Disgust trumps lust: women’s disgust and attraction towards men is unaffected by sexual arousal

Florian Zsok, Diana S. Fleischman, Charmaine Borg, Edward Morrison

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Mating is a double-edged sword. It can have great adaptive benefits, but also high costs, depending on the mate. Disgust is an avoidance reaction that serves the function of discouraging costly mating decisions, for example if the risk of pathogen transmission is high. It should, however, be temporarily inhibited in order to enable potentially adaptive mating. We therefore tested the hypothesis that sexual arousal inhibits disgust if a partner is attractive, but not if he is unattractive or shows signs of disease. In an online experiment, women rated their disgust towards anticipated behaviors with men depicted on photographs. Participants did so in a sexually aroused state and in a control state. The faces varied in attractiveness and the presence of disease cues (blemishes). We found that disease cues and attractiveness, but not sexual arousal, influenced disgust. The results suggest that women feel disgust at sexual contact with unattractive or diseased men independently of their sexual arousal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-363
Number of pages11
JournalEvolutionary Psychological Science
Issue number4
Early online date5 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


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