First of all, dopamine is produced in your brain to motivate you to have sex. Dopamine triggers the sexual desire in you, and is therefore key for your sex drive.
Shortly thereafter, dopamine also sends messages down your spinal cord and to your penis, instructing your penis to fill with blood. Hence, dopamine is also essential for you to get erections.
In other words, you need adequate dopamine in order to both have a libido and to get erections.
And with low dopamine production, you are likely to struggle with erectile dysfunction and a low libido.
Let’s explore dopamine further.
What Is Dopamine
Dopamine is a substance that will often catch people’s attention. Because it is often associated with our most sinful behaviors and secret cravings, like sex, drugs and chocolate.
Although this is true, dopamine is also a lot more than that.
For starters, dopamine is a signalling molecule that is sent by one nerve cell (or neuron) in the brain to another, in order to convey some message.
Because it transmits signals between nerve cells, it is called a neurotransmitter.
Your brain produces dopamine when you are exposed to ‘things’ that give you pleasure such as sex, drugs, food, sugars, etc.
Actually, this is not entirely correct.
Instead, dopamine is produced when you anticipate pleasure or reward.
For instance, let’s say you’re walking down the street hungry. You then smell freshly baked pizza from the pizza bakery.
Assuming you like pizza, you now start to imagine, or even anticipate, eating pizza. Your mouth starts to salivate and you get an intense desire for pizza.
What just happened? What happened was that your brain just produced lots of dopamine.
Your brain produced dopamine in the reward system of your brain. To motivate you to eat.
Why? Why would your brain motivate you to eat pizza?
Your genes, which are the software inside your DNA that instructs you on how to live your life, have two main objectives for you:
That you survive and that you reproduce.
Therefore, they instruct the reward system in your brain to motivate you to engage in activities that serve these two objectives.
Hence your genes want you to eat pizza. Because you need food to survive.
(They just haven’t yet figured out that greasy pizza may in fact reduce your life-expectancy. For your genes, food is food.)
And because your genes also want you to reproduce, they motivate you to have sex. And dopamine was selected to play a crucial part in this process.
When dopamine is produced in the brain, we feel good. We feel pleasure.
And these pleasurable sensations function as motivation. Motivation that make you seek those activities that increase the likelihood that you 1) survive, and 2) pass on your genes.
But this dopamine can sometimes be hard to handle.
Because it’s very potent!
The flush of dopamine in your brain provides you with one of the most pleasurable sensations you can experience naturally. It can therefore be an extremely strong driving force for your actions.
And this motivation can be so strong that it can even cause addiction.
In other words, you can be addicted to the flush of dopamine caused by sex, sugar, drugs, money, etc.
This is a problem caused by the modern world, where we have the opportunity to indulge in excesses that we didn’t have in the old days.
But that’s a different story..
When it comes to the experience of actually enjoying something, dopamine is still involved, but less so.
Because the experience of enjoying something, eating a good meal for instance, is also controlled by other agents called opioids.
Dopamine is also involved in certain sensations that are very different to the sensations of pleasure.
For instance, you also produce dopamine when you experiences fear and stress.
To make you more alert and able to deal with the situation at hand. And also to help you learn to avoid similar situations in the future.
Dopamine also plays a big role in regulating bodily movement.
In fact, the destruction of dopamine and the neurons that produce and receive dopamine, is what causes Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s Disease is an awful disease that often starts with shaking of hands, then causes stiffness of the body, and then causing difficulties with walking, moving and talking.
In addition, dopamine plays a role in the proper functioning of memory, attention, emotional response and problem solving.
Disorders such as social anxiety and schizophrenia, have also been associated with low dopamine.
Dopamine has also been found to be involved in pain processing, the control of nausea and vomiting, and several other bodily functions.
Let’s explore the links between dopamine, sex drive and erectile dysfunction.
How Does Dopamine Affect Libido And Erectile Functioning?
So we have already learned that dopamine is essential 1) for having a sex drive, and 2) for getting erections. Let’e explore how and why.
Let’s start with sex drive.
Remember that when you anticipate something pleasurable, dopamine is produced in your brain?
When you see a gorgeous woman (or man) walking down the street on a hot summer day, she will often get your attention.
You may stop your train of thought, you may even stop in the street, you may even start staring at her. As she passes you by, you may turn around to get another look.
