What part of the brain controls sexual arousal?

In this post we are going to answer the question ‘’What part of the brain controls sexual arousal?’’ We invite you to understand the brain mechanisms of sexual desire and response and how the brain controls it.

What part of the brain controls sexual arousal?

The hypothalamus controls sexual arousal.

Sexual desire has its origin in our body and, truth be told, it is something natural, a chemical reaction. It is true that said like this, it loses a lot of romanticism but, according to what science tells us, there is no other way around.

Let us remember that sensations such as sexual desire, passion, love, lust and several others related to our desire to have sex are still chemical reactions of our body that, more than likely, seeks the reproduction and perpetuation of the species. as a last resort.

So, as much as we invent romantic theories and compose verses, poems and songs that elevate sexual desire to something more than mere human nature, it is the chemistry of the human body that causes the attraction between two or more people.

The origin of sexual desire

Be that as it may, romance, feelings and senses are part of the composition of desire. And it is that, in all this process, human elements such as blood, mind and internal organs have great work in what we call love, sex, attraction, etc.

So we could talk about the chemistry of love, or perhaps the chemistry of sexual desire. Something instinctive and natural that invites us to perpetuate the species, although we dye it with romance and beauty.

For this reason, the scientific community has produced dozens of investigations, reports and studies in which it tries to reel off this desire, this sexual attraction that human beings feel, and that makes them reach a more or less unanimous conclusion:

They are pheromones and Chemical substances that our organism releases which cause us to feel hopelessly attracted to other people.

Pheromone is the chemical that the human body secretes and that claims to attract other people. In turn, it has been shown that it has some truth since it is true that this neurotransmitter is capable of making us more attractive in the eyes of other people, it makes us more irresistible and desirable.

However, if you are going crazy and looking for a perfume or product with pheromones, better leave it, as they usually do not work. In reality, those that really have an effect are those that are generated in our body in an imperceptible way from the chest to the anus, the lips or the genitals.

Only those activate our capacity to desire and to be more desirable to other people.

Pheromones, in conjunction with certain synaptic reactions that take place in our brain, and that cause even more hormones to be generated and secreted, allow the desired love, passion and the most ardent and passionate sexual desire to emerge.

The brain map of love … and sexual desire

Where does love originate? And desire? What role does the brain play in sex drive? Science has spent years trying to explain, with data in hand, what factors intervene in the generation of these feelings. A review of studies now shows the areas of the brain that share desire and love, and also the differences in the neural patterns that each generates.

Multiple studies have analyzed the biochemical and neuroendocrine responses that are generated both in love and desire. It is known that in couple relationships, in addition to two people, a group of hormones are involved, among which are oxytocin, serotonin or vasopressin.

However, a comprehensive vision of the neural networks that occur in each of these feelings was lacking.

“The main purpose of our study is to offer a meta-analysis (review and analysis) of all functional resonance imaging studies on sexual desire and love to better understand the different brain activations and the common pathways they share,” they explain in their work researchers from different universities such as Concordia (in Montreal, Canada) or Geneva (in Switzerland).

Jim Pfaus, the lead author of this study, explains that “love and desire have different patterns in the brain, but they coincide significantly in cortical and limbic structures, such as the insula and the striatum.

This is the case for both women and men, something that we did not expect since they tend to believe that they think differently in relation to love and sex “.

In his work, they analyzed the results of 20 studies that examined this brain activity in a total of 309 participants while they were looking at erotic photos or of a person they loved.

What they found was that two brain structures, the insula and the striatum, are activated by the two feelings.

However, they observed that the striatum is affected differently when it comes to love or desire. On the other hand, the anterior part of the insula is only activated by feelings of love, while the posterior part of the left insula is ‘turned on’ by sexual desire.

“This is in line with the view that love is an abstract construction, which is based in part on the repeated mental representation of emotional moments from the past,” explains the study published in the journal ‘The Journal of Sexual Medicine’.

Areas involved with social interpretation

In addition, they were also able to verify that “sexual desire not only sets in motion brain areas involved in the perception of sensory and emotional stimuli from the person but also the structures related to the social interpretation of the emotions and desires of others,” he explains. the investigation.

When comparing love with sexual desire, activity in the ventral striatum, hypothalamus, amygdala, somatosensory cortex, and inferial parietal lobe was reduced.

These reductions are in line with sexual desire as a state of mind with a very specific goal, while love could be seen as a behavior with a more abstract, flexible and complex goal, less dependent on the physical presence of another person.

In addition, love is associated with certain areas of the brain (the ventral tegmental area, the right part of the striatum, and with two dopaminergic regions) that are related to motivation, expectation, and habit formation.

