What Is the Trigger for Sexual Climax?

Kevin E. McKenna*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


A model is proposed to consider sexual climax in men, women, and animals as a unitary phenomenon. Sexual climax is a stereotyped rhythmic pattern of spinally generated neural activity in the autonomic and somatic nerves innervating pelvic organs. A column of neurons in the spinal cord of the male rat is strongly activated by ejaculation (sexual climax in the male). These neurons project to the thalamus and are therefore called lumbar spinothalamic cells (LSt cells). Comprehensive studies have demonstrated that the LSt cells constitute a central pattern generator of ejaculation. These findings have been extended to female animals. Further studies identified LSt cells in the lumbar spinal cord of men and women. Strong evidence indicates that the LSt cells mediate ejaculation in men. The climax model generalizes and extends these studies. It postulates that LSt cells in the lumbar spinal cord of humans and animals of both sexes generate climax. The LSt cells generate the neural activity driving the pelvic contractions and other responses of climax. The activity is transmitted to supraspinal sites to activate orgasm. The LSt cells receive excitatory and inhibitory projections from supraspinal sites. The descending projections reflect subjective arousal and inhibitions. Spinal sensory neurons from the genitals provide excitatory and inhibitory innervation to the LSt cells. These represent pleasurable and noxious sensations. The supraspinal and spinal excitatory and inhibitory inputs are integrated by the LSt. When the sum of the excitatory inputs, minus the sum of the inhibitory inputs reaches a threshold, the LSt cells generate sexual climax.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-390
Number of pages8
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Central pattern generator
  • Ejaculation
  • Orgasm
  • Sexual climax
  • Spinal cord physiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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