OUP user menu

Brain activation and sexual arousal in healthy, heterosexual males

Bruce A. Arnow, John E. Desmond, Linda L. Banner, Gary H. Glover, Ari Solomon, Mary Lake Polan, Tom F. Lue, Scott W. Atlas
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awf108 1014-1023 First published online: 1 May 2002

Summary

Despite the brain’s central role in sexual function, little is known about relationships between brain activation and sexual response. In this study, we employed functional MRI (fMRI) to examine relationships between brain activation and sexual arousal in a group of young, healthy, heterosexual males. Each subject was exposed to two sequences of video material consisting of explicitly erotic (E), relaxing (R) and sports (S) segments in an unpredictable order. Data on penile turgidity was collected using a custom‐built pneumatic pressure cuff. Both traditional block analyses using contrasts between sexually arousing and non‐arousing video clips and a regression using penile turgidity as the covariate of interest were performed. In both types of analyses, contrast images were computed for each subject and these images were subsequently used in a random effects analysis. Strong activations specifically associated with penile turgidity were observed in the right subinsular region including the claustrum, left caudate and putamen, right middle occipital/ middle temporal gyri, bilateral cingulate gyrus and right sensorimotor and pre‐motor regions. Smaller, but significant activation was observed in the right hypothalamus. Few significant activations were found in the block analyses. Implications of the findings are discussed. Our study demonstrates the feasibility of examining brain activation/sexual response relationships in an fMRI environment and reveals a number of brain structures whose activation is time‐locked to sexual arousal.

  • Keywords: brain activation and sexual response; functional MRI; right insula/subinsular region; claustrum; striatum
  • Abbreviations: BA = Brodmann area; MNI = Montreal Neurological Institute; rCBF = regional cerebral blood flow; SPM99 = statistical parametric mapping (1999 software version)
    View Full Text