A concept of generalized arousal of the CNS is presented and given an operational definition that leads to quantitative physical measures. Because this primitive arousal function underlies all motivated behavioral responses, cognitive functions, and emotional expression, disorders of generalized arousal can be associated with a large number of problems in medicine and public health, including vegetative states, attentional disorders, depression, occupational hazards, and problems with sleep and anesthesia. Some of its known mechanisms are briefly reviewed, at the levels of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and functional genomics. Generalized arousal contributes to the excitement and the activation of behaviors during specific arousal states. Data are summarized for four genomic/neurochemical systems through which changes in generalized arousal could affect sexual arousal, two of which heighten, and the other two of which reduce arousal.