Dynamics of male sexual arousal: Distinct components of brain activation revealed by fMRI

Antonio Ferretti, Massimo Caulo, Cosimo Del Gratta, Rosalia Di Matteo, Arcangelo Merla, Francesco Montorsi, Vittorio Pizzella, Paolo Pompa, Patrizio Rigatti, Paolo Maria Rossini, Andrea Salonia, Armando Tartaro, Gian Luca Romani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The peripheral mechanisms of male sexual arousal are well known. Recently, neuroimaging techniques, such as PET or fMRI, allowed the investigation of the subjacent cerebral mechanisms. In ten healthy subjects, we have simultaneously recorded fMRI images of brain activation elicited by viewing erotic scenes, and the time course of penile tumescence by means of a custom-built MRI-compatible pneumatic cuff. We have compared activation elicited by video clips with a long duration, that led to sexual arousal and penile erection, and activation elicited by briefly presented still images, that did induce sexual arousal without erection. This comparison and the use of the time course of penile tumescence in video clips allowed to perform a time resolved data analysis and to correlate different patterns of brain activation with different phases of sexual response. The activation maps highlighted a complex neural circuit involved in sexual arousal. Of this circuit, only a few areas (anterior cingulate, insula, amygdala, hypothalamus, and secondary somatosensory cortices) were specifically correlated with penile erection. Finally, these areas showed distinct dynamic relationships with the time course of sexual response. These differences might correspond to different roles in the development and appraisal of the sexual response. These findings shed light on the psychophysiology of male sexuality and open new perspectives for the diagnosis, therapy, and possible rehabilitation of sexual dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1086-1096
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 15 2005


  • Brain mapping
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Psychophysiology of sexual behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology


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