This is your brain. This is your brain on sex.

Something like that.
Scientific American’s Mind has an article this month giving a neural tour of the brain’s sexual response. The article supports Michael Bailey’s contention that women are more flexible in their erotic responding than men, who are more channeled into either same or opposite sex responding.
Here are the bullet points for the Mind article:

-Sexual desire and orgasm are subject to various influences on the brain and nervous system, which controls the sex glands and genitals.
-The ingredients of desire may differ for men and women, but researchers have revealed some surprising similarities. For example, visual stimuli spur sexual stirrings in women, as they do in men.
-Achieving orgasm, brain imaging studies show, involves more than heightened arousal. It requires a release of inhibitions engineered by shutdown of the brain’s center of vigilance in both sexes and a widespread neural power failure in females.

Makes for interesting weekend reading…

40 thoughts on “This is your brain. This is your brain on sex.”

  1. Al,
    Please try to let go of the bitterness. Not for their sake, but for yours.
    That’s easy for me to say, of course. And I’m not going to play games of competitive victimology, of how gays have it easy compared to trans, who have it easy compared to intersex, yada yada.
    You’ve been hurt. You’ve been treated unjustly. You’ve been put through HELL by know-nothing, ignorant, hypocritical bastards. You didn’t deserve that, it’s not just unfair and unjust, it’s monstrous, it should never have happened. I’m not going to mutter stupid, uncaring and downright cruel platitudes about “Deal with it”. That’s all rubbish.
    I do ask you to let go of your bitterness though, because of the damage it’s continuing to cause you. It was their wounds that caused it, it is they who are guilty, but you can do something to help heal yourself.
    It’s doing you no good, and that is what they want. Well, show them how futile their evil bastardry is. Let the anger go. Be better than they are, they’ll hate that. Do that just to spite them at first, and soon you’ll find you’re healing yourself. After that, you’ll let the anger go out of habit. And after that, you’ll start to feel some compassion for them, for no matter how bad things are for you, being locked up inside their heads would be worse.
    Then you realise they’re human too, they have their own insecurities and hurts. It will be because you have been reviled and scorned, beaten and bruised, that you have the strength to love. To be compassionate. Maybe you can help them to be too.
    By all means defend yourself, and do what you can to stop them from hurting others. But as you do so, you will remember their humanity, like yours.
    I don’t regard myself as Christian. But that part of His message is spot on.

  2. i think you’ll find that “feminine acting” gay men are that way because of abandonment and rejection by father and/or society….i struggled with that at various
    times in my life – and it totally went away when i saw a therapist that seemed to be
    supportive…i began to trust straight people again for a while and would defend myself
    against anyone for about 6 months or so, and began to dream big dreams for
    myself and a world that could be…..then i had another horrific and humilitiating
    experience at hands of straight people again, people that i had trusted – people i had believed were decent and kind, and all the old problems returned….
    hate and resentment, feminine acting, etc… i return to the abusive family of origin and they get away with whatever they want and everyone turns a blind eye to the abuse, just like in childhood – hmmm, we get to treat him like shit because, well because we’ve always treated him like shit……also, dont know if this is some kind psych blog or something, but i have found 9/10 of them to be about worthless scumbags-and the more money they charged the more worhtless they were….
    the problems that gay people have are because of this society….
    if you’re not gay, you dont have a clue – in grade school, children who had been your friends for 5-6 years turn their back on you, your family turns back on you and blames you and the abuse starts all over again….you have nothing left in the world, NOTHING, NO ONE TO TURN TO, NOT EVEN THE GOD DAMN CHURCH….
    people dont have to respect others that they dont fear, and right now gays are about at the stage that blacks were in the “yes boss” minstrel era….kick em in the teeth and they still say thanks master….straight will never get it, the pompous asses
    want to vote on whether or not gays are “allowed” to marry – really?? you’re going to VOTE on my rights?? thats very big of you….most gays i know arent interested in marriage, they’re interested in being respected as human beings, and being seen as more than just a FAGGOT or a DYKE….
    i guess this is some dumb sex blog or dumb psych blog, i just dont really care…
    Rev. Jeremiah Wright kind of a nut, but he is letting whites( i am white) know
    what many blacks really think…..i thought maybe some of you would like to know
    what many gays really think – (if you are straight, they dont think much of you)

