Does dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) activation return to baseline when sexual stimuli cease? The role of DLPFC in visual sexual stimulation

Neurosci Lett. 2007 Apr 6;416(1):55-60. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2007.01.058. Epub 2007 Jan 30.


A fundamental question in human sexuality regards the neural substrate underlying sexually-arousing representations. Lesion and neuroimaging studies suggest that dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex (DLPFC) plays an important role in regulating the processing of visual sexual stimulation. The aim of this Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) study was to explore DLPFC structures involved in the processing of erotic and non-sexual films. fNIRS was used to image the evoked-cerebral blood oxygenation (CBO) response in 15 male and 15 female subjects. Our hypothesis is that a sexual stimulus would produce DLPFC activation during the period of direct stimulus perception ("on" period), and that this activation would continue after stimulus cessation ("off" period). A new paradigm was used to measure the relative oxygenated hemoglobin (oxyHb) concentrations in DLPFC while subjects viewed the two selected stimuli (Roman orgy and a non-sexual film clip), and also immediately following stimulus cessation. Viewing of the non-sexual stimulus produced no overshoot in DLPFC, whereas exposure to the erotic stimulus produced rapidly ascendant overshoot, which became even more pronounced following stimulus cessation. We also report on gender differences in the timing and intensity of DLPFC activation in response to a sexually explicit visual stimulus. We found evidence indicating that men experience greater and more rapid sexual arousal when exposed to erotic stimuli than do women. Our results point out that self-regulation of DLPFC activation is modulated by subjective arousal and that cognitive appraisal of the sexual stimulus (valence) plays a secondary role in this regulation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Erotica
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / blood supply
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sexuality / physiology*
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared