The influence of emotion upregulation on the expectation of sexual reward.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Sexual Medicine, Volume 13, p.105-119 (2016)




emotion regulation; sexual reward


Introduction: Emotion regulation research has shown successful altering of unwanted aversive emotional reactions. Cognitive strategies can also downregulate expectations of reward arising from conditioned stimuli, including sexual stimuli. However, little is known about whether such strategies can also efficiently upregulate expectations of sexual reward arising from conditioned stimuli, and possible gender differences therein. Aim: The present study examined whether a cognitive upregulatory strategy could successfully upregulate sexual arousal elicited by sexual reward-conditioned cues in men and women. Methods: Men (n = 40) and women (n = 53) participated in a study using a differential conditioning paradigm, with genital vibrostimulation as unconditioned stimulus (US) and sexually relevant pictures as conditional stimuli. Main Outcome Measures: Penile circumference and vaginal pulse amplitude were assessed and ratings of US expectancy, affective value, and sexual arousal value were obtained. Also a stimulus response compatibility task was included to assess automatic approach and avoidance tendencies. Results: Evidence was found for emotion upregulation to increase genital arousal response in the acquisition phase in both sexes, and to enhance resistance to extinction of conditioned genital responding in women. In men, the emotion upregulatory strategy resulted in increased conditioned positive affect. Conclusion: The findings support that top-down modulation may indeed influence conditioned sexual responses. This knowledge may have implications for treating disturbances in sexual appetitive responses, such as low sexual arousal and desire.