Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Sexual Arousal

A growing literature suggests a prosexual role of dopamine (DA) and norepinephrine (NE) in female sexuality. Disruptions in these systems could feasibly lead to impaired sexual function in women. Given dopamine’s well established role in the anticipation of reward, one would expect disruptions in central DA systems to most likely impact desire mechanisms. Women with clinically low levels of sexual desire may simply find sexual activity, or the anticipation of sexual activity, less rewarding and this may, in part, be linked to a blunted DA response in sexual situations. To begin testing this hypothesis, we examined whether DA and NE changes with sexual stimuli differ between women with and without desire dysfunction. We assayed blood levels of NE and homovanillic acid (HVA; the major metabolite of DA) taken during exposure to nonsexual and sexual films, while recording subjective and physiological sexual arousal responses (Meston & McCall, 2005). HVA levels significantly decreased during the erotic versus neutral film in both sexually functional and dysfunctional women. Sexually dysfunctional women had significantly higher levels of NE during both the neutral and erotic films compared with functional women.

Recommended paper: 

Meston, C. M., & McCall, K. M. (2005). Dopamine and norepinephrine responses to film-induced sexual arousal in sexually functional and sexually dysfunctional women. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 31(4), 303-317. (PDF 1.5 MB)