Neural activation in the orbitofrontal cortex in response to male faces increases during the follicular phase

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Abstract

Women's sexual interest changes with hormonal fluctuations across the menstrual cycle. It is unclear how hormones modify women's sexual behavior and desire, but one possibility is that they alter women's positive appraisals of stimuli and thus their sexual interest. Using 3 T fMRI, we measured neural activation in women at two time points in their menstrual cycle (late follicular, luteal) while they evaluated photos of men presented as potential sexual partners. Participants were ten heterosexual women aged 23-28 none of who was using hormonal contraceptives or in a committed relationship. In an event-related design, the women were presented with as series of photos of male faces and asked questions to assess their degree of sexual interest in the men depicted. Results demonstrate an overall effect of menstrual cycle phase on neural activation. During their follicular versus luteal phase, women demonstrated increased activation in the right medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), suggesting increased positive appraisal. Activation in the OFC was positively correlated with women's estradiol to progesterone ratios. There were no areas that demonstrated increased activation during the luteal versus follicular phase. The observed increase in activation in the OFC during the follicular phase may reflect a hormonally mediated increase in appetitive motivation and may prime women towards increased sexual interest and behavior around ovulation.

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