Although love and desire share a pattern of emotional, motivational and cognitive activation of the brain areas, “our review also reveals specific patterns of activation of each of these phenomena.”

That love is located in a certain area of ​​the striatum, associated with drug addictions, could explain that “love is really a habit that is formed by a sexual desire that is fed back through a reward. It works the same the way drugs do in the brain in addicted people, “says Pfaus.

Another implication that could be drawn, as suggested by Pfaus, “is that romantic love may be based on sexual desire, as desire is rewarded by sexual orgasm or other rewards. Even though people speak of ‘love at first sight ‘, they usually wish to consummate that love and have sex with the loved one.

Of course, the addiction relationship occurs when the object of our love leaves abruptly. We enter a state of withdrawal in which we feel depressed and we long for the other (and often anything is done to get that person). “

But it doesn’t have to be a bad habit, necessarily, he explains. Love activates different pathways in the brain that are involved with monogamy and bonding.

We hope that “our results help advance the field of a neurobiological model for love and desire and could have interesting implications for sexual medicine.” As for the future, Pfaus points out that the idea is to continue studying what happens in animals, “which present a very similar activation in the brain, especially in the insula.

So another conclusion is that sex and love are systems in the brain that have been preserved in evolution. “

So, what part of the brain controls sexual arousal?

It is known that sex begins in the brain, but it is less known that the areas of the brain destined for sexual activity are greater in the male brain. Does this mean that men and women are destined to enjoy sex differently? The answer is no.

The fact is that in order to have a complete sexual experience, the joint and simultaneous work of almost all parts of the brain is necessary, whether it is a man or a woman.

“The occipital lobe is used when you see a very low-cut dress or a T-shirt that marks the biceps. If you place your hands there, signals of what you feel reach the parietal lobe in the opposite hemisphere,” warns Norwegian neuroscientist Kaja Nordengen.

The recognition of what you find attractive occurs, however, in the frontal lobe, with the collaboration of the limbic system.

“With the help of the frontal lobe, the focus of your attention is concentrated on what attracts you and you pay much less attention to the rest of the things around you. In addition, the activation of different regions of the cerebral cortex are also completely decisive all hormonal changes, which are also controlled by the brain”, she adds.

The neurologist at Akershus University Hospital in Oslo, where she received her doctorate in 2014, also points out that while many different regions of the brain work together in a complete sexual experience, it is enough, in fact, to stimulate the cortex in the brain between the hemispheres to produce erections in primates.

“An orgasm occurs, however, with the activation of almost the entire brain, except for the frontal lobe and the amygdala. The deactivation of the frontal lobe is understandable since this allows you to stop thinking. The deactivation of the amygdala, that otherwise is usually involved in primitive emotions, however, it is not fully understood “, she warns in ‘Your super brain’ (Planet).

It is believed, she explains, that it is this deactivation that can lead to hypersexuality and indiscriminate sexual behavior that occurs with certain brain damage.

In fact, she draws attention to the fact that some brain damage can cause increased sexual pleasure, but can also lead to seeking to have sex with unusual objects or partners of other species.

“With damage to the inner side of the temporal lobe, where we have both the hippocampus (important for memory) and the amygdala, we can suffer from Klüver-Bucy syndrome, people with great memory disorders who cannot store their memories, and that they lack the ability to feel fear and anger, although their sexuality remains intact “, Nordengen remarks.

On the other hand, she recognizes that we not only have signals that turn on sexual pleasure but also signals that help stops it.

“The regions that help you keep shape, even when close to large necklines and very pronounced biceps, not only include the temporal lobe. These also include the cerebral cortex, which is located between the hemispheres and the prefrontal cortex. The sweet and an old granny who used to only take care of her garden, but now pinches the sick, may have damaged one of these regions, usually with frontotemporal dementia”, underlines the Norwegian neurologist.

On the other hand, the expert indicates that with the help of computerized images of the brain it has been seen that, when one person loves another, the whole brain turns on. “The common thing in all the zones that are activated is that they are rich in dopamine, the substance of the reward,” she adds.

FAQS: What part of the brain controls sexual arousal?

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In this post we answered the question ‘’What part of the brain controls sexual arousal?’’ We invited you to understand the brain mechanisms of sexual desire and response and how the brain controls it.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!


Mayte Parada, Marina Gérard, Kevin Larcher, Alain Dagher, Yitzchak M. Binik. How Hot Are They? Neural Correlates of Genital Arousal: An Infrared Thermographic and Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study of Sexual Arousal in Men and Women. February 2018 Volume 15, Issue 2, Pages 217–229. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2017.12.006

Pfaus, J. G. (2009). REVIEWS: Pathways of Sexual Desire. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6(6), 1506–1533. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01309.x