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Sexual differentiation of the nervous system occurs via the interplay of genetics, endocrinology and social experience through development. Much of the research into mechanisms of sexual differentiation has been driven by an implicit theoretical framework in which these causal factors act primarily and directly on sexually dimorphic neural populations within the central nervous system. This review will examine an alternative explanation by describing what is known about the role of peripheral structures and mechanisms (both neural and non-neural) in producing sex differences in the central nervous system. The focus of the review will be on experimental evidence obtained from studies of androgenic masculinization of the spinal nucleus of the bulbocavernosus, but other systems will also be considered.