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Neuroanatomy and Neurochemistry of Sexual Desire, Pleasure, Love and Orgasm

 H. Ümit Sayin and Carlos H. Schenck


Pleasure is a mental and emotional state that humans and other animals experience as positive, enjoyable, satisfying, giving joy and happiness or worth seeking. It may include other mind states such as happiness, entertainment, enjoyment, ecstasy, and euphoria, with peak experiences. According to the “incentive salience model” pleasure has three components: “wanting and motivation”, “learning” and “liking-pleasure”. Different brain regions cooperatively work together for each of these constituents. Since most of the data to establish this model came from animal studies, for human beings a more profound and complex model needs to be established. During the onset of pleasure or sensuality, dopaminergic neurons in ventral tegmental area (VTA) fire and their projections to the nucleus accumbens (NA) release dopamine which participates in the complex psychological processes of learning and liking. Similar episodes occur during the onset of sexual pleasure and human orgasm. Some complex human phenomena, such as passionate love or expanded orgasms, can be regarded as peak experiences, which the animal kingdom does not seem to experience. During passionate love, for instance, the release of some neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, oxytocin, and norepinephrine, is enhanced, while serotonin levels drop; in some fMRI studies, it is shown that some brain regions and “hedonic hot spots” are activated. During the female orgasm, VTA, NA, anterior cingulate, insula, amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus are activated. In this article neuroanatomical, neurophysiological, neurochemical components of pleasure, love, motivation and orgasm, which lead to impressive behavioral changes, are discussed. Also, the phenomenon of experiencing sexual pleasure during the sleep found with the parasomnia “Sexsomnia” and also  “Epileptic Sexsomnia”, both for the affected person and the bed partner will be discussed, with further research encouraged on this intriguing new clinical and clinical research area.

KEY WORDS: pleasure, hedonic hot spot, reward, orgasm, sexual pleasure, pleasure center, cingulate, insula, amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, n. accumbens, ventral tegmental area, addiction, dopamine, oxytocin, liking, motivation, sexsomnia, epileptic sexsomnia

SexuS Journal ● Winter 2019 ● 4 (11): 907-946



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