Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women

Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women

CYNTHIA A. GRAHAM,Warneford Hospital, Oxford, England

STEPHANIE A. SANDERSThe Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction

ROBIN R. MILHAUSENUniversity of Guelph

The Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women (SESII-W) is designed to assess the propensity for sexual excitation (SE) and sexual inhibition (SI) in women.


The theoretical model underlying the SESII-W is the dual control model (Bancroft, 1999; Bancroft, Graham, Janssen, & Sanders, 2009; Bancroft & Janssen, 2000). This model proposes that there are separate, relatively independent excitatory and inhibitory systems and that the occurrence of sexual arousal depends on the relative activation of SE and SI. A basic assumption of the model is that individuals vary in their propensity for both SE and SI.

Although a questionnaire had been developed to assess the propensity for SE and SI in men (the Sexual Inhibition/ Sexual Excitation Scales (SIS/SES; Janssen, Vorst, Finn, & Bancroft, 2002), we questioned whether it was equally suited for women (Graham, Sanders, Milhausen, & McBride, 2004). For this reason, we obtained qualitative data from nine focus groups involving women of varying ages, racial/ethnic background, and sexual orientation to explore the concepts of SE and SE, and of the factors that influence sexual arousal (Graham et al., 2004). These qualitative data informed the item development of this measure, the SESII-W.

The original SESII-W contained 115 items. Initial vali- dation involved a sample of 655 women (Graham, Sanders, & Milhausen, 2006) recruited using two methods: postal recruitment of a random sample of students and staff working at a large midwestern university (= 226) and e-mail and listserve postings about the study (= 429). Factor analysis identified eight factors comprising a total of 36 items, and two higher-order factors, one related to SE and one to SI. The three lower-order factors related to inhibition were Relationship Importance (reflecting the need for sex to occur within a specific relationship context); Arousal Contingency (the potential for arousal to be easily inhibited or disrupted by situational fac- tors); and Concerns About Sexual Function (the tendency for worries about sexual functioning to negatively affect arousal). The factors related to excitation were Sexual Arousability (the tendency to become sexually aroused in a variety of situations); Partner Characteristics (the tendency for a partner’s personality or behavior to enhance arousal); Sexual Power Dynamics (the tendency to become sexually aroused by force or domination in a trusting sexual situation); Smell (the tendency for olfactory cues to enhance arousal); and Setting—Unusual or Unconcealed (the tendency for arousal to be increased by the possibility of being seen or heard having sex or having sex in a novel situation).

Close to normal distributions have been found for women’s scores on the higher-order SE and SI factors (Graham et al., 2006), lending support to the idea that variation in excitation and inhibition proneness is normal, and that the mid-part of the range represents adaptive levels of inhibition.

The questionnaire was designed to be appropriate for use with women of different sexual orientation and varying degrees of sexual experience, and can be completed by women who are not in a current sexual relationship.

Response Mode and Timing

The 36 items on the questionnaire refer to stimulus situations that could affect SE and SI or to general statements about arousability and inhibition. The response format is a 4-point Likert-type rating scale, from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree. The instructions ask women to report what would be the most typical reaction now or how they think they would respond if the item does not apply to them (for full instructions, see the Exhibit). The questionnaire typically takes between 10 and 15 minutes to complete.


For items with positive loadings (no minus sign before the item number in the Exhibit), responses should be coded as follows: 1= Strongly Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = Agree; 4 = Strongly Agree. For items with negative loadings (minus sign before the item number), responses should be coded as: 4 = Strongly Disagree; 3 = Disagree; 2 = Agree; 1 = Strongly Agree. Using the items coded as indicated above, a mean score is then generated for each of the lower-order factors. To obtain higher-order factor scores for propensities for SE and SI, a mean of the mean scores for the relevant lower-order factors is calculated. That is: SE = (sum of scores for Arousability, Partner Characteristics, Sexual Power Dynamics, Smell, & Setting) divided by 5. SI = (sum of scores for Concerns about Sexual Function, Arousal Contingency, and Relationship Importance) divided by 3.


The lower-order factor scales had Cronbach’s alphas between .63 and .80, with an average of .72. Satisfactory test-retest reliability was established (Graham et al., 2006). For the higher-order and lower-order factors, all correlations between first and second completions were significant at p < .005. The correlations for SE and SI were .81 and .82, respectively.


Good evidence of convergent and discriminant validity has been demonstrated (Graham et al., 2006). As expected, only modest correlations between scores on the Behavioral Inhibition/Behavioral Activation Scales (BIS/BAS; Carver & White, 1994) and the SESII-W were found. This suggests that the SESII-W measures distinctly sexual rather than general inhibition/activation tendencies.

Moderate positive correlations were found between SE and scores on the Sexual Opinion Survey (SOS; Fisher, 1998) and the Sexual Sensation Seeking Scale (SSSS; Kalichman & Rompa, 1995; see also Graham et al., 2006).

