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Auton Neurosci. 2018 Jan;209:90-99. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2017.01.005. Epub 2017 Jan 25.

The neurologic control of arousal and orgasm with specific attention to spinal cord lesions: Integrating preclinical and clinical sciences.

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Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 700 South 19th Street, Birmingham, AL 35242, United States; Dept. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, United States; Dept. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Harvard School of Medicine, United States. Electronic address:
Dignify Therapeutics, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, United States; Dept. Urology, School of Medicine and MOPH Eshelman School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, United States. Electronic address:


Preclinical research in animal models is important for understanding the neural pathways and pathophysiology underlying changes in sexual function after SCI. In vivo animal models, primarily rodents, have provided valuable information on the central pathways regulating sexual arousal and orgasm; however, further research is required in females and preclinical modeling of SCI that can be better translated to men and women. Translation of the autonomic and somatic regulation of sexual responses from preclinical models through clinical research correlates well with respect to the peripheral-spinal systems involved. However, due to the nature of sexual responses, parallel studies are necessary in animals and humans. Human studies of individuals with SCIs have provided information about the neurologic control of arousal and orgasm. Psychogenic arousal is related to the preservation of sensation at T11-L2 whereas orgasm requires the presence of an intact sacral reflex arc. Studies point to evidence of a spinal pattern generator at L3-5. Because of the exact nature of SCIs, further research using neuroimaging will be beneficial, not only to elucidate the neurological control of sexual responses after SCI, but also in able-bodied individuals. Understanding and ameliorating the effects of SCI on sexual function is important to the well-being and quality of life of individuals with SCIs and their partners, thus future research should focus more on this important topic.


Autonomic; Ejaculation; Genital arousal; Orgasm; Sexual arousal; Sexuality; Spinal cord injury

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