  3. Having read Dr Bailey’s presentation at the Catholic University, I have two requests. Well, not so much requests as heartfelt pleas.
    First, to replicate the fMRI experiments on groups who have been diagnosed as Transsexual, and a sampling of Intersexed people too. MtoFs and FtoMs, and of all sexual orientations. Both in the “early transition” group and the “late transition” group.
    Second,not to solely concentrate on sexual orientation. There are many other sexually dimorphic neurological differences that can be measured. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity appear to be loosely, not closely coupled.
    Although I have severe misgivings about the reliability of plethysmography, I have no such misgivings about fMRI. And frankly, I was impressed by his presentation.
    I would like less guesswork, more data, and let the cards fall as they may. I suspect I need have no fear of Dr Bailey bowing to Political Correctness there.
    This isn’t just of academic interest to me, I would like to know more about myself, whether that confirms my own beliefs or refutes them.

  4. Oh yeah – total sweat, sticky and icky – not so my style. But some sweat. And yeah, who puts those photo shoots together anyhow? Haven’t seen the one’s – probably won’t check it out either. They start to look all the same to me.

  5. Maybe if it was light yoga exercising it would be non-icky? Although that’s not necessarily easy to tell apart from non-yoga posing.

  6. When you get right down to it, anyone can get icky and smelly when exercising – naked or not.

  7. There’s a difference between ‘sweat on a guy’ and the guys at my southern California ‘sports school’ high school doing double sessions in August, minus their equipment and pants (which is pretty much the icky, sweaty, smelly image I get when I think of men exercising naked). That would be verse say’s war of the models they’ve been running with the ‘vintage’ sports equipment theme, which is very sexy (whoever set that up never played half those sports, though…three guys in catcher’s equipment? in a gym?).
    But now that I think about it, that study sounds like it would be incredibly interesting. Almost makes me want to change my major…almost.

  8. I like sweat on a guy but the whole gay model thing is too easy to see from miles away. Just not interested. But a study on hags, lesbians with tenure(LOL), and straight women would be very interesting.

  9. Mary
    I understand what you mean about context of erotic imagery. I’m straight, and I definitely view most pictures of naked men as ‘made for gay men,’ even those birthday cards that you know mostly women are buying for their friends to giggle over just seem incredibly gay to me (although I spend way more time around gay men than straight, so maybe that explains it), but I also find them erotic. I guess someone should do a study of hags, lesbians, and straights and see what happens when a picture is in a given magazine. Naked men exercising just seems like it would be sweaty and icky to me, though.

  10. Of course they would callit a power failure rather than an exhaustive sensory activity with relaxation.

  11. Prince is straight???
    I found the “widespread neural power failure in women” to be humorous……makes sense that most women never quite get the whole grocery list completed during that time. hee hee

  12. Seriously, I think men who over compensate with muscles are more feminine than the average guy with a nice build who happens to like playing the piano. Just another perspective.

  13. If we’re talking about the stereotypical ideals of masculine and feminine, then I think I understand you – I’m just saying, the vast majority of men and women don’t fit neatly into those stereotypes and terms like this have to be used carefully. As I learned in school, what is considered masculine or feminine for some isn’t necessarily so for others. Those are really hard terms to define when it comes right down to it – and if history tells us anything, what is considered masculine or feminine today may very well not be so tomorrow

  14. Well yeah, masculinity and feminity definitely aren’t precisely quantifiable traits. You know them when you see them, but… they are hard to precisely define. Plus they probably evolve somewhat over the eons.

  15. Drowssap –
    I guess that’s my point though – many people wouldn’t equate geekiness with femininity – even if its not necessarily considered masculine – its almost like some behavioral purgatory

  16. Ok, Prince that’s another example of a super feminine guy. And once again, he’s straight.

  17. Personally, I always thought that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in T1 was a bit gay – especially when he went into the leather bar naked 😉 LOL – OK, now I’m playing on stereotypes 🙂

  18. When guys are “geeky” they are often considered feminine and unmanly.
    In my case I must admit that I throw like a girl.

