Does feeling hot-and-bothered make us more tolerant of disgusting things?

Lia Grainger
Shine On
September 14, 2012

Sex is inherently kind of gross, right?

Well, at least that's the presumption behind a new (and less than scientific) study suggesting women find disgusting things a little less disgusting when they are turned on.

According to the study, "saliva, sweat, semen and body odours are among the strongest disgust elicitors", and yet — wait a minute! All of these things are present in spades during sexual intercourse, so how is it that so many people are having such a good time engaging in such a yucky, dirty activity?

Also see: Best man loses wedding ring at the altar

A group of psychologists in the Netherlands devised a pretty ridiculous experiment in the hopes of finding out. Their questionable scientific method: get a bunch of women to do 16 different "disgusting" things — touch a piece of tissue covered in poo, stick their hand in a bowl of used condoms, or lube up a vibrator, for example. They then showed the ladies a sexy movie (de Gast by Christine le Duc) and had them do all the tasks again. Each time they performed a task, both aroused and unaroused, they rated its grossness on a scale of zero to 100.

And wouldn't you know it, those ladies were able to tolerate the sex-related gross activities much better when they were sexually aroused. From these findings, the team concluded that getting turned on inhibits feelings of disgust, making that horrible thing we call sex possible...even pleasurable. Gasp!

Okay, so what do we do with this information? First, we should examine the many assumptions present in this experiment, starting with the idea that sex is inherently yucky. The Atlantic Blog summarized it thusly.

"The theory is that, because sex can be in some ways gross, but we still need to do it, this adaptive perception has helped us thrive as a species."

But is it not possible that finding things like sweat, body odour and semen disgusting is a socially learned reaction? Is there anything that is really objectively disgusting?

Also see: 'Cold feet' before wedding could spell trouble for women

Naomi McAuliffe of the Guardian thinks not.

"Assuming that everyone finds saliva, sweat, and semen disgusting is not only conjecture, it also overlooks some really fringe stuff that people are into sexually," writes McAuliffe.

And though it doesn't come out and say it, there's some thing about the way this study was designed and executed that seems to imply sex is an icky and revolting thing, and that women are only able to force themselves to do it thanks to some evolutionary trickery that dumbs down their disgust response.

Still the study does have some academic context. In fact, it's prefaced with this quote from Freud himself.

"A man, who will kiss a pretty girl's mouth passionately, may perhaps be disgusted by the idea of using her tooth-brush."

What to Read Next

U.S Presidents With Lower IQ's Than The Rest

How smart does one have to be to run a country?

Former Soldier Shares The Ultimate Survival Tools

A retired soldier reveals what he calls the most important part of any deployment kit. Whether at home, or overseas, it never leaves his side.

Pictures That Perfectly Captured Moments In Time

Some of the most notable photos that were just right have been making their way around the Internet, but now they're here for just you.

Homeowners in for a Pleasant Surprise in 2016

When homeowners visit the Amerivalue website, they may be surprised to see that they qualify for a program that has banks on edge. Learn more.

Innovative new grill uses both gas and charcoal.

Switch from gas to charcoal without lighter fluid or paper with Char-Broil's innovative Gas2Coal grill.