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Horm Behav. 2011 May;59(5):681-8. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2010.08.013. Epub 2010 Sep 17.

On the intricate relationship between sexual motivation and arousal.

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Department of Psychology, University of Tromsø, 9037 Tromsø, Norway.


Sexual motivation and sexual arousal are widely used concepts. While there seem to be considerable agreement as to the meaning of sexual motivation, there is certain confusion about the exact meaning of sexual arousal. Some use it as a synonym to sexual motivation and others make it equivalent to erection or vaginal lubrication. An unresolved question is the relationship between sexual arousal and general arousal as well as that between arousal and motivation. I present arguments for the view that arousal refers to the general state of alertness of the organism. Consequently, there is no such thing as a specific sexual arousal. I suggest that this term should be abandoned, or if that is not feasible, to make it a synonym to enhanced genital blood flow. The notion of a subjective sexual arousal, some kind of vaguely described mental state, seems to lack all explanatory value. I then show that general arousal is an important determinant of sexual motivation, and that the execution of copulatory acts leads to increased general arousal. This increase leads to enhanced sexual motivation, making the activation of sexual reflexes requiring high levels of motivation possible. Examples of such reflexes may be ejaculation in males of many species, and perhaps the psychic state of orgasm in women.

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