables. Our results indicate that enhancing the relationship climate is an important target of intervention.
Strengths and Limitations
We did not include physical indices of genital arousal and did not use a clinical sample of women with genital pain.
The appraisal of vaginal sensations and sexual arousal are context-dependent responses that vary as a function of partner presence and sexual stimulation. Including both partners in the laboratory setting is important to create more valid models on sexual responding.
Dewitte M, Schepers J, Melles R. The Effects of Partner Presence and Sexual Stimulation on the Appraisal of Vaginal Pressure and Sexual Arousal. J Sex Med 2018;15:539–549.