What just happened?
When you saw her, dopamine was produced in your brain. Dopamine caused you to stop your train of thought and look twice.
Because dopamine told you to have sex with her. Now, hopefully you didn’t run up to her and try to impregnate her, but that is what dopamine wanted you to do. 😆
When you saw her, your brain figured that this might be a good opportunity to procreate. So it instructed dopamine to be produced. This then fired up the reward and pleasure centers of your brain. And this caused you to feel attraction to her.
So this is how dopamine starts up your libido (and hijacks your train of thought 😊). But there’s more..
Because shortly after dopamine has put the reward center of your brain on fire, dopamine also sets in motion the process that causes you to get an erection.
It then sends signals from your brain, down your spinal cord, and to the nerves in your penis. Here it instructs the enzyme nitric oxide synthase to produce the gas nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide then opens up the blood vessels in your penis so blood can flow into your penis.
And that is how the erection process is initiated.
Hence, dopamine is paramount both for your sex drive and for your ability to get erections.
And needless to say, if you produce inadequate amounts of dopamine, your sex drive is likely to be low, and you are likely to struggle with erectile dysfunction.
If you want to learn how to cure erectile dysfunction naturally, you can read this guide.
Let’s not forget about testosterone. Testosterone is your key sex hormone, and it is essential for any sexual processes to function. We can simplistically say that testosterone uses dopamine as its messenger to get tasks done.
Dopamine needs adequate amounts of testosterone in order to do its job. Therefore, if your testosterone is low, it doesn’t really matter if your dopamine levels are good.
Let’s have a quick look at findings from some research studies.
From research studies on drugs that relieve symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, there is evidence that dopamine enhances male sexual function.
Parkinson’s Disease is caused by a deficiency of dopamine. Studies have shown that when Parkinson’s Disease patients received medication that increased their dopamine levels, several of these patients noticed an increased sex drive and more frequent erections, as a side effect.
In addition, there is similar evidence from research studies on medication to treat schizophrenia.
Patients suffering from schizophrenia who were treated with medication that reduced dopamine, frequently reported side effects of decreased libido and erectile dysfunction.
Animal studies have also reported similar findings.
Research on animals have shown that administration of agents that increase dopamine, caused more animals to display increased sexual behaviour.
It also lead to restoring sexual behaviour in animals that earlier displayed sexual impairment, enhanced frequency of erections and sexual motivation, and also increased the number of copulatory sessions.
Dopamine deficiency can take on two distinct forms.
The first is a condition where your brain simply doesn’t produce adequate amounts of dopamine.
This can be caused by a number of factors, but depression is a common reason. Depression can disturb the balance of neurotransmitters in your brain, and hence can reduce dopamine production.
In fact any psychological issue (schizophrenia, angst, fear, etc.) can cause dopamine to fall.
Diabetes can do the same, because the excess glucose in your blood can occupy your dopamine receptors.
Over to the second form of ‘dopamine deficiency’.
This is a situation where there is enough dopamine in your brain, but you can’t access it.
Let me explain:
Dopamine deficiency can also occur if the dopamine receptors in your brain are unable to connect with the dopamine. So in other words, if there is something preventing this connection, dopamine cannot do its job.
Let’s say your dopamine receptors are numb, or exhausted, or even dead. If they don’t function well, then it doesn’t matter how much dopamine you have floating around your brain. Because you cannot use it.
This can happen if you over-expose yourself to some stimulation that causes excessive dopamine to be produced.
For instance, if you frequently watch pornography and masturbate, this is likely to happen.
Your brain was not designed to handle pornography. So when you expose yourself to porn and masturbate, your brain produces an incredible amount of dopamine. So much so that your dopamine receptors get overloaded. Then exhausted. Then numb. And in the end, if you continue, they can die.
At that point, it doesn’t matter how much dopamine you produce, because you can’t use it.
Therefore, there are two forms for ‘dopamine deficiency’: Not enough, and too much. 🤔
Abraham AD, Kim A. Neve, K. Matthew Lattal. Dopamine and extinction: A convergence of theory with fear and reward circuitry. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Volume 108, February 2014, Pages 65–77.
Bowers Jr MB, Van Woert M, Davis L. Sexual behavior during l-dopa treatment for Parkinsonism. Am J Psychiatry 1971;127:1691 – 3.