  19. Drowssap –
    That’s a little more clear, but I still dont’ think I completely understand what you mean by using those terms. Are you saying that “geekiness” is equal to femininity?

  20. Jayhuck
    My movie definition of masculinity vs. femininity…
    Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 1 = masculine
    That Steve Urkel kid from Family Matters = feminine
    Ok, maybe that’s as dorky as feminine.
    Paul Stanley from Kiss is super feminine and yet from all acounts completely straight. That’s a better example of feminine.

  21. Jayhuck
    Men also span a spectrum, even if there are some generalities that can be made for our gender.
    Well, yeah for sure. Some guys will look but never cheat or even contemplate cheating. For them women are like a beautiful painting. Other guys will cheat, cheat, cheat until they catch some horrible STD and their wife dumps them and takes half. DOH! 😎

  22. I don’t understand how you are using the terms masculine and feminine – what are your definitions for these words? Everyone always uses them in different ways attaching different meanings to them depending on how they are being used – I’m just curious what YOU mean when YOU use them 🙂

  23. Jayhuck
    What do you mean by “feminine men”?
    I mean hypothetically speaking what if masculinity was programmed by a single neurotransmitter? The more someone has the more stereotypically masculine they are. They less they have, the more stereotypically feminine they are. However, even the feminine level of neurotransmitters is enough to make any guy straight. BUT in steps environment. The masculine guy has neurotransmitters to spare and if something happens and he loses a few he’s still straight. If the feminine guy loses just a few his wiring might kick on SSA.
    I’m saying this theoretically. Humans are way more complicated than that.

  24. Drowssap –
    An attractive naked women in virtually ANY normal context is visually exciting to the average straight guy.
    That’s actually not true. I have several straight friends for whom context does play a larger role than it might for some other guys. As wrong as it might be to say that women and men are equal in all things, it is also wrong to lump all men under some stereotypical umbrella. Men also span a spectrum, even if there are some generalities that can be made for our gender 🙂

  25. Mary
    Your post reminds me just how different women are than men. I never considered how context might affect perception. An attractive naked women in virtually ANY normal context is visually exciting to the average straight guy. I think the equation is pretty much… Girl = Yum. 😎 It would probably take a lot to mess that up.

  26. (Gay women, however, were more particular; they did not react sexually to men masturbating or exercising naked.)
    That may be because those things when viewed from a lesbian perspective are very gay and have nothing to do with women. For example, when I see the males models that are exercising or masturbating – I think they are posng for men and not women. I find that unattractive . Keeping in mind – I was a lesbian and associate (because of the exposure to the gay world) . those pictures with gay men. Whereas straight women who have never been gay or exposed much to the gay men’s world – would not have that association – thus being more attracted to them.

  27. Michael,
    Not just men (Well, genetically I could be considered more male so men could still apply anyway). I have such anxiety from having been raised Catholic and the sheer amount of guilt that runs through my head during sex. Without going into too much detail, I just sort of…uh…can’t. I’m sure everyone can fill in the blanks XD

  28. I found this fascinating: “Achieving orgasm, brain imaging studies show, involves more than heightened arousal. It requires a release of inhibitions engineered by shutdown of the brain’s center of vigilance in both sexes and a widespread neural power failure in females.”
    I am not sure what a “neural power failure” means, but the phrase “a release of inhibitions” and a “shutdown of the brain’s center of vigilance” would explain why some men suffer from inability or difficuly achieving orgasm. I am thinking of anxious, obsessive, stressed-out or traumatized guys who present with this problem in therapy. Their internal “security guard: never takes a break.

  29. <strongEvan
    Nature takes greater chances with males in biological terms, that might explain why there are more gay men than gay women.
    I don’t mean to imply that men are born gay (although they might be). I mean that straight men range from masculine to feminine because nature throws out a wide net. Perhaps masculinity and “straightness” is accomplished through neurotransmitters. If feminine men lose even a few of these due to who knows what they have a good shot at becoming gay. Or possibly something like that.

  30. The translation from the original German is mine, but has been peer-reviewed by native German speakers.
    The original article and link to primary source (in German) is available on my blog.

