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Brain Activation Patterns in Women with HSDD

Oct 02, 2013

When viewing sexually explicit images, women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) have different brain activation patterns than women without HSDD, recent research has shown.

HSDD refers to chronic low sexual desire that causes women personal distress. HSDD can have physical causes, such as menopause or diabetes. It can also have psychological roots, such as anxiety, stress, or past sexual abuse. HSDD is a frustrating condition for both women and their partners. Currently, there is no FDA-approved treatment for HSDD.

American researchers wanted to learn more about the brain activation patterns in women with HSDD. They thought that perhaps women with HSDD would have different patterns than those without the condition.

HSDD and Brain Activation Patterns - The Study

The scientists recruited 16 premenopausal women to participate in a study. Six had normal sexual function and ten had HSDD.

The women’s brain activity was assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). With this procedure, researchers can see blood flow changes in the brain. These changes signal brain areas that are being activated in response to a stimulus.

In this case, the stimulus was a group of film clips. Some clips depicted heterosexual intercourse and other types of sexual activity. Others were neutral and showed men and women behaving in nonsexual ways. In between each clip, a blue screen was shown for one minute. This allowed the women’s bodies to return to “baseline” – the normal, unaroused state.

HSDD and Brain Activation Patterns - Results

The researchers found that the brain activation patterns of the two groups of women were very different when they watched the sexually explicit clips.

For example, the women without HSDD had more activity in parts of the brain associated with encoding and retrieving memories (especially emotional ones about sexual events) and connecting sensory stimuli to memories.

The women with HSDD had more activity in areas linked to recognizing emotions and mental states, monitoring reactions to sexual stimuli, and using current knowledge to reflect on memories. More activity was also found in part of the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with fear and anxiety. However, the authors noted that more research is needed to better understand the amygdala and HSDD.

This information could be useful in developing treatments for HSDD.

"There are site-specific alterations in blood flow in the brains of individuals with hypoactive sexual disorders versus those with normal sexual function," said senior author Michael P. Diamond, MD of Georgia Regents University in a press release.

"This tells me there is a physiologic means of assessing hypoactive sexual desire and that as we move forward with therapeutics, whether it's counseling or medications, we can look to see whether changes occur in those regions," he added.

The study was published online in July in the journal Fertility and Sterility.


Fertility and Sterility

Woodard, Terri L., MD, et al.

“Brain activation patterns in women with acquired hypoactive sexual desire disorder and women with normal sexual function: a cross-sectional pilot study”

(Full-text. Article in press. Published online: July 3, 2013)


“Distinctive Brain Blood Flow Patterns Associated With Sexual Dysfunction”

(July 16, 2013)