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Low sex drive in women can be explained by Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning and Skinner’s Operant Conditioning


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if you can't see the charts, you can see them in my blog.



Almost all husbands are complaining that their wives have the low sexual drive and never initiate sex with them, and of course they can't get enough satisfactory from their wives. The low sex drive in women becomes the main excuse for men's cheating, and all women are also stuck by this problem.


Many explanations have been given to this problem. Some experts say women were born with low sex drive, and some say women don't deserve the high sex desire, because the value of women existence is reproduction, and some say woman's desire for sex is based on a complex interaction of many components affecting intimacy, including physical well-being, emotional well-being, experiences, beliefs, lifestyle and current relationship. A

wide range of illnesses, physical changes, medications and hormone levels may change desire for sex. According to sex educator and researcher Beverly Whipple in her circular Model proposed in 1997, she demonstrated that pleasant and satisfying sexual experiences may have a reinforcing effect on a woman, leading to the seduction phase of the next sexual experience. If, during reflection, the sexual experience did not provide pleasure and satisfaction, the woman may not have a desire to repeat the experience. Hers view itself is not wrong, but unfortunately the main point is women not only never got real satisfaction, but also they have no idea what they really need. Whipple' theory gives me some inspiration about how to describe human sex desire accurately.


Here, I propose a new view based on Pavlov's classical conditioning and Skinner's operant conditioning to give people a real reason for women' low sex drive.

Key concepts of Pavlov's classical conditioning

Unconditioned Stimulus (UCS): A stimulus that elicits a response without conditioning. In Pavlov's typical research this UCS was food.

Unconditioned Response (UCR): Automatic response elicited by the unconditioned stimulus (UCS). In Pavlov's typical research this UCR was salivation.

Conditioned Stimulus (CS): A neutral stimulus that when paired with an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) elicits a similar response. In Pavlov's typical research this CS was bell.

Conditioned Response (CR): A response that is learned by pairing the originally neutral conditioned stimulus (CS) with the unconditioned stimulus (UCS). In Pavlov's typical research this CR was dog would salivate at the bell.

All his researches were based on unconditioned stimulus can elicit unconditioned response. Chart 1 is the core of Pavlov's theory.




Pavlov's study is forward extension, depended on the chart 1. He tried to find whether something else like a neutral stimulus can elicit an unconditioned response except an unconditioned stimulus (ie 2). Before paired with an unconditioned stimulus, a conditioned stimulus can't elicit an unconditioned response (ie 3).




Before learning



During learning



Higher order conditioning




Complex higher order conditioning




After learning




In classical conditioning, Pavlov modified or replaced the stimulus that leads to a given response by a different stimulus, and he described an involuntary or automatic response to a stimulus. But important thing is Pavlov didn't do a test - what would happen, if the dog didn't get the food after every time it already salivated. In other words, the classical conditioning theory ignored the research about "reward" after dog had UCR. This

problem is the key to explain why women suffer Low sex drive. I guess here the UCR is not extinct, whatever dog get a reward or not, and it means dog still have salivation, even though can't get food every time. The reason I will explain later.


Skinner's study is backwards extension after a response (ie 8). In his "Skinner Box", he found positive reinforcement strengthens a behavior by providing a consequence an individual finds rewarding. The consequence of receiving food if rats pressed the lever ensured that they would repeat the action again and again (ie 9). When a particular stimulus-response pattern is reinforced (rewarded), the individual is conditioned to respond. Reinforcement is the key element in Skinner's operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is distinguished from classical conditioning in that operant conditioning deals with the modification of "voluntary behavior" or operant behavior.






In my own opinion, the combination of these two theories just can explain why women suffer low sex drive. Let me analyze the difference of sex drive between male and female one by one, and why men have higher sex drive than women. The main problem is in the women, not in men.


Male sexual cycle is a complete closed (ie 10). UCS is genital touch directly, and UCR is penis erection. Unconditioned response (erection) elicited by the unconditioned stimulus (genital touch directly). The only reward male can get is orgasm. Because man can get an orgasm as reward during a sex action like rat gets food after press the lever, they have high desire to repeat the action again and again. Positive reinforcement strengthens male sex action by providing a consequence man finds rewarding. That is the key why men have so high sex desire. After repeat this closed cycle again and again, some conditioned stimulus like porn or some neutral stimulus even not related to sex at all successfully paired with an unconditioned stimulus (genital touch directly) also can elicits a similar response(penis erection). That is why so many things can hook men up and men can think about sex every 15 seconds. That is a normal phenomenon.




Why do women have low sex drive? Unfortunately, female sexual cycle is not closed (ie 11). In other words, women can't get orgasm as reward is the key why women suffer low sex drive. After time and time again, punishment will weaken or eliminate female sex action by not providing a consequence as male' orgasm. As time goes by, women think sex is a chore and have no interest in it. Because female sexual cycle is not closed,

women never get a normal physical satisfaction at all, no more talking about some other neutral stimulus, of course the consequence is behavior which is not reinforced tends to die out or be extinguished.



Skinner's theory said when using consequences to modify a response, the effectiveness of a consequence can be increased or decreased by various factors. These factors can apply to either reinforcing or punishing consequences. I think this view just can explain some different phenomena between men and women.


1 Satiation/Deprivation: The effectiveness of a consequence will be reduced if the individual's "appetite" for that source of stimulation has been satisfied. This point just can explain why men will lose interest in sex immediately, when after they get an orgasm, because men's "appetite" for sex has already been satisfied like the dog is not going to eat anymore if already full, until it gets hungry again.


