Appetitive behaviors require complex decision making that involves the integration of environmental stimuli and physiological needs. C. elegans mate searching is a male-specific exploratory behavior regulated by two competing needs: food and reproductive appetite. We found that the pigment dispersing factor receptor (PDFR-1) modulates the circuit that encodes the male reproductive drive that promotes male exploration following mate deprivation. PDFR-1 and its ligand, PDF-1, stimulated mate searching in the male, but not in the hermaphrodite. pdf-1 was required in the gender-shared interneuron AIM, and the receptor acted in internal and external environment-sensing neurons of the shared nervous system (URY, PQR and PHA) to produce mate-searching behavior. Thus, the pdf-1 and pdfr-1 pathway functions in non-sex-specific neurons to produce a male-specific, goal-oriented exploratory behavior. Our results indicate that secretin neuropeptidergic signaling is involved in regulating motivational internal states.