Neural correlates of sexual arousal in homosexual and heterosexual men

Behav Neurosci. 2007 Apr;121(2):237-48. doi: 10.1037/0735-7044.121.2.237.


Men exhibit much higher levels of genital and subjective arousal to sexual stimuli containing their preferred sex than they do to stimuli containing only the nonpreferred sex. This study used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how this category-specific pattern would be reflected in the brains of homosexual (n = 11) and heterosexual (n = 11) men. Comparisons of activation to preferred sexual stimuli, nonpreferred sexual stimuli, and sports stimuli revealed large networks correlated with sexual arousal, spanning multiple cortical and subcortical areas. Both homosexual and heterosexual men exhibited category-specific arousal in brain activity. Within the amygdala, greater preference-related activity was observed in homosexual men, but it is unclear whether this is a cause or a consequence of their sexuality. In a subsequent analysis of regions hypothesized to support arousal, both participant groups demonstrated widespread increases in evoked activity for preferred stimuli. Aggregate data from these regions produced significant differences between stimulus types in 16 out of 22 participants. Significant activational differences matched reported sexual orientation in 15 of these 16 participants, representing an advance in psychophysiological measures of arousal.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Heterosexuality / physiology*
  • Homosexuality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reward
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*