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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The modification of dysfunctional patterns of sexual arousal through false physiological feedback and sympathetic activation Palace, Eileen Marie


The effects of sympathetic activation, induced by an anxiety eliciting film, and false positive vaginal blood volume (VBV) feedback were examined to identify the mechanisms by which cognitive and physiological response components mediate sexual arousal and may be modified to reverse the dysfunctional process. Sixty—four matched sexually dysfunctional women were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: (a) anxiety— evoking or neutral—control preexposure film stimulus paired with an erotic stimulus followed by, (b) false positive VBV feedback or no feedback. Sexual arousal was measured physiologically with a vaginal photoplethysmograph, and subjectively with a self—report rating scale. All subjects (1) viewed stimulus series 1 and rated their sexual arousal, (2) received the feedback condition and rated their expectations, and finally, (3) viewed stimulus series 2 and rated their subsequent arousal. Consistent with Palace and Gorzalka (1990), anxiety as compared to neutral preexposure significantly enhanced the rate and magnitude of genital arousal. Women who received false VBV feedback reported significantly greater subjective expectations of sexual arousal, and consequently demonstrated a significant increase in their actual vasocongestive responses. Women who received false feedback and neutral preexposure subsequently also reported significantly greater perceptions of sexual arousal. Comparison of women in the false feedback groups who significantly increased their expectation with those who exhibited no change, revealed that within 30 seconds, positive expectancy caused significant increases in actual physiological response. Finally, comparison of the subjective and genital responses of the four groups revealed that women exposed to anxiety—eliciting stimuli and false VBV feedback demonstrated the greatest increases in cognitive expectations and subsequent genital response. At stimulus series 2, dysfunctional women in this group achieved levels of vasocongestion comparable to sexually functional women in the Palace and Gorzalka (1990) investigation. These results (1) reveal that cognitive and physiological processes are key components of sexual response, (2) identify interactive mechanisms by which these components mediate sexual arousal, (3) suggest a cognitive—physiological model of sexual dysfunction, and (4) provide evidence that interventions directed toward increasing physiological response and cognitive expectancy via sympathetic activation and feedback will reverse the dysfunctional process and initiate a positive cognitive-physiological feedback loop of sexual arousal.

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