An appetite hormone released from the stomach has been shown to increase sexual drive in mice.
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg saw that mice that received a supplement of the ghrelin hormone scurried around to find a partner after heightened sexual stimulation.
The effect was confirmed in a follow-up experiment, where mice that received a ghrelin inhibitor displayed decreased sexual activity.
If the hormone has the same impact on humans, researchers believe that they may have found the key to future treatment of sexually abused victims.
Ghrelin stimulates appetite by activating the brain's reward system.
Since the brain's reward system motivates us to seek a partner and to have sex, the Sahlgrenska Academy researchers decided to investigate ghrelin for sexual influence.
"It is already known that ghrelin affects the reward mechanisms that are triggered by food, alcohol and other addictive drugs. Our study now shows for the first time that ghrelin also plays a role in natural reward mechanisms like sex," said Elisabet Jerlhag, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy.
The effects of the ghrelin are believed to be conveyed via dopamine, with the results showing that both ghrelin and dopamine regulate normal sexual behaviour in mice.
"However, this does not mean that ghrelin fills the same function in humans. Finding out requires significantly more research in the area. But ghrelin inhibitors may potentially be a key to future treatments for sex addiction and sex abuse," Jerlhag added.