There were also weaker negative correlations between the SOS, and the SSSS, and both higher-order and lower-order SESII-W inhibition scores.

No correlation was found between the Social Desirability Scale (SDSR; Hays, Hayashi, & Stewart, 1989) and any of the SE or SI factor scores.

Other Information

The use of the SESII-W for research purposes is encouraged. The authors would appreciate receiving information about the results obtained with the measure.

Additional affiliation information: Cynthia A. Graham, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction; Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention. Stephanie A. Sanders, Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention; Department of Gender Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington. Robin R. Milhausen, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction; Rural Center forAIDS/STD Prevention, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women (SESII-W)


This questionnaire asks about things that might affect your sexual arousal. Other ways that we refer to sexual arousal are feeling “turned on,” “sexually excited,” and “being in a sexual mood.” Women describe their sexual arousal in many different ways. These can include genital changes (being “wet,” tingling sensations, feelings of warmth, etc.) as well as non-genital sensations (increased heart rate, temperature changes, skin sensitivity, etc.) or feelings (anticipation, heightened sense of awareness, feeling “sexy” or “sexual,” etc.).

We are interested in what would be the most typical reaction for you now. You may read a statement that you feel does not apply to you, or may have applied to you in the past but doesn’t now. In such cases please indicate how you think you would respond, if you were currently in that situation. Some of the questions sound very similar but are in fact different. Please read each statement carefully and then circle the number to indicate your answer.a

Don’t think too long before answering. Please give your first reaction to each question.

Sexual Excitation Factor (Higher-Order Factor)

Arousability Item Number and Item Content Loading Direction

15 Seeing an attractive partner’s naked body really turns me on.

17 Just being physically close with a partner is enough to turn me on.

19 I get very turned on when someone really wants me sexually.

20 Fantasizing about sex can quickly get me sexually excited.

24 When I think about someone I find sexually attractive, I easily become sexually aroused.

25 With a new partner I am easily aroused.

26 If I see someone dressed in a sexy way, I easily become sexually aroused.

30 Certain hormonal changes definitely increase my sexual arousal.

32 Sometimes I am so attracted to someone, I cannot stop myself from becoming sexually aroused.

Partner Characteristics Item Number and Item Content Loading Direction

5 Someone doing something that shows he/she is intelligent turns me on.

8 If I see a partner interacting well with others, I am more easily sexually aroused.

10 Seeing a partner doing something that shows his/her talent can make me very sexually aroused.

12 Eye contact with someone I find sexually attractive really turns me on.

Sexual Power Dynamics Item Number and Item Content Loading Direction

2 It turns me on if my partner “talks dirty” to me during sex.

6 Feeling overpowered in a sexual situation by someone I trust increases my arousal.

−27 If a partner is forceful during sex, it reduces my arousal.

28 Dominating my partner sexually is arousing to me.

Smell Item Number and Item Content Loading Direction

  1. Particular scents are very arousing to me.

  2. Often just how someone smells can be a turn-on.

Setting (Unusual or Unconcealed) Item Number and Item Content Loading Direction

3 Having sex in a different setting than usual is a real turn-on for me.

−4 If it is possible someone might see or hear us having sex, it is more difficult for me to get aroused.

−7 I find it harder to get sexually aroused if other people are nearby.

13 I get really turned on if I think I may get caught while having sex.

Sexual Inhibition Factor (Higher-Order Factor) Concerns about Sexual Function Item Number and Item Content Loading Direction

9 If I am concerned about being a good lover, I am less likely to become aroused.

18 If I think about whether I will have an orgasm, it is much harder for me to become aroused.

29 Sometimes I feel so “shy” or self-conscious during sex that I cannot become fully aroused.

31 If I am worried about taking too long to become aroused, this can interfere with my arousal.

Arousal Contingency Item Number and Item Content Loading Direction

  1. It is difficult for me to stay sexually aroused.

  2. When I am sexually aroused the slightest thing can turn me off.

  3. Unless things are “just right” it is difficult for me to become sexually aroused.

Relationship Importance Item Number and Item Content Loading Direction

1 If I think that a partner might hurt me emotionally, I put the brakes on sexually.

11 It would be hard for me to become sexually aroused with someone who is involved with another person.

14 If I think that I am being used sexually it completely turns me off.

16 It is easier for me to become aroused with someone who has “relationship potential.”

21 If I am uncertain about how my partner feels about me, it is harder for me to get aroused.

33 I really need to trust a partner to become fully aroused.

aThe response choices for each question are: 1 Strongly Disagree; 2 Disagree; 3 Agree; 4 Strongly Agree.


Address correspondence to Cynthia Graham, Oxford Doctoral Course in Clinical Psychology, Isis Education Centre, Warneford Hospital, Headington, Oxford OX3 7JX, England; e-mail: [email protected]


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