Brain circuits for mating behavior in cats and brain activations and de-activations during sexual stimulation and ejaculation and orgasm in humans

Gert Holstege*, Hieu K. Huynh

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    25 Citations (Scopus)


    In cats, there exists a descending system that controls the posture necessary for mating behavior. A key role is played by the mesencephalic periaqueductal gray (PAG), which maintains strong specific projections to the nucleus retroambiguus located laterally in the most caudal medulla. The NRA, in turn, has direct access to motoneurons in the lumbosacral cord that produce the mating posture. This pathway is slightly different in males and females, but in females its strength fluctuates strongly depending on whether or not the cat is in heat. This way the PAG determines whether or not mating can take place. Via the PAG many other regions in the limbic system as well as in the prefrontal cortex and insula can influence mating behavior.

    In humans, the brain also controls responses to sexual stimulation as well as ejaculation in men and orgasm in women. Neuroimaging techniques show activations and de-activations but are not able to verify whether the PAG has a similar effect as in cats. PET-scanning results revealed that there is activation in the upper brainstem and cerebellum, as well as insula in men and in the somatomotor and somatosensory cortex in women. During sexual stimulation, but especially during ejaculation and orgasm there was strong de-activation mainly on the left side in the temporal lobe and ventral prefrontal cortex. These neuroimaging results show the importance of lowering the level of alertness regarding your immediate environment (left hemisphere) to have proper sexual behavior. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)702-707
    Number of pages6
    JournalHormones and Behavior
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - May-2011


    • Periaqueductal gray
    • Nucleus retroambiguus
    • Prefrontal cortex
    • Insula
    • Activation
    • De-activation
    • Stress level

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