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Women are turned on by porn just as much as men are, a new study suggests

Research just provided further evidence of what many have long known to be true: All genders are visual creatures. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 15 found that sexy images activated more or less the same brain regions in men and women, suggesting that women are just as likely to be turned on by porn as men.

“At this moment, based on that data that exists, biological sex seems to be less important in defining the sexual arousal response of the brain,” says Hamid Noori of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, who is one of the authors of the study.

Men are visual creatures, so the conventional narrative goes, hardwired to respond more strongly to erotic imagery than women. Brain imaging studies reveal a murkier picture, though. While some studies have shown differences in the brain regions activated during sexual arousal in men than in women, others have shown only minor differences.

To investigate whether erotic images do activate different brain regions in men and women, Noori and colleagues analyzed 61 studies that involved showing adult participants images they had previously rated as sexually appealing while a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine measured their brain activity. They were also shown not-sexy images of landscapes and sports scenes, for instance, to account for normal brain activity, when they weren’t sexually aroused. (The studies basically “subtracted” their normal brain activity from their brain activity when they were aroused, Noori says.) In total, the studies included 1,850 men and women of various sexual orientations.

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Noori and his team saw no significant differences in the brain regions activated by erotic images between men and women. Erotic images activated brain regions involved in emotional information processing, reward processing and desire in pretty much all participants.

However, the researchers did see differences depending on whether the erotic image was a picture or a video, with the former resulting in more diffuse activity throughout the brain and the latter leading to activity in more focused, targeted regions. One possible explanation is that the brain has an easier time paying attention to not-sexy elements of a picture than those of a video, Noori says. Heterosexual participants also showed more activity in the left hemisphere, while homosexual participants showed more activity across both hemispheres — but Noori notes that we can’t draw broader conclusions from this particular finding because of the small sample size.

Overall, Noori and his colleagues’ analysis didn’t reveal functional differences in the brain regions activated by erotic imagery in men and women. But could there be structural differences between them? To find out, they analyzed 37 studies that looked at the volume of gray matter — a pinkish tissue that makes up much of the central nervous system — in certain regions of the brain associated with sexual arousal. About 80 percent of the studies did not report any differences in gray matter volumes in these regions between men and women.

Noori cautions that he and his team drew their conclusions from already-published data, meaning that a decade from now, different patterns could emerge. And while they checked the quality of the studies they included in their analyses, they ultimately relied on what others had reported, which may have concealed methodological or other issues.

The team’s study challenges the long-held idea that men are more visual when it comes to sex than women, but even if it turns out to be true, it’s probably because society more or less expects men, but not women, to talk freely about sex and porn. “The study may support that we rethink these things little bit more, that we basically take a little bit of stigma away from female sexuality,” Noori says.

In other words, whether nonbinary, female, male, or however you identify, you will probably get horny after spending enough time on Pornhub. Not that you needed a study to tell you that, but it’s cool to know that, even at a neurological level, thirst knows no gender.