Sexual motivation: a neural and behavioural analysis of the mechanisms underlying appetitive and copulatory responses of male rats

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. Summer 1990;14(2):217-32. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(05)80222-2.


Experiments investigating the neural mechanisms underlying the expression of masculine sexual behaviour are discussed in the context of the hypothesis set out by Frank Beach that suggested the existence of separate sexual arousal and performance mechanisms. The results indicate that the medial preoptic area is crucially involved in consummatory aspects of sexual behaviour: lesions and chemical manipulations of the area profoundly affect mounts, intromissions and ejaculation, but tend not to alter appetitive sexual responses. By contrast, ventral striatal dopamine-dependent mechanisms primarily affect appetitive sexual responses, measured in a variety of paradigms, but tend not to alter copulatory behaviour itself. Finally, associative mechanisms, for example those by which arbitrary environmental stimuli come to control appetitive sexual responses through their predictive association with sexual reinforcement, are shown to depend at least in part on interactions between the basolateral amygdala and dopamine-dependent events in the ventral striatum. Thus, diverse neural and behavioural procedures have revealed that separable neural mechanisms appear to be involved more or less selectively with different components of the male rat's sexual response system. It may still be useful to conceptualize separate sexual arousal and intromission/ejaculatory mechanisms when studying the neuroendocrine basis of sexual behaviour. However, a major challenge is to understand the way in which elements of the telencephalic limbic system, the striatum and preoptic area, some of which are targets for the action of sex steroids, interact to produce an integrated pattern of sexual behaviour.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Copulation / physiology*
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Rats
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Testosterone / physiology


  • Testosterone
  • Dopamine