Extinction and Renewal of Conditioned Sexual Responses
Extinction involves an inhibitory form of new learning that is highly dependent on the context for expression. This is supported by phenomena such as renewal and spontaneous recovery, which may help explain the persistence of appetitive behavior, and related problems such as addictions. Research on these phenomena in the sexual domain is lacking, where it may help to explain the persistence of learned sexual responses.
Men (n = 40) and women (n = 62) participated in a differential conditioning paradigm, with genital vibrotactile stimulation as US and neutral pictures as conditional stimuli (CSs). Dependent variables were genital and subjective sexual arousal, affect, US expectancy, and approach and avoid tendencies towards the CSs. Extinction and renewal of conditioned sexual responses were studied by context manipulation (AAA vs. ABA condition).
No renewal effect of genital conditioned responding could be detected, but an obvious recovery of US expectancy following a context change after extinction (ABA) was demonstrated. Additionally, women demonstrated recovery of subjective affect and subjective sexual arousal. Participants in the ABA demonstrated more approach biases towards stimuli.
The findings support the context dependency of extinction and renewal of conditioned sexual responses in humans. This knowledge may have implications for the treatment of disturbances in sexual appetitive responses such as hypo- and hypersexuality.