Bronner G, Vodušek DB. Management of sexual dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease. Ther Adv Neurol Disord. 2011 Nov; 4(6): 375–383.
Brown E, Brown GM, Kofman O, Quarrington B. Sexual function and affect in Parkinsonian men treated with l-dopa. Am J Psychiatry 1978;135:1552 – 5.
Dominguez JM, Hull EM. Stimulation of the medial amygdala enhances medial preoptic dopamine release: implications for male rat sexual behavior. Brain Research. 2001;917:225–229.
Dominguez JM, Hull EM. Dopamine, the Medial Preoptic Area, and Male Sexual Behavior. Physiol Behav. 2005 Oct 15;86(3):356-68.
Dominguez J, Riolo JV, Xu Z, Hull EM. Regulation by the medial amygdala of copulation and medial preoptic dopamine release. Journal of Neuroscience. 2001;21:349–355.
Fadok JP, Dickerson TMK, Palmiter RD. Dopamine Is Necessary for Cue-Dependent Fear Conditioning. The Journal of Neuroscience, 9 September 2009, 29(36): 11089-11097; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1616-09.2009.
Fadok JP. Assessing the role of dopamine in fear conditioning using genetic mouse models. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, Vol 71(12-B), 2011. pp. 7267.
Fellous JM, Suri RE. The Roles of Dopamine. The Handbook of Brain Theory and Neural Networks, Second edition, (M.A. Arbib, Ed.)
Giuliano F, Allard J. Dopamine and male sexual function. Eur Urol. 2001 Dec;40(6):601-8.
Hull EM, Bitran D, Pehek EA, Warner RK, Band LC, Holmes GM. Dopaminergic Control of Male Sex Behavior in Rats: Effects of an Intracerebrally-Infused Agonist. Brain Res. 1986 Apr 2;370(1):73-81. doi: 10.1016/0006-8993(86)91106-6.
Mones RJ, Elizan TS, Siegel GJ. Evaluation of l-dopa therapy in Parkinson’s Disease. N Y State J Med 1970;70:2309 – 18.
Oei NY, Rombouts SA, Soeter RP, van Gerven JM, Both S. Dopamine modulates reward system activity during subconscious processing of sexual stimuli. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Jun;37(7):1729-37. DOI: 10.1038/npp.2012.19.
Park BY, Wilson G, Berger J, Christman M, Reina B, Bishop F, Klam WP, Doan AP. Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behav Sci (Basel). 2016 Aug 5;6(3). pii: E17. DOI: 10.3390/bs6030017.
Pfaus JG. Dopamine: helping males copulate for at least 200 million years. Behav Neurosci. 2010 Dec;124(6):877-80; discussion 881-3. DOI: 10.1037/a0021823.
Pfaus JG, Damsma G, Nomikos GG, Wenkstern DG, Blaha CD, Phillips AG, Fibiger HC. Sexual behavior enhances central dopamine transmission in the male rat. Brain Research. 1990;530:345–348.
Putnam SK, Du J, Sato S, Hull EM. Testosterone restoration of copulatory behavior correlates with medial preoptic dopamine release in castrated male rats. Hormones & Behavior. 2001;39:216–224.
Schultz W. Multiple dopamine functions at different time courses. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2007;30:259-88.
Shapiro SK. Hypersexual behavior complicating levodopa (I-dopa) therapy. Minn Med 1973;56:58 – 9.
Simonsen U, Comerma-Steffensen S, Andersson KE. Modulation of Dopaminergic Pathways to Treat Erectile Dysfunction. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2016 Oct;119 Suppl 3:63-74. doi: 10.1111/bcpt.12653.
Sniewski L, Farvid P, Carter P. The assessment and treatment of adult heterosexual men with self-perceived problematic pornography use: A review. Addict Behav. 2018 Feb;77:217-224. DOI: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.10.010. Epub 2017 Oct 16.
Zhang XR, Zhang ZJ, Zhu RX, Yuan YG, Jenkins TA, Reynolds GP. Sexual Dysfunction in Male Schizophrenia: Influence of Antipsychotic Drugs, Prolactin and Polymorphisms of the Dopamine D2 Receptor Genes. Pharmacogenomics. 2011 Aug;12(8):1127-36. doi: 10.2217/pgs.11.46. Epub 2011 Jul 12.