Different Neural Correlates of Sexually Preferred and Sexually Nonpreferred Stimuli

J Sex Med. 2020 Jul;17(7):1254-1267. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2020.03.007. Epub 2020 Apr 17.


Background: The differences and relationships between stimulus-related brain activation for sexually preferred stimuli and sexually nonpreferred stimuli are still unclear.

Aim: This study aimed to identify brain regions that were mostly associated with sexual stimuli.

Methods: We used the activation likelihood estimation, meta-analytic connectivity modelling, and behavioral domain metadata in the BrainMap database to perform this analysis.

Outcomes: We found convergent activation foci and created a model for the extended brain network involved in responses to sexual stimuli and also assessed the functional properties of these regions.

Results: A total of 34 experiments from 15 studies including 368 subjects and 343 foci were analyzed. The results showed that sexual stimuli are related to the extensive activation of the occipital-temporal-limbic system and less extensive activation of the basal ganglia. Sexually preferred stimuli activated mainly the anterior cingulate cortex and right fusiform gyrus, while sexually nonpreferred stimuli activated the limbic system, occipital gyrus, and thalamus.

Clinical implications: To have a further understanding of the central mechanisms of human sexuality.

Strengths & limitations: Patient characteristics and analysis techniques in the included studies were heterogeneous.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that the anterior cingulate cortex is an important cognitive control area for both sexually preferred and nonpreferred stimuli. Meta-analytic connectivity modelling analysis revealed a network of the core brain areas involved in response to sexual stimuli, and behavioral domain analysis indicated that these areas have both common and discrete functional properties. Long X, Tian F, Zhou Y, et al. Different Neural Correlates of Sexually Preferred and Sexually Nonpreferred Stimuli. J Sex Med 2020;17:1254-1267.

Keywords: Activation Likelihood Estimation; Behavioral Domain; Meta-analytic Connectivity Modelling; Sexual Arousal; Sexual Orientation; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arousal*
  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Sexual Behavior