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Science clears up the macho cliché

Sexual excitability is not a question of gender


Tübingen, Germany. 15 July 2019. Men think only of sex. Is that so? Are they really faster and easier to arouse, while women are considered more reasonable and rational? If you look at the spontaneous, uncontrollable reaction of our brain to erotic images, you won't find any gender differences. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen analysed data from different studies worldwide and found that there are no differences at the neurobiological level.

Scientists from the Department of Physiology of Cognitive Processes and the Research Group for Neuronal Convergence analysed comparable data from 61 studies carried out in different laboratories and countries worldwide with a total of 1,850 subjects. Among the participants, there was a comparable distribution of gender and sexual orientation, as well as a range of different nationalities.

In the studies, participants looked at erotic images and movies, while the immediate brain response was measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). fMRI is a non-invasive method for measuring brain activity by detecting changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain. Active brain areas have a higher oxygen consumption, which makes them appear brighter on the images. The brighter, the more active the region.

The results of these studies show that there are no gender differences in brain responses to visual sexual stimuli. However, there were significant differences in activity patterns: depending on how the stimuli were presented, the responses were different. "Compared to films, viewing erotic images leads to a broader range of excitement in several brain areas at the same time," explains research group leader Hamid Noori. Does this mean that Playboy is better than porn?

The sexual orientation of the study participants also influenced the activity patterns: "Heterosexuals reacted more strongly to the visual stimuli than homosexual subjects," the neuroscientist explains the results. Men and women, on the other hand, respond equally to the stimuli regardless of their sexual orientation. On the neurobiological level, the excitation does not differ between the sexes.

These studies now fundamentally question the conventional view of sexual behaviour. Previous studies have shown differences in sexual arousal and desire between the sexes. However, the supposed gender difference in the neuronal processing of sexual stimuli could be due to many factors: These include, for example, hormonal differences, discrepancies in the subjective perception of arousal or sexual motivations or simply an insufficient number of subjects in the studies. Nevertheless, these results supported the widespread assumption that the male brain is more sex-oriented than the female brain.

And as for our behaviour, social influences such as parents, schools, friends, the state and legal systems have contributed to alienating women from their own sexual desires. Sex is still taboo in many cultures. The recognition that we behave in the same way when it comes to arousal can help to break down clichés and taboos.


Original Publication
Mitricheva E, Kimura R, Logothetis NK, Noori HR. Neural substrates of sexual arousal are not sex-dependent. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 2019.


Scientific Contact:
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Dr. Hamid R. Noori
Phone: +49 (7071) 601-1710
E-mail: hamid.noori(at)tuebingen.mpg.de

Press Contact:
Dr. Daniel Fleiter (Head of Communication)
Phone: +49 (7071) 601-777
E-mail: presse-kyb(at)tuebingen.mpg.de

Stephanie Bertenbreiter (Press officer)
Phone: +49 (7071) 601-222
E-mail: presse-kyb(at)tuebingen.mpg.de


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Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics
The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics is one of 84 research institutions of the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (MPG). The aim of the Institute is to understand information processing in the brains of humans and animals. We use experimental, theoretical and computational methods to elucidate the characteristics and implementations of the cascades of plastic and recurrent interactions that transform sensory data into perceptions, memories, appropriate choices of actions, and motor output. (www.kyb.mpg.de)


The brain does not discriminate - Tübinger Neuroscientists found: Brain activity associated with sexual arousal is equal in men and women. Image courtesy of Marc Arthofer, design hoch drei GmbH

The brain does not discriminate - Tübinger Neuroscientists found: Brain activity associated with sexual arousal is equal in men and women. Image courtesy of Marc Arthofer, design hoch drei GmbH