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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1990 Summer;14(2):233-41.

Desire and ability: hormones and the regulation of female sexual behavior.

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Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322.


The distinction between the ability to copulate and the desire to copulate is used to understand species differences in hormonal regulation of female sexual behavior. Evidence is presented demonstrating that ovarian hormones modulate female sexual motivation in both rodent and primate females. The thesis is developed that rodent females differ from primate females primarily in their dependence upon hormones for the ability to mate. Thus, apparent differences between the two groups of females in the extent to which hormones control copulatory behavior does not stem from differences in hormonal regulation of female sexual motivation but from the physical ability of primate, but not rodent, females to mate without hormonal stimulation. This emancipation of the ability to copulate from hormonal influence makes female sexual motivation the primary regulator of mating in primates. Dependence upon female sexual motivation means that the copulatory behavior of primate females is easily influenced by their physical and social environment. Because primate females can mate without hormonal input, female sexual initiation, not copulation, is argued to be the only valid indicator of female sexual motivation.

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