Sexual Disgust

During human evolutionary history, individuals were faced with the challenge of avoiding costly sexual mates or situations. The emotion of sexual disgust may exist to aid in the evaluation of potential partners and sexual behaviors and thus avoid negative outcomes such as disease or selecting a suboptimal mate. We (Crosby, Durkee, Meston, & Buss, 2020) conducted a series of studies in an effort to develop the first multidimensional measure of sexual disgust (The Sexual Disgust Inventory). In Study 1, women and men nominated over 2,300 unique items that they considered sexually disgusting across a variety of different contexts. Study 2 identified a six-factor structure of the 50 most frequently nominated items: Taboo, Oral sex, Promiscuity, Hygiene, BDSM, and Same-sex Attraction. Study 3 confirmed the factor structure found in Study 2, established further convergent validity and examined sex differences and other individual differences in sexual disgust.

Disgust is an emotion that adaptively moves humans away from such situations. Incongruent is the fact that sexual activity is elementary to human fitness yet involves strong disgust elicitors. Using an experimental paradigm, we (Fleischman, Hamilton, Fessler, & Meston, 2015 ) investigated how these two states interact. Women were assigned to one of four conditions: rate disgust stimuli then watch a pornographic clip; watch a pornographic clip then rate disgust stimuli; rate fear stimuli then watch a pornographic clip; or watch a pornographic clip then rate fear stimuli. Women’s genital sexual arousal was measured with vaginal photoplethysmography and their disgust and fear reactions were measured via self- report. Women who were exposed to disgusting images before erotic content showed significantly less sexual arousal than women in the control condition or women exposed to fear-inducing images before erotic content. In the Disgust-before-Erotic condition the degree of self-reported disgust was negatively correlated with genital sexual arousal. Hence, in the conflict between the ultimate goals of reproduction and disease avoidance, cues of the presence of pathogens significantly reduce the motivation to engage in mating behaviors that, by their nature, entail a risk of pathogen transmission.

Although sexual disgust has an adaptive function, excessively high levels of sexual disgust are hypothesized to lead to sexual dysfunction. There is evidence to suggest that sexual disgust has an inhibitory effect on sexual arousal, and that it is involved in the development and maintenance of sexual pain disorders. We (Crosby, Buss, & Meston,2019) reviewed the literature on the relationship between sexual disgust and aspects of female sexual functioning, with consideration of how an evolutionary perspective of this important emotion may help inform treatment and intervention programs.

Recommended papers:

Crosby, C. L., Durkee, P. K., Meston, C. M., & Buss, D. M. (2020). Six dimensions of sexual disgust. Personality and Individual Differences156, 1-13. PDF(421 KB)

Crosby, C. L., Buss, D. M., & Meston, C. M. (2019). Sexual disgust: Evolutionary perspectives and relationship to female sexual function. Current Sexual Health ReportsPDF(252 KB)

Fleischman, D. S., Hamilton, L. D., Fessler, D. M. T., & Meston, C. M. (2015). Disgust versus lust: Exploring the reciprocal interaction of disgust and fear on sexual arousal in women. PLOS One 10(6). PDF (1100 KB)