The brains of men and women react to erotic images in the same way

At the neurobiological level, excitation does not differ between the sexes

Do men really think only of sex? Are they faster and easier to arouse than women? If you look at, you will not find any differences. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen analysed data from different studies worldwide on the spontaneous, uncontrollable reaction of our brain to erotic images. According to the researchers there are no gender differences at the neurobiological level.

Scientists from the Department of Physiology of Cognitive Processes and the Research Group for Neuronal Convergence analysed comparable data from 61 studies carried out in different laboratories and countries worldwide with a total of 1,850 subjects. Among the participants, there was a comparable distribution of gender and sexual orientation, as well as a range of different nationalities.

In the studies, participants looked at erotic images and movies, while the immediate brain response was measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). fMRI is a non-invasive method for measuring brain activity by detecting changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain. Active brain areas have a higher oxygen consumption, which makes them appear brighter on the images. The brighter, the more active the region.

The results of these studies show that there are no gender differences in brain responses to visual sexual stimuli. However, there were significant differences in activity patterns: depending on how the stimuli were presented, the responses were different. "Compared to films, viewing erotic images leads to a broader range of excitement in several brain areas at the same time," explains research group leader Hamid Noori. Does this mean that Playboy is better than porn?

The sexual orientation of the study participants also influenced the activity patterns: "Heterosexuals reacted more strongly to the visual stimuli than homosexual subjects," the neuroscientist explains the results. Men and women, on the other hand, respond equally to the stimuli regardless of their sexual orientation. On the neurobiological level, the excitation does not differ between the sexes.

These studies now fundamentally question the conventional view of sexual behaviour. Previous studies have shown differences in sexual arousal and desire between the sexes. However, the supposed gender difference in the neuronal processing of sexual stimuli could be due to many factors: These include, for example, hormonal differences, discrepancies in the subjective perception of arousal or sexual motivations or simply an insufficient number of subjects in the studies. Nevertheless, these results supported the widespread assumption that the male brain is more sex-oriented than the female brain.

And as for our behaviour, social influences such as parents, schools, friends, the state and legal systems have contributed to alienating women from their own sexual desires. Sex is still taboo in many cultures. The recognition that we behave in the same way when it comes to arousal can help to break down clichés and taboos. 

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