Mental representation of subjective pleasure of partnered experiences in women's brain conveyed through event-related fMRI

Med Sci Monit. 2009 Nov;15(11):CR545-50.


Background: Functional neuroimaging demonstrates a combined role of central and peripheral mechanisms in human sexual response. Nevertheless, inter-individual subjective differences remain unresolved. Since Freud, controversy remains regarding the similarity of each type of partnered sexual pleasure experience. The authors hypothesized that the neural networks sustaining the memory of all types of subjective partnered sexual pleasure experiences might interact with the insula, a key brain area for integrating somatic experiences.

Material/methods: Using a 3T Phillips MRI scanner, brain activity elicited when 29 healthy female volunteers were exposed to subliminal presentation of their sexual partner's names, an approach to investigating the brain network sustaining the mental representation of their partner, was assessed. This brain activity was compared with scores from the Female Sexual Functioning Index on satisfaction and the typologies of their partnered orgasmic experiences. No orgasmic responses were recorded during fMRI. This approach allowed the investigation of the memory of the different types of stored partnered orgasmic experiences.

Results: The memory of partnered pleasure obtained by clitoral stimulation correlated with brain responses in the left insula only, while that of partnered pleasure by sexual intercourse correlated with the left insula and also with the right superior temporal gyrus, thalamus, and right inferior prefrontal gyrus.

Conclusions: The results suggest that the memory of sexual experiences is integrated a posteriori at different levels (i.e. by different neural networks) in a woman's brain. The authors believe these findings will open a new avenue towards understanding inter- and intra-individual differences in woman's sexual mind.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pleasure / physiology*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*


  • Oxygen