Mixing pleasures: review of the effects of drugs on sex behavior in humans and animal models

Horm Behav. 2010 Jun;58(1):149-62. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2009.11.009. Epub 2009 Dec 31.


Drugs of abuse act on the brain circuits mediating motivation and reward associated with natural behaviors. There is ample evidence that drugs of abuse impact male and female sexual behavior. First, the current review discusses the effect of drugs of abuse on sexual motivation and performance in male and female humans. In particular, we discuss the effects of commonly abused drugs including psychostimulants, opiates, marijuana/THC, and alcohol. In general, drug use affects sexual motivation, arousal, and performance and is commonly associated with increased sexual risk behaviors. Second, studies on effects of systemic administration of drugs of abuse on sexual behavior in animals are reviewed. These studies analyze the effects on sexual performance and motivation but do not investigate the effects of drugs on risk-taking behavior, creating a disconnect between human and animal studies. For this reason, we discuss two studies that focus on the effects of alcohol and methamphetamine on inhibition of maladaptive sex-seeking behaviors in rodents. Third, this review discusses potential brain areas where drugs of abuse may be exerting their effect on sexual behavior with a focus on the mesolimbic system as the site of action. Finally, we discuss recent studies that have brought to light that sexual experience in turn can affect drug responsiveness, including a sensitized locomotor response to amphetamine in female and male rodents as well as enhanced drug reward in male rats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology
  • Humans
  • Sexual Behavior / drug effects*
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology