Dopamine (DA) is responsive to hormonal manipulations and has been implicated in the regulation of female rat sexual behavior. In the present studies, extracellular DA levels were assessed in the medial preoptic area (MPOA) of ovariectomized female rats in response to exogenous ovarian hormones and during sexual activity. In female rats primed with a low dose of estradiol benzoate (2 microg), but not with a higher dose (20 microg), a 500-microg progesterone injection increased extracellular DA and facilitated copulatory behavior. Extracellular DA levels in the MPOA were further augmented during sexual interactions with a male rat in a nonpacing copulatory chamber by either perineal or vaginal stimulation. However, in a pacing chamber, DA efflux did not increase, although the metabolites rose significantly during copulation. Together, these findings suggest that extracellular DA in the MPOA responds to the hormonal state of the female rat and may contribute to her expression of sexual behavior.