Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Human Stress 6 (March 1980), pp. 42-48. Reprinted with permission of the Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation. Published by Heldref Publications, 1319 18th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036-1802. Copyright © 1980.


Self-reports of sexual arousal were significantly affected by conditions under which they were elicited. Such self-reports in women not taking oral contraceptives were congruent with a hormonal basis for such arousal only when the women were “unaware” that the study investigated sexual arousal as a function of the menstrual cycle. The “unaware” condition was operationalized by means of daily self-reports elicited from males and females for 11 weeks under the guise of a study of biological rhythms. A composite of one to three menstrual cycles for 26 women not taking oral contraceptives showed that sexual arousal during the luteal phase, when progesterone is relatively high, was significantly lower compared to peaks around ovulation. and premenstrual and late menstrual days (p < .02). For the “aware” condition. women were asked to remember moods for the premenstrual, menstruating and luteal phases of the very last cycle on which they had just finished giving “unaware” daily self-reports. A 2 × 3 analysis of variance (with “aware” versus “unaware” conditions and premenstrual, menstruating. and luteal phases of the last cycle as the two independent variables) yielded a significant interaction effect with F = 6.5, df = 2, 50, p < .003. In the “unaware” condition, sexual arousal was reported lowest during the luteal phase. The opposite pattern was reported in the “aware” condition. The results suggest that cyclical variability may not be simply due to women’s misattributions. However, “awareness” has an effect on self-report measures and may bias reports according to cultural stereotypes. Daily self-reports of sexual arousal for men were averaged over the duration of the study. This average was 3.16. The equivalent average for women not taking oral contraceptives was 2.35 and for women taking oral contraceptives was 2.62. Analysis of variance of these three means yielded a significant difference with F = 4.49. df = 2, 59, p < .02.