Introduction: Visually induced sexual arousal is a common occurrence in human behavior. The cerebral underpinnings of this response have been explored in recent neuroimaging studies.
Aim: We set out to test the strength of evidence for the presence of a core network of brain regions involved in male sexual arousal elicited by erotic stimuli.
Methods: Eleven functional magnetic resonance imaging studies that presented erotic visual stimuli and compared the associated brain activity with the brain activity elicited by neutral visual stimuli were identified.
Main outcomes measures: Activation likelihood estimation was employed to perform quantitative meta-analyses on coordinates of brain activation in order to assess significant concordance across studies.
Results: The meta-analysis included studies on heterosexual males and revealed consistent activation in the hypothalamus, thalamus, amygdala, anterior cingulate gyrus (ACC), insula, fusiform gyrus, precentral gyrus, parietal cortex, and occipital cortex across studies. Moreover, we explored brain responses associated with a physiological marker of sexual arousal (penile tumescence) and found concurrence in hypothalamus, thalamus, bilateral insula, ACC, postcentral gyrus, and occipital gyrus.
Conclusions: This is the first quantitative meta-analysis on sexual cue reactivity and identifies a neural network consisting of cognitive (parietal cortex, ACC, thalamus, insula), emotional (amygdala, insula), motivational (precentral gyrus, parietal cortex), and physiological (hypothalamus/thalamus, insula) components constituting a core circuit of male sexual arousal in humans.
© 2011 International Society for Sexual Medicine.