Scientific Understanding of Consciousness
Consciousness as an Emergent Property of Thalamocortical Activity

Brain Activation during Ejaculation

 

The Journal of Neuroscience, October 8, 2003, 23(27):9185-9193

Brain Activation during Human Male Ejaculation

Gert Holstege,1 Janniko R. Georgiadis,1 Anne M. J. Paans,2 Linda C. Meiners,3 Ferdinand H. C. E. van der Graaf,4 and A. A. T. Simone Reinders5

1Department of Anatomy and Embryology, University of Groningen, 9713 AV Groningen, The Netherlands

2Positron Emission Tomography Centre and Departments of 3Radiology, 4Neurology, and 5Biological Psychiatry, University Hospital Groningen, 9713 AV Groningen, The Netherlands

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Brain mechanisms that control human sexual behavior in general, and ejaculation in particular, are poorly understood. We used positron emission tomography to measure increases in regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) during ejaculation compared with sexual stimulation in heterosexual male volunteers. Manual penile stimulation was performed by the volunteer's female partner. Primary activation was found in the mesodiencephalic transition zone, including the ventral tegmental area, which is involved in a wide variety of rewarding behaviors. Parallels are drawn between ejaculation and heroin rush. Other activated mesodiencephalic structures are the midbrain lateral central tegmental field, zona incerta, subparafascicular nucleus, and the ventroposterior, midline, and intralaminar thalamic nuclei. Increased activation was also present in the lateral putamen and adjoining parts of the claustrum.

Neocortical activity was only found in Brodmann areas 7/40, 18, 21, 23, and 47, exclusively on the right side. On the basis of studies in rodents, the medial preoptic area, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and amygdala are thought to be involved in ejaculation, but increased rCBF was not found in any of these regions. Conversely, in the amygdala and adjacent entorhinal cortex, a decrease in activation was observed.

Remarkably strong rCBF increases were observed in the cerebellum. These findings corroborate the recent notion that the cerebellum plays an important role in emotional processing. The present study for the first time provides insight into which regions in the human brain play a primary role in ejaculation, and the results might have important implications for our understanding of how human ejaculation is brought about, and for our ability to improve sexual function and satisfaction in men.

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