Self-Focused Attention and Sexual Arousal

The construct of self-focused attention has been discussed as relating to sexual function since Masters and Johnson’s (1970) introduction of the constructs “spectatoring” and “sensate focus.” Spectatoring refers to focusing on and evaluating oneself from a third person perspective during sexual activity. This focus of attention outward on sexual performance rather than inward on the sensory aspects of a sexual experience (i.e., sensate focus) is believed to have deleterious effects on sexual performance (see Trapnell & Meston, 1997). To begin empirically testing these constructs, I conducted a study (Meston, 2006) that examined state self-focused attention and trait self-consciousness on sexual arousal and function in sexually functional and dysfunctional women. Self-focused attention was induced using a 50% reflectant television screen in one of two counterbalanced sessions during which sexual responses were measured. In a second study (Seal & Meston, 2007), self-focused attention was induced by placing a full-length mirror in front of the participants throughout testing and instructing them to use the mirror to place ten electrodes evenly on each side of their bodies in preparation for a possible electrocardiogram. The findings from these two studies provided empirical evidence for a role of both state and trait self-focused attention in female sexual function.

Recommended papers: 

Seal, B. N., & Meston, C. M. (2007). Women’s sexual health: The impact of body awareness on sexual arousal in women with sexual dysfunction. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 4(4), 990-1000. (PDF 165 KB)

Meston, C. M. (2006). The effects of state and trait self-focused attention on sexual arousal in sexually functional and dysfunctional women. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44(4), 515-532. (PDF 236 KB)