Annu Rev Sex Res. 2003;14:1-63.
In all species, sexual behavior is directed by a complex interplay between steroid hormone actions in the brain that give rise to sexual arousability and experience with sexual reward that gives rise to expectations of competent sexual activity, including sexual arousal, desire, and performance. Sexual experience allows animals to form instrumental and Pavlovian associations that predict sexual outcome and thereby directs the strength of sexual responding. Although the study of animal sexual behavior by neuroendocrinologists has traditionally been concerned with mechanisms of copulatory responding, more recent use of conditioning and preference paradigms, and a focus on environmental circumstances and experience, has revealed behaviors and processes that resemble human sexual responses. In this paper, we review behavioral paradigms used with rodents and other species that are analogous or homologous to human sexual arousal, desire, reward, and inhibition. The extent to which these behavioral paradigms offer predictive validity and practicality as preclinical tools and models is discussed. Identification of common neurochemical and neuroanatomical substrates of sexual responding between animals and humans suggests that the evolution of sexual behavior has been highly conserved and indicates that animal models of human sexual response can be used successfully as preclinical tools.