Men who reported feeling turned on tended to also sport an erection, while a matchup between the mind and body wasn't so consistent for women, according to the review published online Jan. 4 in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
"We wanted to discover how closely people's subjective experience of sexual arousal mirrors their physiological genital response — and whether this differs between men and women," said researcher Meredith Chivers, a psychology professor at Queen's University in Canada.
Chivers and colleagues reviewed more than 130 studies published between 1969 and 2007 involving participants' arousal responses. In total, the review included more than 2,500 women and 1,900 men.
Men's subjective ratings of arousal were in agreement with their body's level of sexual arousal about 66 percent of the time, while women's were in line only about 26 percent of the time.
"The general pattern that I have seen in my laboratory is that women experience a genital response but do not report feeling sexually aroused," Chivers told LiveScience.
Overall, the findings suggest women and men have different experiences of sexual arousal.
"For men, their experience is strongly related to physiological arousal whereas for women it is less so," Chivers said.
Supporting the conclusions, a study reported in 2003 showed men's arousal clearly tracks sexual orientation, with gay men getting turned on by images of men, and straight guys by images of women. In contrast, that 2003 study showed both heterosexual and lesbian women were sexually aroused by male and female erotica, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Figuring out how measures of arousal (mental vs. physiological) differ between men and women will help scientists study human sexuality and understand the nature of these differences, Chivers said.