Who, What, Where, When (and Maybe Even Why)? How the Experience of Sexual Reward Connects Sexual Desire, Preference, and Performance
James G Pfaus et al.; 2012
Although sexual behavior is controlled by hormonal and neurochemical actions in the brain , sexual experience induces a degree of plasticity that allows animals to form instrumental and Pavlovian associations that predict sexual outcomes, thereby directing the strength of sexual responding. This review describes how experience with sexual reward strengthens the development of sexual behavior and induces sexually-conditioned place and partner preferences in rats. In both male and female rats, early sexual experience with partners scented with a neutral or even noxious odor induces a preference for scented partners in subsequent choice tests. Those preferences can also be induced by injections of morphine or oxytocin paired with a male rat’s ﬁrst exposure to scented females, indicating that pharmacological activation of opioid or oxytocin receptors can‘‘stand in’’for the sexual reward-related neurochemical processes normally activated by sexual stimulation. Conversely, conditioned place or partner preferences can be blocked by the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone. A somatosensory cue (a rodent jacket) paired with sexual reward comes to elicit sexual arousal in male rats, such that paired rats with the jacket off show dramatic copulatory deﬁcits. We propose that endogenous opioid activation forms the basis of sexual reward, which also sensitizes hypothalamic and mesolimbic dopamine systems in the presence of cues that predict sexual reward. Those systems act to focus attention on ,and activate goal directed behavior toward, reward-related stimuli. Thus, a critical period exists during an individual’s early sexual experience that creates a‘‘love map’’or Gestalt of features, movements, feelings, and interpersonal interactions associated with sexual reward.
"It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a critical period of sexual behavior development that forms around an individual’s ﬁrst experiences with sexual arousal and desire, masturbation, orgasm, and sexual intercourse itself. During this period, the sensory and motor mechanics of the behavior become integrated and crystallized along with the development of preferences for ideal activities and physical features of a partner."