Introduction: The projection of vagina, uterine cervix, and nipple to the sensory cortex in humans has not been reported.
Aims: The aim of this study was to map the sensory cortical fields of the clitoris, vagina, cervix, and nipple, toward an elucidation of the neural systems underlying sexual response.
Methods: Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we mapped sensory cortical responses to clitoral, vaginal, cervical, and nipple self-stimulation. For points of reference on the homunculus, we also mapped responses to the thumb and great toe (hallux) stimulation.
Main outcome measures: The main outcome measures used for this study were the fMRI of brain regions activated by the various sensory stimuli.
Results: Clitoral, vaginal, and cervical self-stimulation activated differentiable sensory cortical regions, all clustered in the medial cortex (medial paracentral lobule). Nipple self-stimulation activated the genital sensory cortex (as well as the thoracic) region of the homuncular map.
Conclusion: The genital sensory cortex, identified in the classical Penfield homunculus based on electrical stimulation of the brain only in men, was confirmed for the first time in the literature by the present study in women applying clitoral, vaginal, and cervical self-stimulation, and observing their regional brain responses using fMRI. Vaginal, clitoral, and cervical regions of activation were differentiable, consistent with innervation by different afferent nerves and different behavioral correlates. Activation of the genital sensory cortex by nipple self-stimulation was unexpected, but suggests a neurological basis for women's reports of its erotogenic quality.
© 2011 International Society for Sexual Medicine.