DOI: 10.1093/sxmrev/qead048 ISSN: 2050-0513

Affective neuroscience: applications for sexual medicine research and clinical practice

Colleen Mills-Finnerty, Halee Staggs, Celeste Bittoni, Nan Wise
  • Urology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Psychiatry and Mental health



Affective neuroscience is the study of the brain substrates of emotional, embodied experiences. Affective neuroscience theory (ANT) is based on experimental evidence that all mammals are hardwired with 7 primary subcortical emotional operating systems, or “core emotions,” that have overlapping but distinct circuits buried in the deep, ancient parts of the brain. Imbalances in the 7 core emotions can affect multiple aspects of the individual’s psychosocial well-being (eg, depression, anxiety, substance abuse). Here, we propose that core emotions can also influence sexual function and, specifically, that imbalances in core emotions are the bridge connecting psychiatric symptoms (eg, anhedonia) to sexual dysfunction (eg, anorgasmia).


In this targeted review and commentary, we outline potential connections between ANT and sexual medicine research and clinical practice. We summarize ANT by defining the 3-level BrainMind and core emotions; examining how they relate to personality, behavior, and mental health; and determining the implications for sexual health research and clinical practice.


A targeted literature review was conducted. Case studies were adapted from client files and clinician interviews and then anonymized.


We propose a novel organizational schema for implementing affective balance therapies for sexual dysfunction, which integrate psychoeducational, somatic, and cognitive therapeutic approaches under the ANT framework. We provide 3 patient case studies (anorgasmia, hypersexuality, spinal cord injury) outlining the implementation of this approach and patient outcomes.


ANT has practical translational applications in sexual health research and clinical practice. By integrating our understanding of the role of core emotions in human sexuality, clinicians can better tailor treatments to address sexual dysfunction.

More from our Archive