Frank A. Beach award. Homologies of animal and human sexual behaviors

Horm Behav. 1996 Sep;30(3):187-200. doi: 10.1006/hbeh.1996.0024.


Theoretical models of animal and human sexual behavior have evolved from two very different literatures, yet they contain many common behavioral components that may reflect the action of similar neuroendocrine and neurochemical systems. The study of animal sexual behavior has been largely concerned with mechanisms that underlie the pattern of consummatory behaviors observed during copulation, behaviors that tend to be highly stereotyped, sexually differentiated, and species-specific. There are important species differences in the behavioral topography, endocrine control, and neural substrates of consummatory behaviors, which tend to be extreme when comparing animals and humans. Although this has led to an increased interest in comparative animal behavior, it has also helped to foster a general perception that animals and humans are fundamentally different. In contrast to consummatory behaviors, appetitive behaviors (which serve to bring animals and humans into contact with sexual incentives) are more flexible, less sexually differentiated, and less species-specific and span a variety of situations other than sexual interactions. Appetitive behaviors are thus viewed as "sexually specific" when they are displayed under sexual circumstances and reinforced by sexual incentives. Interestingly, an appetitive/consummatory dichotomy has emerged in the human literature which distinguishes measures of sexual desire or arousal from "performance" measures of masturbation or copulation. In fact, sexual desire, which reflects fantasy and behavioral excitement, has been further differentiated from sexual arousal, which reflects genital blood flow. The present analysis attempts to pull together these seemingly disparate literatures into a coherent theoretical framework that emphasizes similarities and differences in the structure of sexual behavior across rats and humans.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Rats
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*