Sexual arousal activates more brain regions in women than in men, according to neuroimaging study

Sexual arousal is linked to the neural activation of a broader range of brain regions in women compared to men, according to new research. The findings were published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

“My main interest is to understand the neural mechanisms driving the subjective and the physiological responses in men and women, and how those responses influence each other. In previous work, we have not been able to directly compare the genital responses directly in men and women due to the methodological tools used to measure those responses,” said study author Mayte Parada of McGill University.

“In our study, we employed the use of infrared thermal imaging to be able to measure genital arousal via heat, generated by blood flow to the genital region and combined that with functional neuroimaging while watching erotic and non-erotic stimuli.”

In the study, 20 men and 20 women viewed movie clips while infrared thermal imaging was used to monitor genital temperature and functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to monitor brain activity. The participants were all between 18 to 31 years old.

Among the men, temperature changes in the penis were associated with activity in various regions of the brain, including the supramarginal gyri, frontal pole, lateral occipital cortex and middle frontal gyri.

Among the women, temperature changes in the clitoris and outer labia majora were associated with activity in the same brain regions. However, genital temperature was also associated with activity in the anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, right cerebellum, insula, frontal operculum, and paracingulate gyrus.

“Although we are still in the early phases of this work, our study shows that in women, genital arousal responses are closely tied to the neural processes that take place during sexual arousal to erotic visual and auditory stimuli,” Parada explained to PsyPost.

“This close relationship seems to be stronger in women than it is in men. It does not mean that women think more or require more intellectual stimulation when sexually aroused, however, it could mean that for women what’s going on in the brain during sexual arousal is really important for the physiological responses and vice versa.”

The findings could help scientists and therapists better understand sexual dysfunctions.

“We are ultimately interested in the phenomenon of sexual concordance; the relationship between subjective sexual arousal and genital responses, which have generally been reported to be less ‘in sync’ in women than in men,” Parada said.

“Our next step is to study the subjective arousal responses in men and women, see how those responses are related to genital arousal levels, and assess whether there are neural mechanisms that are tied to these scores. Understanding arousal responses in men and women will potentially help us in the clinical setting, helping people experiencing disorders of desire and arousal.”

The study, “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“, was authored by Mayte Parada, Marina GĂ©rard, Kevin Larcher, Alain Dagher, and Yitzchak M. Binik.