Physiology of female sexual function: Animal models

Annamaria Giraldi, Lesley Marson, Rossella Nappi, James Pfaus, Abdulmaged M. Traish, Yoram Vardi, Irwin Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction. Data concerning the physiology of desire, arousal, and orgasm in women are limited because of ethical constraints. Aim. To gain knowledge of physiology of female sexual function through animal models. Methods. To provide state-of-the-art knowledge concernin g female sexual function in animal models, representing the opinions of seven experts from five countries developed in a consensus process over a 2-year period. Main outcome measure. Expert opinion was based on the grading of evidence-based medical literature, widespread internal committee discussion, public presentation, and debate. Results. Sexual desire may be considered as the presence of desire for, and fantasy about, sexual activity. Desire in animals can be inferred from certain appetitive behaviors that occur during copulation and from certain unconditioned copulatory measures. Proceptive behaviors are dependent in part on estrogen, progesterone, and drugs that bind to D1 dopamine receptors, adrenergic receptors, oxytocin receptors, opioid receptors, or gamma-amino butyric acid receptors. Peripheral arousal states are dependent on regulation of genital smooth muscle tone. Multiple neurotransmitters/mediators are involved including adrenergic, and nonadrenergic, noncholinergic agents such as vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, nitric oxide, neuropeptide Y, calcitonin gene-related peptide, and substance P. Sex steroid hormones, estrogens and androgens, are critical for structure and function of genital tissues including modulation of genital blood flow, lubrication, neurotransmitter function, smooth muscle contractility, mucification, and sex steroid receptor expression in genital tissues. Orgasm may be investigated by urethrogenital (UG) reflex, in which genital stimulation results in rhythmic contractions of striated perineal muscles and contractions of vagina, anus, and uterine smooth muscle. The UG reflex is generated by a multisegmental spinal pattern generator involving the coordination of sympathetic, parasympathetic, and somatic efferents innervating the genital organs. Serotonin and dopamine may modulate UG reflex activity. Conclusions. More research is needed in animal models in the physiology of female sexual function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-253
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Sexual Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Physiology of arousal
  • Physiology of desire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urology
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology


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