Arousal and Response Lighting the fire, Stoking the flame

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Arousal and Response

  • Lighting the fire, Stoking the flame

The Essential Hormones

  • Two basic types – Steroid & Neuropeptide

  • Steroid Hormones – secreted by the gonads and adrenal glands

  • Examples: testosterone, estrogen, etc.

  • Not simply male or female – both sexes produce each, but in varying amounts

Neuropeptide Hormones

  • Produced in the brain, they influence sexuality and behavior

  • Perhaps the most significant:

  • Oxytocin – the “love hormone”, it influences our erotic and emotional bonds

Testosterone – “the motivator”

  • Men have 20 to 40 times more

  • Effects desire (libido) more than function

  • But deficiencies do decrease sensitivity and desire

  • Castration – the surgical removal of the testes causes dramatic reductions in sexual interest and desire

Testosterone uses

Less Testosterone

  • Antiandrogens – drugs which reduce testosterone levels

  • Occasionally given to sex offenders

  • Usually decreases sexual interest and activity

  • But sometimes offenders assault for other reasons , such as anger, power and control

  • Hypogonadism – testosterone deficiency due to diseases of the endocrine system

  • If it begins before puberty, development is slowed

  • If it starts after puberty, a marked decrease in desire follows

Estrogens and Desire

  • Their influence is undeniable but exact role is unclear

  • Research findings differ as to whether they increase desire

Females & Testosterone

  • Testosterone clearly increases female sexual desire, sensitivity and activity

  • True even for women after menopause or removal of the ovaries

  • Women with “normal” levels of sexual activity and hormones who receive additional testosterone show significant increases in sexual arousal, sensation and even lust

  • Theresa Crenshaw “…. when a woman’s testosterone dwindles, so does her sex life.”

More On Testosterone

  • Women have much less testosterone, but are much more sensitive to its effects

  • For women, too much testosterone causes problems, such as “unwelcome” changes to secondary sexual characteristics

  • Women see levels fall more rapidly after menopause than male’s more gradual decline

  • If measured, it is “free” (unattached) testosterone that matters, not “total”

  • Testosterone Replacement Therapy

  • commonly available for men

  • now, slowly becoming an option for women

Marketing Testosterone


  • A neuropeptide from the hypothalamus that effects sexual response and attraction

  • Bonding occurs through its release

  • mother/child – breast feeding

  • sexual partners – arousal and response

  • Autistic children have low levels and corresponding difficulties forming bonds and expressing love

Oxytocin and Love

  • Release is triggered by touch

  • Its circulation increases the skins sensitivity to touch

  • Levels increase within us as we go through the cycle of arousal to orgasm

  • Presence remains in blood stream after orgasm facilitating pair bonding

The Brain – Our Most Sexual Organ?

  • Our cerebral cortex stores memories and images producing powerful fantasies

  • Our culture has conditioned us to have certain preferences for what we consider physically attractive

  • World-wide prototypes?

Exemplars of Beauty

  • A 2005 poll of plastic surgeons revealed the following as possessing the most desired:

  • Nose – Nicole Kidman

  • Eyes – Catherine Zeta Jones

  • Lips – Angelina Jolie




The Limbic System

  • A subcortical brain system of several related structures that impact sexual behavior

  • Investigated through a number of studies

Olds (1950’s)

  • Implanted electrodes in rat’s limbic system

  • Allowed them to control stimulation

  • When given the chance, rats will “dial their own number” until they reach exhaustion, even up to several thousand times an hour

  • “pleasure centers”

Heath (1972)

  • Humans with a variety of disorders were allowed to self-stimulate their limbic system

  • One man pushed his button over 1500/hr, described intense sexual pleasure, and complained whenever a “session” ended

  • A woman reported similar experiences, even multiple orgasmic responses

The Hypothalamus

  • Stimulation greatly arouses rats

  • Its destruction crushes response

  • Apparently, the medial preoptic area (MPOA) is especially sensitive

  • Heroin, morphine and other opiates suppress activity of the MPOA

  • Dopamine and testosterone excite it

Serotonin’s Influence

  • Presence inhibits sexual activity

  • Seems to have the opposite effects of dopamine

  • Released after males ejaculate and blocks or dampens sensitivity to dopamine and oxytocin

  • SSRI’s have many negative effects on sexuality

The Senses

  • Many sources of erotic stimulation

  • Their influence leads to tremendous variety and amazing sexual complexity


  • Our nerve endings are unevenly distributed, locations which are most sexually responsive are called our

  • Primary Erogenous Zones, which include our genitals, lips, buttocks, inner thighs, neck, mouth, perineum

  • But we find tremendous variability

  • Secondary Erogenous Zones

  • other areas touched within the context of sexual intimacy

  • Could be anywhere on the body

  • Established through classical conditioning?


