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The neurophysiology of sexual arousal.

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  • 1Hamot Medical Center, 333 State Street, Suite 201, Erie, PA 16507, USA. schobermd@aol.com


Our understanding of the process and initiation of sexual arousal is being enhanced by both animal and human studies, inclusive of basic science principles and research on clinical outcomes. Sexual arousal is dependent on neural (sensory and cognitive) factors, hormonal factors, genetic factors and, in the human case, the complex influences of culture and context. Sexual arousal activates the cognitive and physiologic processes that can eventually lead to sexual behavior. Sexual arousal comprises a particular subset of central nervous system arousal functions which depend on primitive, fundamental arousal mechanisms that cause generalized brain activity, but are manifest in a sociosexual context. The neurophysiology of sexual arousal is seen as a bidirectional system universal to all vertebrates. The following review includes known neural and genomic mechanisms of a hormone-dependent circuit for simple sex behavior. New information about hormone effects on causal steps related to sex hormones' nuclear receptor isoforms expressed by hypothalamic neurons continues to enrich our understanding of this neurophysiology.

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