Hypothalamus, sexual arousal and psychosexual identity in human males: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study

Eur J Neurosci. 2008 Jun;27(11):2922-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2008.06241.x.


In a recent functional magnetic resonance imaging study, a complex neural circuit was shown to be involved in human males during sexual arousal [A. Ferretti et al. (2005) Neuroimage, 26, 1086]. At group level, there was a specific correlation between penile erection and activations in anterior cingulate, insula, amygdala, hypothalamus and secondary somatosensory regions. However, it is well known that there are remarkable inter-individual differences in the psychological view and attitude to sex of human males. Therefore, a crucial issue is the relationship among cerebral responses, sexual arousal and psychosexual identity at individual level. To address this issue, 18 healthy male subjects were recruited. Their deep sexual identity (DSI) was assessed following the construct revalidation by M. Olivetti Belardinelli [(1994) Sci. Contrib. Gen. Psychol., 11, 131] of the Franck drawing completion test, a projective test providing, according to this revalidation, quantitative scores on 'accordance/non-accordance' between self-reported and psychological sexual identity. Cerebral activity was evaluated by means of functional magnetic resonance imaging during hard-core erotic movies and sport movies. Results showed a statistically significant positive correlation between the blood oxygen level-dependent signal in bilateral hypothalamus and the Franck drawing completion test score during erotic movies. The higher the blood oxygen level-dependent activation in bilateral hypothalamus, the higher the male DSI profile. These results suggest that, in male subjects, inter-individual differences in the DSI are strongly correlated with blood flow to the bilateral hypothalamus, a dimorphic brain region deeply implicated in instinctual drives including reproduction.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Erotica / psychology
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / blood supply
  • Hypothalamus / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Observer Variation
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*