Neuroanatomy and function of human sexual behavior: A neglected or unknown issue?

Rocco S. Calabrò, Alberto Cacciola, Daniele Bruschetta, Demetrio Milardi, Fabrizio Quattrini, Francesca Sciarrone, Gianluca la Rosa, Placido Bramanti, Giuseppe Anastasi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Introduction: Sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm are mediated by complex, yet still not fully understood, interactions of the somatic and autonomic nervous systems operating at the central and peripheral levels. Disruption of endocrine, neural, or vascular response, caused by aging, medical illness, neurological diseases, surgery, or drugs, can lead to sexual dysfunctions, thus significantly affecting patients' quality of life. Purpose: This narrative review aims at characterizing the involvement of the central nervous system in human sexual behavior. Methods: A literature search was conducted using PubMed in its entirety up to June 2018, analyzing the studies dealing with the neurobiological and neurophysiological basis of human sexuality. Results: Sexual behavior is regulated by both subcortical structures, such as the hypothalamus, brainstem, and spinal cord, and several cortical brain areas acting as an orchestra to finely adjust this primitive, complex, and versatile behavior. At the central level, dopaminergic and serotonergic systems appear to play a significant role in various factors of sexual response, although adrenergic, cholinergic, and other neuropeptide transmitter systems may contribute as well. Conclusions: Providing healthcare professionals with information concerning sexual behavior may overcome useless and sometimes dangerous barriers and improve patient management, since sexual well-being is considered one of the most important aspects of one's quality of life.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01389
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2019


  • dopamine
  • limbic system
  • neurosexology
  • serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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