2 Immediacy: After a response, how immediately a consequence is then felt determines the effectiveness of the consequence. More immediate feedback will be more effective than less immediate feedback. This point just can explain why men don't want be distracted after he already have an erection, because long time interval maybe will make the response failure. A proverb: strike while the iron is hot.


3 Contingency: If a consequence does not contingently (reliably, or consistently) follow the target response, its effectiveness upon the response is reduced. This point just can explain why men always are players and like the new and loathe the old, because the same sex with same people will reduce their desire for sex.


4 Size: This is a "cost-benefit" determinant of whether a consequence will be effective. If the size, or amount, of the consequence is large enough to be worth the effort, the consequence will be more effective upon the behavior. These opposing expected consequences (reinforcing and punishing) balance out will determine whether the behavior is performed or not. This point can explain why men always work hard in sex, not for the women, for themselves. Because the consequence of a sex (orgasm) is men's core interests, of course they think it is large enough to be worth exhaustion.

This point is also why women offer low sex drive, because they can't find the core benefit (orgasm) during a sex, of course they don't want to waste any time, any strength or any energy to do such a thing. The pursuit of orgasm is a subjective

skeletal muscle activity and required to pay the cost, not like the passive salivary



Use Thorndike's law of effect to explain why such difference sex desire and drive between female and male, and why difficult woman have orgasm.


Responses that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again in that situation.

Responses that produce a discomforting effect become less likely to occur again in that situation.


Now I am going to answer previous question- I didn't do any experiments on dog, but I think dog still have salivation until dead, even though can't get any food. It is because unconditioned response (UCR) elicited by the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) is controlled by animals born nervoussystem, not by animals themselves. The animal's physiological instinct response must exist, until the nervous system is cut off. (Like sham feeding in Pavlov's experiment, Pavlov cut off the dog's fibers of the vagus nerve, and then secretion of gastric juice stopped). Women's problem is similar to the dog's. Women also have the UCR (like arousal, vaginal moistness and clitoris shaft erection), when they passively accept the genital stimulus directly, even though they can't get the reward (orgasm). Women are unwilling to accept the stimulation subjectively, no more talking about the

foundation between UCR and CR, because all their efforts for sex are futile. I know Skinner's theory had his own disadvantage, he did not consider the animal's emotional factors. If a man loves his wife so much, maybe he doesn't have a sex with other woman who already hooks him up, but it doesn't mean the man don't want to, it just means he can't. I think if we add too much emotional factors to the research on human's basic activities, it will make the situation too complicated. In my opinion, this is unnecessary. Any complex situation is superimposed by a series of simple cases, but just the composite process is complex, mutual restraint and recycled. It may confuse people to know the nature of complex things.


Finally, I agree with one of Skinner's views very much - The best way to understand behavior is to look at the causes of an action and its consequences.


I can just post less than 10 charts, so i post my last here.

My link

if you are also interested in the area, contact me. clumsygirls@hotmail.com

Edited by Phi for All
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I think the basic flaw with your theory is that sexual researchers have found that women tend to become more sexually interested as they age, up until menopause, because as they have more sexual experience, they become more relaxed about it and can enjoy it more. This is probably because their real experience of the ordinary, biological pleasure that human sexual experience actually is helps them overcome all the artificial, metaphysical terror society has built into women about sex being a toxic and sacred thing, which can only be safely endured under the restrictions of monogamny or romance to detoxify it.


But this finding of a female sexual peak interest from the late 30s to mid-40s undermines your hypothesis, since it appears either that the operant conditioning of the woman has been largely positive, or that even if the actual stimulus-response conditioning has been less than satisfactory, the removal of social inhibitions has been of greater importance. In humans, because they are so social, it is difficult to confine the variables for testing in operant conditioning experiments as well as you can in animals.


On a more biological level, the basic disposition of women toward sexual interest is the amount of testosterone they have, since testosterone is essentially a pro-sex hormone, just as estrogen is an anti-sex hormone. The reason why women don't want sex at all during the time around pregnancy and lactation -- and this is an evolutionary benefit -- is that their estrogen levels are simply too high. As women age, their ratio of estrogen to testosterone declines (thus the older woman with a deeper voice, a moustache, and the beginnings of male pattern baldness in 'widows' peaks'), so their sexual interest, ironically, increases. This is also why ordinary society regards a woman with a low, sultry voice as sexy, since empirical observation of the effects of higher testosterone levels has received expression in this folk wisdom.

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This is all very thorough and all, but I think much of the problems such as these in this day and age revolve around lack of communication throughout young adults' maturation process. Not only do girls tend to mature faster, they also tend to share secrets and learned values with fellow young women, as well. Contrasting, young men tend to be more aloof and less conscientious in their bravado, measuring themselves by their achievements at times, comparing themselves to their friends without really sharing values and such, and not necessarily in any hurry to settle down. Some girls are reluctant to come across as educating their partners, some are completely against the idea and want to be swept away by the all-knowing dashing knight, some aren't really capable of assuming this position effectively. On the flip-side, there are many young men which are hard to teach for any number of reasons, and without a constant, positive flow of information being traded, things can become quite imbalanced and relationships might not flourish or just fall apart. People might not develop as fast as everybody else. Men don't exactly huddle together and talk about relations with their friends to compare notes with like females might. This is why it is important for girls to assume the role of teacher when appropriate, rather than an aggressor or a rater, for lack of a better word. Maybe bizatch is the right word, but if they're not happy, then why are they still together? Convenience? Money? I guess the possibilities are endless, but the world is full of available people everwhere you look. Helping guys along isn't always easy and for many girls is taboo while unacceptable for some men, but communication is essential. As far as conditioning is concerned, anybody can change at any given point, regardless of the past. You just have to figure out which button to push.

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