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How the Nervous System Works During Sexual Intercourse ?
The many physiological, behavioral
and psychological reactions which accompany the sexual intercourse are
mediated by a complex mechanism, involving:
autonomic and somatic nervous systems;
peripheral circulatory system at the level of the genitalia;
spinal cord and peripheral nerves of the lower abdomen;
central nervous system;
endocrine system (sexual hormones).
All these systems interact among themselves in a complex fashion.
Nervous System During Sexual Intercourse
These reactions occur independently of the higher portions of the nervous systems, since they can be provoked, for instance, in tetraplegic individuals who had their spinal cords sectioned by accident at higher levels. In fact, erection and ejaculation can be achieved in such patients, with the result that many are able to have children after their accident.
The hypothalamus excite the hypophysis, which release hormone into the blood that is circulating through the body. This hormone is picked up by the ovary and testis, which is thereby stimulated to release a gonadal hormone into blood stream. The hormones, such as oxytocin, FSH and LH will act peripherically to modulate and render the local circuits at the sexual organs more sensitive to the nervous stimuli.
At the same time, the sensorial impulses streaming out of the genitalia, in response to touch and to the local responses (i.e., erection of the penis), travel up the spinal cord to the brain, to the sensory cortex and to the limbic system (the emotional brain) where they elicit conscious perception and pleasurable (emotional) reactions.
Integration of the Levels
Although the interplay between the local, spinal and central levels is essential to the development of the normal sexual response both in man and women, in humans the brain (central) mechanisms are more important than in other animals. For instance, sexual excitation can be aroused by virtue of central mechanisms alone. By hearing, seeing or even smelling, so-called erotic stimuli, which are mostly learned and of cultural origin, may evoke sexual excitation through the sensory systems, limbic system, hypothalamus and autonomous nervous system.
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Autor: Silvia Helena Cardoso and
Renato M.E. Sabbatini, PhD