  • Very important in our society

  • Emphasis on physical attractiveness, grooming, clothes and cosmetics

  • Are males more aroused by visual stimuli?

  • Kinsey’s survey said, “YES!”

  • But once women were presented with the:

  • 1) right stimuli,

  • 2) in the right settings, and

  • 3) measured the right way,

  • STRONG similarities between men and women were found

  • though women’s self-reports say no


  • Are genitals smells arousing or awful?

  • Depends largely on where you live and your acceptance or rejection of fragrance claims.


  • Odors secreted by the body which relate to reproduction

  • Common for mammals

  • The vomeronasal system relates to their use

  • Present in humans,

  • But is it functional?

What Works

  • Smells that arouse

  • Women – licorice, banana nut bread, cucumbers

  • Men – lavender, pumpkin pie, doughnuts

What Doesn’t

  • Women – barbecued meat, men’s cologne’s

  • Men – Nothing


  • Substances that supposedly increase sexual desire and capacity

Do They Deliver?

  • Many claims – little evidence

  • Alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine and marijuana reduce inhibitions but also sexual response

  • The power of suggestion seems key

Hope on the Horizon?

  • One substance, yohimbine hydrochloride (sap of the tropical evergreen) does increase desire and performance


  • Substances which inhibit sexual desire and performance

  • Many things “work”

  • Drugs such as opiates, tranquilizers, and antidepressants inhibit ejaculation and cause erectile problems in males and decrease orgasmic capacity for females

Other Anaphrodisiacs

  • Birth control pills decrease free testosterone levels

  • Nicotine both decreases vasocongestion and reduces testosterone levels

Sexual Response

Kaplan’s Three Stages

  • Desire – a prelude to physical sexual response, ignored by Masters and Johnson

  • Excitement

  • Organism

  • Masters and Johnson

  • Sexology Trailblazers

  • Direct Observation

Masters and Johnson’s Four Phases

  • Excitement

  • both men and women:

  • muscle tension, anatonia

  • increased heart rate/blood pressure

  • engorgement

  • sex flush

More Excitement

  • Women:

  • engorgement

  • lubrication

  • enlargement

  • Men:

  • erection

  • enlargement/elevation

Stage II - Plateau

  • The acceleration of processes begun in the excitement phase

  • Females

  • the orgasmic platform – the significantly engorged outer 1/3 of the vagina

  • Lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes

Phase III - Orgasm

  • Involuntary muscle spasms

  • Blood pressure, respirations, heart rate peaks

  • Males – emission then expulsion

  • Are the males’ and females’ experiences different ?

  • Descriptions are indistinguishable.

Are some Orgasms superior ?

  • Freud thought so, claiming that vaginal orgasms are more “mature” than clitoral

  • This view, influential for decades, has been abandoned

  • Masters and Johnson established that there is just one kind of female orgasm, though most arise from clitoral stimulation

Return to the “G” Spot

  • Once found, manual stimulation produces variable sensations

  • Intense pleasure and orgasm usually follows

  • Some women even experience ejaculation

  • But the source of the fluid is uncertain

Finally, Resolution

  • Process through which sexual systems return to a nonexcited state

  • While in most respects the sexes experience this process similarly, men go through a refractory period during which they cannot experience another orgasm

Aging and the Response Cycle

  • Function continues but intensity declines

  • Older women – longer for lubrication

  • Occasional decreases in desire, sensitivity, and capacity

  • Older men – longer for erection/orgasm

  • greater control

  • longer refractory period

Where the Sexes Differ

  • Despite surprising similarities, some distinctions remain

  • Variability

  • Women have three patterns within the sexual response cycle

  • Men just one

The Male Refractory Period

  • Why?

  • Evolution based ? Give another guy a chance ?

  • Dependent on midbrain- hypothalamus pathway ?

Multiple Orgasms

  • Women can have several, in succession

  • But just 14 to 16% ?

  • Masters and Johnson say most can have 5-6 !

  • Men can too ?!?

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