Neural bases of hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women: an event-related FMRI study

J Sex Med. 2011 Sep;8(9):2546-59. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02376.x. Epub 2011 Jun 30.


Introduction: Although there is an abundant debate regarding the mechanisms sustaining one of the most common sexual complaints among women, i.e., female hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), little remains known about the specific neural bases of this disorder.

Aim: The main goal of this study was to determine whether women with HSDD showed differential patterns of activation within the brain network that is active for sexual desire in subjects without HSDD.

Methods: A total of 28 right-handed women participated in this study (mean age 31.1±7.02 years). Thirteen out of the 28 women had HSDD (HSDD participants), while 15 women reported no hypoactive sexual desire disorder (NHSDD participants). Using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we compared the regional cerebral blood flow responses between these two groups of participants, while they were looking at erotic vs. non-erotic stimuli.

Main outcome measure: Blood-oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) signal changes in response to erotic stimuli (compared with non-erotic stimuli). Statistical Parametric Mapping was used to identify brain regions that demonstrated significant differential activations between stimuli and between groups.

Results: As expected, behavioral results showed that NHSDD participants rated erotic stimuli significantly higher than HSDD participants did on a 10-point desirable scale. No rating difference was observed for the non-erotic stimuli between NHSDD and HSDD participants. Our functional neuroimaging results extended these data by demonstrating two distinct types of neural changes in participants with and without HSDD. In comparison with HSDD participants, participants without HSDD demonstrated more activation in brain areas involved in the processing of erotic stimuli, including intraparietal sulcus, dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus, and ento/perirhinal region. Interestingly, HSDD participants also showed additional activations in brain areas associated with higher order social and cognitive functions, such as inferior parietal lobule, inferior frontal gyrus, and posterior medial occipital gyrus.

Conclusion: Together, these findings indicate that HSDD participants do not only show a hypo activation in brain areas mediating sexual desire, but also a different brain network of hyper activation, which might reflect differences in subjective, social, and cognitive interpretations of erotic stimuli. Collectively, these data are in line with the incentive motivation model of sexual functioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Erotica
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult