08/23/2017

Sexy stimulation, Nipples ‘Light Up’ Brain Like Genitals

By Live Dr - Thu Aug 04, 1:49 pm

A new study, published July 28 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, maps the spots in the brain that activate when the genitals are touched. CREDIT: Wiley Publishing/Barry Komisaruk

Researchers at Rutgers University have mapped the brain areas in women that respond to stimulation of the genitals. The top of the image shows how the clitoris, cervix and vagina send nerve impulses to the same area in the medial paracentral lobule of the brain. This spot sits at the top of the head in the crevice between the two halves of the brain. Although the nipples are nowhere near the genitals, touching them lights up the same part of the brain as touching the genitals. That might be why many women find nipple stimulation erotic, researchers reported July 28 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. CREDIT: Wiley Publishing/Barry Komisaruk

Researchers at Rutgers University have mapped the brain areas in women that respond to stimulation of the genitals. The top of the image shows how the clitoris, cervix and vagina send nerve impulses to the same area in the medial paracentral lobule of the brain. This spot sits at the top of the head in the crevice between the two halves of the brain. Although the nipples are nowhere near the genitals, touching them lights up the same part of the brain as touching the genitals. That might be why many women find nipple stimulation erotic, researchers reported July 28 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. CREDIT: Wiley Publishing/Barry Komisaruk

For many women, nipples are erogenous zones. A new study may explain why: The sensation from the nipples travels to the same part of the brain as sensations from the vagina, clitoris and cervix.

The study, published online July 28 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, is the first to map the female genitals onto the sensory portion of the brain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers noted which brain areas become active when women touch various parts of their bodies. The genital-sensing brain areas in women roughly correspond to the same areas in men, but the nipple finding was a surprise, said study researcher Barry Komisaruk, a psychologist at Rutgers University.

“My speculation is that this could be the basis for many women saying that nipple stimulation is erotogenic, because it stimulates the same area as the genitals,” Komisaruk told LiveScience.

Sexy stimulation

Four major nerves bring signals from women’s genitals to their brains, Komisaruk said. The pudendal nerve connects the clitoris, the pelvic nerve carries signals from the vagina, the hypogastric nerve connects with the cervix and uterus, and the vagus nerve travels from the cervix and uterus without passing through the spinal cord (making it possible for some women to achieve orgasm even though they  have had complete spinal cord injuries).

Experimenters had mapped the male genital senses onto an area of the brain called the medial paracentral lobule, which sits in the crevice between the two brain hemispheres. (If you imagine wearing earmuffs, the medial paracentral lobule would be on the top of your head, right under the band of the earmuffs.) What was missing, Komisaruk said, was a study tracing those four nerves to where in the brain they send their signals. [Read Inside the Brain: A Journey Through Time]

For their study the researchers recruited 11 healthy, non-pregnant women ages 23 to 56. While inside the brain scanner, each woman stimulated her clitoris, vagina, cervix and nipple by tapping rhythmically with a finger or, in the case of the vagina and cervix, using a plastic dildo.

Nipple mystery

The resulting brain images showed a nexus of activation in the medial paracentral lobule, just as in men. Each area of the genitals showed up in its own spot within this brain region, Komisaruk said. [See the brain images ]

“Even though they’re all clustered there like a cluster of grapes, the response to each [genital area] is different,” he said. “They overlap, but they’re separable.”

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