[en] Sexual motivation, sexual partner preference, and sexual performance represent three different aspects of sexual behavior that are critical in determining the reproductive success of a species. Although the display of sexual behavior is under strict hormonal control in both sexes, the relative roles of androgen and estrogen receptors in activating the various components of male sexual behavior are still largely unknown. A recently developed mouse model that is deficient in estradiol due to targeted disruption of exons 1 and 2 of the Cyp19 gene (aromatase knockout (ArKO) mice) was used here to analyze the role of estradiol in the control of all three aspects of male sexual behavior. When tested in a Y-maze providing volatile olfactory cues, male ArKO mice did not show a preference for the odors from an estrous female over those from an intact male, whereas wildtype (WT) and heterozygous (HET) males clearly preferred to sniff estrous odors. When provided with visual and olfactory cues, male ArKO mice also failed to show a preference for an estrous female when given a choice between an estrous female and an empty arm. However, sexual partner preferences of male ArKO mice were not sex-reversed: they did not prefer to investigate an intact male over an estrous female or empty arm. Thus, male ArKO mice seemed to have general deficits in discriminating between conspecifics by using olfactory and visual cues. Male coital behavior was also severely impaired in male ArKO mice: they displayed significantly fewer mounts, intromissions, and ejaculations than WT and HET males. Latencies to first mount or intromission were also significantly longer in ArKO males compared to WT and HET males, in addition to them showing less interest in investigating olfactory and visual cues in a Y-maze, suggesting that they were sexually less motivated. However, three out of seven male ArKO mice were capable of siring litters provided they were housed with a female for a prolonged period of time. In conclusion, aromatization of testosterone to estradiol appears to be essential for sexual motivation and sexual partner preference. By contrast, estradiol may play only a limited role in the expression of male coital behaviors. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).