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The belief that men are more likely to get turned on by sexual images than women may be something of a fantasy, according to a study suggesting brains respond to such images the same way regardless of biological sex. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , Noori and his colleagues report how they came to their conclusions by analysing the results of 61 published studies involving adults of different biological sex and sexual orientation. The subjects were shown everyday images of people as well as erotic images while they lay inside a brain-scanning machine. Noori said all participants rated the sexual images as arousing before being scanned. Previously studies based on self-reporting have suggested men are more aroused by images than women, and it has been proposed that these differences could be down to the way the brain processes the stimuli — but studies have returned different results. Now, looking at the whole body of research, Noori and his colleagues say they have found little sign of functional differences. For both biological sexes, a change in activity was seen in the same brain regions including the amygdala, insula and striatum when sexual images were shown. However, activity was more widespread in the case of explicit pictures than video, and there were some small differences in the regions activated linked to sexual orientation. The team also analysed more than 30 published studies to explore whether there were differences between the biological sexes in the volume of grey matter in the insula and anterior cingulate — a previous study had suggested this may be linked to levels of sexual arousal. However, the vast majority of the studies considered did not find any difference in the volume of grey matter in such regions between the sexes.
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