Sexually Aroused Women Show More Brain Activity Than Men, Study Shows

The study results will have to be replicated before any conclusions are drawn. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

We know that men and women think about sex differently and now for the first time we can physically see these differences as they happen. Brain imaging captured in a new study shows that women display more brain activity when aroused than men.

The research, published this month in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, measured genital arousal and brain activity in order to get a better idea of what goes on in the brain when men and women are sexually turned on. The small study consisted of 40 volunteers, 20 women and 20 men. Volunteers had their genital temperatures measured while they watched either an erotic or humorous video clip in order to get an idea of when arousal occurred. The volunteers also had their brain activity measured with an fMRI while they watched the video clips. In addition, volunteers pressed a button to indicate an increase in sexual arousal, IFL Science reported.

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The researchers were specifically looking for brain activity as indicated by blood oxygen level dependent response (BOLD). This technique of brain imaging displays oxygen levels in blood at different levels of neural activity. It was originally used to help investigate pain, a 2016 study on the technique reported, but has since been applied in a wide array of brain research.

Results revealed that although BOLD activity in several brain regions was associated with genital temperature in men and women, brain activity during arousal was greater in women. The study concluded that there were no brain regions in men with stronger brain-genital correlations than in women, and overall, women showed stronger brain-genital associations.

It's not really clear what was going on in the volunteers' minds as they were aroused, but the researchers have a few ideas of what could account for the discrepancies between men and women.

"Perhaps women's rating of their sexual arousal responses might be more influenced by the visual features of erotic stimuli than their peripheral physiologic responses," the study authors wrote.

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Lead study author Mayte Parada from the Laboratory of Biopsychosocial Study of Sexuality, told Newsweek that these results do not nessesarily mean that women think about sex more than men.

"What our findings show are potential processes that are more strongly related to genital arousal in women compared to men," Parada told Newsweek. She explained that, according to the specific regions that showed increased activity during arousal in women, she can hypothesize about which aspects of arousing stimuli are potentially more important in women. However, more research is needed.

"Work such as ours can help us to understand differences in the arousal response in women and men, which can hopefully help us clinically when dealing with sexual dysfunction in men and women," Parada added.

The study was very small and will have to be replicated before any conclusions are drawn on how men and women process arousal. For now, the findings raise intriguing clues about how men and women differ when it comes to sex.