Sensory-Tactile Functional Mapping and Use-Associated Structural Variation of the Human Female Genital Representation Field

The precise location of the human female genital representation field in the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) is controversial and its capacity for use-associated structural variation as a function of sexual behavior remains unknown. We used an fMRI-compatible sensory-tactile stimulation paradigm to functionally map the location of the female genital representation field in 20 adult women. Neural response to tactile stimulation of the clitoral region (versus right hand) identified individually-diverse focal bilateral activations in dorsolateral areas of S1 (BA1-BA3) in alignment with anatomical location.

We next used cortical surface analyses to assess structural thickness across the 10 individually most activated vertices per hemisphere for each woman. We show that frequency of sexual intercourse within 12 months is correlated with structural thickness of the individually-mapped left genital field. Our results provide a precise functional localization of the female genital field and provide support for use-associated structural variation of the human genital cortex.

SIGNIFCANCE

We provide a precise location of the human female genital field in the somatosensory cortex and, for the first time, provide evidence in support of structural variation of the human genital field in association with frequency of genital contact. Our study represents a significant methodological advance by individually mapping genital fields for structural analyses. On a secondary level, our results suggest that any study investigating changes in the human genital field must map the field individually to achieve sufficient precision. Our results pave the way for future research into the plasticity of the human genital cortex as a function of normal or adverse experience as well as changes in pathological conditions, i.e. sexual dysfunction, sexual deviation or sexual risk-taking behavior.

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