Somatic genital reflexes such as ejaculation and vaginocervical contractions are produced through the striated muscles associated with the genitalia. The coordination of these reflexes is surprisingly complex and involves a number of lumbosacral spinal and supraspinal systems. The rat model has proved to be an excellent source of information regarding these mechanisms, and many parallels to research in humans can be drawn. An understanding of the spinal systems involving the lumbosacral spinal cord, both efferent and afferent, has been generated through decades of research. Spinal and supraspinal mechanisms of descending excitation, through a spinal ejaculation generator in the lumbar spinal cord and thalamus, and descending inhibition, through the ventrolateral medulla, have been identified and characterized both anatomically and physiologically. In addition, delineation of the neural circuits whereby ascending genitosensory information regarding the regulation of somatic genital reflexes is relayed supraspinally has also been the topic of recent investigation. Lastly, the importance of the “social neuropeptides” oxytocin and vasopressin in the regulation of somatic genital reflexes, and associated sociosexual behaviors, is emerging. This work not only has implications for understanding how nervous systems generate sexual behavior, but also provides treatment targets for sexual dysfunction in people.
Normandin, J. J., Murphy, A. Z. Somatic genital reflexes in rats with a nod to humans: Anatomy, physiology, and the role of the social neuropeptides. Hormones and Behavior, 59(5), 656–665. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.02.006