University of Vermont

Sexual Health Research Clinic (SHRC)


The Sexual Health Research Clinic uses state of the art psychophysiological equipment to measure a number of emotion-induced physiological changes, including heart rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, and vaginal blood flow. Our laboratory provides a private environment where different physiological responses are measured during experimental studies designed to assess emotional responses. Our research assistants are trained to use the equipment and provide a supportive and safe environment where participants can best provide us with their information. SHRC and the staff is also equipped to measure different hormones and neurotransmitters in salivary and urine samples. Finally, a sophisticated interface between our physiological and video equipment allows us to conduct behavioral studies that measure reaction time to visual and audio stimuli.  


The laboratory is located in the heart of the psychology department, room 241 in John Dewey Hall. Participants are welcomed to come in and wait in a private waiting room while the experimenter is preparing the study room. The study room is furnished with a comfortable recliner chair and a plasma TV for exposure to visual stimuli. During studies that require exposure to sensitive stimuli, the experimenter will be in a separate room (equipment room) to provide the participant with greater privacy. The experimenter and the participant will communicate through an intercom system. At no time will we audiotape or videotape our participants during these studies. The laboratory is also equipped to function as a clinic. The room is furnished to allow for individual, couple, and group therapy. The waiting room and the study room is equipped with white noise maker to ensure that information shared within the laboratory cannot be overheard outside.

Heart rate.

We use a Biopac ECG100 amplifier connected to three leads to measure heart beat. Three disposable electrodes are placed on the participant’s torso and ankle (see picture).  This device allows us to measure changes in sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity.


Blood pressure.

A cuff is placed on the non-dominant arm of the participant. Every two minutes, the cuff inflates itself and measures of systolic, diastolic, and pulse are recorded. Blood pressure provides an indication of autonomic activation and can be used to assess changes in emotional reactivity.


Galvanic skin response.

A biopac GSR100c amplifier is connected to two leads to measure sweat on the fingers of the non-dominant hand. Two disposable electrodes are placed on the second and third digit. Autonomic activation caused by emotional responses is known to reliably increase sweat which consequentially increases skin conductance.


Vaginal Photoplethysmography.

While in a completely private room, participants insert a vaginal photoplethysmograph. This tampon-like device contains a light source and a light detector. The light source illuminates a small area on the capillary bed in the outer third anterior vagina. During states of physiological sexual arousal, blood rushes to the genitals, thus the capillary bed becomes darker and this reduces the amount of light deflected to the light detector. Changes in signal amplitude are an indirect measure of an increase in genital blood flow.

Subjective Lever.

In order to assess people’s experiences during different emotional or sexual responses, participants operate a lever with their dominant hand. The lever is connected to a Biopac HLT100 transducer module that allows the transformation of the information into digital data collected simultaneously with the other physiological information . We use this lever to assess states of subjective anxiety, romance, sexual desire and sexual arousal while participants are exposed to a variety of video and audio stimuli.  

Salivary samples.

In order to assess for changes in different hormone levels, we are equipped to measure changes in hormonal levels in the saliva. Saliva is collected utilizing the passive drawling technique. Participants are provided with a straw and a labeled vial and asked to let their saliva accumulate in their mouth and then collect it in the vial through the straw. Samples are frozen in a -40o freezer until we are ready to complete salivary assay. For our salivary assay we use Salimetrics’ ELIA kits.  

Urine samples.

Baseline levels of catecholamine can be measured in urine samples. In studies measuring norepinephrine and dopamine, we ask participants to give us a sample of their second urine of the day. Participants are provided with a cup and a lid and are instructed to use the “clean catch” technique. Urine samples are then collected into labeled vials that are frozen in a -40o freezer. Samples are later processed by our research assistants utilizing ELIA kits.

Last modified January 09 2012 02:27 PM

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