How Does Our Brain Generate Sexual Pleasure?

External Resource

International Journal of Sexual Health


We present herein an exploratory essay on sexual pleasure, in support of the objective of developing an evidence base of knowledge for the WAS Declaration of Sexual Rights. We have attempted to account for the feeling of erotic sexual pleasure, in terms of what is known about neuronal function.

The brain regions that are activated during women’s orgasm, and their perceptual and physiological roles, are compared with brain regions related to chemically induced euphoria and craving. The brain regions that are activated at orgasm match those that are activated by both euphoria and craving. Based on these findings, we propose that erotic, sensual feeling is a simultaneous activation of euphoria plus craving.

The importance of sensory stimulation, proprioception, sensations, and feelings is emphasized by evidence that their disruption leads to pathologies. The process of buildup of excitation to a peak and then resolution is proposed as a basic “orgasmic” property of the nervous system shared by multiple systems, as in a sneeze, which we consider to be a non-genital orgasm. We postulate a process by which an excitation pattern feels pleasurable and – at higher intensity – euphoric, if it is congruent with an unconscious dynamic “template,” but aversive and at higher intensity painful, to the extent that it is incongruent with the template. Under this formulation, peak neuronal excitation that is congruent with the unconscious, simultaneously “getting what is craved,” generates orgasmic, erotic, sexual pleasure.

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