Disgusting! Sexual Arousal Makes Us Less Squeamish

Ah, PLOS ONE, truly the tabloid of scientific journals.

Nevertheless, they do know how to pick a story.
The ‘open-access publisher whose goal is to make the world’s scientific and medical literature a public resource’, today offer us scientific confirmation of something we kinda already knew. As they put it in their own headline:

‘Sexual arousal may decrease natural disgust response’.

Well, we’ve all done things in the heat of passion that, in other circumstances, would seem a touch yucky (now give that hairbrush a good wash, madam). Actually, in the cold light of morning, the whole business of the sexual act might be worthy of a disgust response, if we were truly to apply the kind of parameters we apply to other aspects of our lives.

As the movie adaptation of Maeve Binchy‘s Circle of Friends vocalised it: ‘it’s a bit like someone wanting to stick their finger up your nose’.

Happily though, once dem juju juices start to flow, and we hit a state of sexual arousal, such clinical minutiae get forgotten and we throw caution, and disgust, to the floor (along with our undergarments).

Charmaine Borg (yes, ‘Borg’ – the fortunate amongst us now have a mental picture of Star Trek Voyager‘s Seven of Nine interrogating us about our sexual preferences) asked female participants to undertake a series of ‘disgusting’ tasks, which they performed more readily when in a state of sexual arousal.

There are probably some profound meanings to this. But we’re all probably too busy wondering ‘how did she get them aroused?’ to give them too much thought.


Sex can be messy, but most people don’t seem to mind too much, and new results reported Sep. 12 in the open access journal PLOS ONE suggest that this phenomenon may result from sexual arousal actually dampening humans’ natural disgust response.

The authors of the study, led by Charmaine Borg of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, asked female participants to complete various disgusting-seeming actions, like drinking from a cup with an insect in it or wiping their hands with a used tissue. (The participants were not aware of it, but the insect was made of plastic and the tissue was colored with ink to make it appear used.) Sexually aroused subjects responded to the tasks with less disgust than subjects who were not sexually aroused, suggesting that the state of arousal has some effect on women’s disgust response.

Source: PLOS ONE
Citation: Borg C, de Jong PJ (2012) Feelings of Disgust and Disgust-Induced Avoidance Weaken following Induced Sexual Arousal in Women. PLoS ONE 7(9): e44111.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044111

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