12 Sexual Behavior

Behavioral Neuroscience

  1. Elaine M. Hull PhD1,
  2. Juan M. Dominguez PhD2

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop203012

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Hull, E. M. and Dominguez, J. M. 2012. Sexual Behavior. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 3:12.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Florida State University, Department of Psychology, Tallahassee, Florida, USA

  2. 2

    University of Texas, Department of Psychology, Austin, Texas, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


Sexual reproduction allows meiotic recombination to repair DNA, prunes out harmful mutations, decreases pathogens' ability to exploit a single genotypdomine, and promotes survival during environmental change and adaptation to various niches during environmental constancy. Methods of sex determination include genetic, temperature, and social factors; hormones are important mediators of those factors. Steroid hormones have primarily slow, genomically mediated effects, although they may also have rapid effects mediated by membrane receptors. Some female mammals ovulate spontaneously and have a spontaneous luteal phase, in which the uterus/fallopian tubes prepare for pregnancy; in others, the presence of a male or copulation induces ovulation or the luteal phase. Proceptive behaviors signal a female's sexual motivation and are controlled by the medial preoptic area (MPOA), ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH), medial amygdala, mesolimbic dopamine tract, and cerebellum. Receptivity is controlled by five modules: (1) the forebrain module is primarily inhibitory, although the vomeronasal system facilitates receptivity, (2) the hypothalamic module, especially the VMH, mediates slow hormonal effects, (3) the midbrain module converts slow hormonal effects into rapid behaviors, (4) the lower brainstem module performs postural corrections, and (5) the spinal cord module processes somatosensory input and generates motor output. Major areas controlling male sexual motivation include the mesolimbic dopamine system, the MPOA, the amygdala, and the bed nucleus of stria terminalis (BNST). Genital reflexes are controlled by the MPOA, paraventricular nucleus (PVN), and brain stem and spinal cord areas. Mating is integrated by the MPOA, amygdala, BNST, PVN, and mesolimbic and nigrostriatal tracts, which are also important for other social behaviors. Perinatal and adult hormones predispose the network to produce specific behaviors in the appropriate social context.


  • steroid hormones;
  • proceptivity;
  • receptivity;
  • genital reflexes;
  • medial preoptic area;
  • mesolimbic system;
  • paraventricular nucleus