Neuroanatomical correlates of visually evoked sexual arousal in human males

Arch Sex Behav. 1999 Feb;28(1):1-21. doi: 10.1023/a:1018733420467.


Brain areas activated in human male sexual behavior have not been characterized precisely. For the first time, positron emission tomography (PET) was used to identify the brain areas activated in healthy males experiencing visually evoked sexual arousal. Eight male subjects underwent six measurements of regional brain activity following the administration of [15O]H2O as they viewed three categories of film clips: sexually explicit clips, emotionally neutral control clips, and humorous control clips inducing positive but nonsexual emotions. Statistical Parametric Mapping was used to identify brain regions demonstrating an increased activity associated with the sexual response to the visual stimulus. Visually evoked sexual arousal was characterized by a threefold pattern of activation: the bilateral activation of the inferior temporal cortex, a visual association area; the activation of the right insula and right inferior frontal cortex, which are two paralimbic areas relating highly processed sensory information with motivational states; and the activation of the left anterior cingulate cortex, another paralimbic area known to control autonomic and neuroendocrine functions. Activation of some of these areas was positively correlated with plasma testosterone levels. Although this study should be considered preliminary, it identified brain regions whose activation was correlated with visually evoked sexual arousal in males.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Penile Erection / physiology
  • Plethysmography / methods
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed
  • Visual Perception / physiology*


  • Testosterone