  31. ArzteZeitung 2007:

    The brains of anatomically male transsexuals, who identify as female, did not react as typical males do to visual erotic stimuli. In a study using functional MagnetoResonanceTomography(MRT) the reaction was instead typically female.
    This work was performed by the University of Essen. 36 subjects were shown visually erotic films, while fMRT was used to study the reactions inside the brain. The study was performed co-operatively with the Klinik für Psychosomatik, and attempted to answer the question of whether fMRT could be used to diagnose Transsexuality, and especially to help in the decision to permit Sex Reassignment Surgery.
    Twelve heterosexual men and twelve heterosexual women were examined, along with twelve anatomical males who identify as women. As Dr. Elke Gizewski stressed at the Röntgenkongreß in Berlin, it was already well-known from preliminary investigations of other groups that differences between men and women appear in fMRT when they are presented with erotic stimuli.
    In men, the limbic system and upper regions of the hypothalamus, the amygdalae and the insular cortex were activated substantially more strongly. “We confirmed this finding in the comparison between the heterosexual men and women of our Cohort”, said Gizewski.
    This specifically male activation of the limbic system was not found in the transsexual sample. Under fMRT, the pictures corresponded rather accurately to those of the female sample.
    Radiologists can now confirm what transsexuals report – that they feel “trapped in the wrong body” – on the basis of the activation of the brain when presented with erotic stimuli. There is obviously a biological correlation with the subjective feelings.

    I’m not sure that’s wholly proven. I’d need comparison tests between Gay men, Lesbian women, and Gay, Straight and Lesbian Transsexuals (both FtoM and MtoF) too. It may be that the sample of transsexual women were all Hetero, none Lesbian. If so, it may only prove a biological basis for sexual preference, rather than gender as such.

  32. Evan
    Nature takes greater chances with males in biological terms, that might explain why there are more gay men than gay women.
    Yeah, I think you are right. I read that in the average hunter gatherer society 80% of women have babies while only 20% of men have babies. That’s the main reason that men are physically larger than women. The largest men tend to win the race generation after generation while nearly all the women have babies. There is much tougher selection on men.
    It’s interesting that that European women are so beautiful. (ok maybe I’m biased)
    They really wouldn’t have to look so great to get pregnant and pass on their genes because nearly every woman has kids. And yet it’s pretty obvious it mattered. Clearly beautiful women had a lot more babies that survived to adulthood.

  33. Patrick
    Actually… it’s weird but I think it works like this.
    Straight men = Always interested in women
    Gay men = Always interested in men
    Gay women = Always interested in women
    Straight women = turned on by anything sexual in nature
    C R A Z Y!!! 😎

  34. Drowssap was talking about the similarity between responses between gay women and men with respect to the specificity of attraction.
    Is there a similar parallel between gay men and straight women (that is were the gay men as universal in their sexual responsiveness.)
    Being a gay male, I suspect not. When I think of images that arouse they are quite specific. And certain bonobo copulation does nothing for me. Those straight women are just way too kinky 🙂

  35. That’s right, Drowssap. That kind of points into the direction of brain masculinisation and male hormones creating some difference that sets genders apart in some very basic dimension that decides both gender typicality and sexual feelings (goal-oriented aggressiveness and testosterone shaping the pre-natal neural circuitry? 🙂 ). Low-masculinised male brains would predispose some men to be more impressed by most other men (and maybe very few smaller women), while masculinised female brains would predispose some women to be less impressed by most men and more attracted to feminine women. After all, male fetuses start in a form that is mostly feminine. Nature takes greater chances with males in biological terms, that might explain why there are more gay men than gay women.
    I bet whatever genes come up will only explain why some people are more vulnerable than others.

  36. One phrase stuck out for me.
    Heterosexual women’s level of arousal increased along with the intensity of the sexual activity largely irrespective of who or what was engaged in it. In fact, these women were genitally excited by male and female actors equally and also responded physically to bonobo copulation. (Gay women, however, were more particular; they did not react sexually to men masturbating or exercising naked.)
    That’s pretty much the way straight men are, very specific about what is attractive. I find it interesting that straight men and gay women would have that in common.

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