The Optimalist

Health, science, and creativity

Sex and Disgust: Strange Evolutionary Bedfellows?

Scientists discover a link between sexual arousal and feelings of disgust.

A new study presented in a paper published by Dutch clinical psychologists shows that mechanisms are in place to ensure that when women are aroused, they overlook certain "disgust elicitors" associated with sex, enabling them to proceed with the deed, as it were. 

Sex and disgust are basic, evolutionary relevant functions that are often construed as paradoxical. In general the stimuli involved in sexual encounters are, at least out of context strongly perceived to hold high disgust qualities. Saliva, sweat, semen and body odours are among the strongest disgust elicitors. This results in the intriguing question of how people succeed in having pleasurable sex at all. One possible explanation could be that sexual engagement temporarily reduces the disgust eliciting properties of particular stimuli or that sexual engagement might weaken the hesitation to actually approach these stimuli.

Arousal (feelings that leads one, hopefully, to sex and possibly to procreate) and disgust, an evoltionary defense mechanism to prevent disease, would seem at odds with one another. However, thanks to billions of years of our ancestors shrugging off the nasty in favor of, well, the nasty, sensitivity to both now cohabitates in that wonderful brain of ours. Read the rest of the study here.

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Max Lugavere is a content creator for AOL's Acting Disruptive.


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