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    Sex Makes You Smarter- Can 'Virtual Sex' Do The Same?
    By Andrea Kuszewski | July 22nd 2010 02:56 PM | 51 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Andrea

    Andrea is a Behavior Therapist and Consultant for children on the autism spectrum, residing in the state of FL; her background is in cognitive

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    It has been known for quite some time that exercise promotes neurogenesis, but now a study by Leuner, Glasper, and Gould, published by PLoS ONE this month, claims that the most intimate form of exercise - sexual activity - can produce the same effects.  And better yet- having multiple, repeated sexual experiences results in a greater positive effect than a single experience alone. Added bonus: it reduces anxiety as well.  I love that kind of data!

    A lot of bloggers have been buzzing about this study for a few days now.  I mean, understandably so.  Who doesn't want to hear that lots of sex is beneficial on multiple cognitive levels?   I can practically hear the cheers rising up from college campuses everywhere. 

    Here's a question to ponder: If sex makes you smarter via changes in synaptic strength  following the act, can you get the same benefit from virtual sex, as long as your brain is convinced it is real at the time?  I'll discuss this idea in a bit, but first let's look at the methods and the data from the actual study.

    From the abstract:
    "Aversive stressful experiences are typically associated with increased anxiety and a predisposition to develop mood disorders. Negative stress also suppresses adult neurogenesis and restricts dendritic architecture in the hippocampus, a brain region associated with anxiety regulation. The effects of aversive stress on hippocampal structure and function have been linked to stress-induced elevations in glucocorticoids. Normalizing corticosterone levels prevents some of the deleterious consequences of stress, including increased anxiety and suppressed structural plasticity in the hippocampus."
    Previous studies have shown that high stress levels have a negative impact on learning and memory.  However, not all stress is bad.  I have stated before, namely in my recent presentation at the H+ Summit, that some amount of stress, of a specific type, can actually be good for you, and can improve your cognitive functioning.  In this study, they decided to use a fan favorite as their "good stress" variable: Sex.  Additionally, they wanted to see if all sex was created equal in terms of beneficial outcome.  Specifically, whether or not one novel sexual experience (acute condition) had the same impact as repeated sexual experiences (chronic condition). 
    Here we examined whether a rewarding stressor, namely sexual experience, also adversely affects hippocampal structure and function in adult rats. Adult male rats were exposed to a sexually-receptive female once (acute) or once daily for 14 consecutive days (chronic) and levels of circulating glucocorticoids were measured.

    Separate cohorts of sexually experienced rats were injected with the thymidine analog bromodeoxyuridine in order to measure cell proliferation and neurogenesis in the hippocampus. In addition, brains were processed using Golgi impregnation to assess the effects of sexual experience on dendritic spines and dendritic complexity in the hippocampus.

    Finally, to evaluate whether sexual experience alters hippocampal function, rats were tested on two tests of anxiety-like behavior: novelty suppressed feeding
    and the elevated plus maze.
    To sum up, going on the previously discovered knowledge about exercise promoting neural growth, and negative stress impairing neural activity, they wanted to see if positive stress (a happy sexual experience) had a positive or negative impact on neurogenesis.  They also wanted to know what effects this type of stress had on anxiety levels.  Here's what they found:

    We found that acute sexual experience increased circulating corticosterone levels and the number of new neurons in the hippocampus. Chronic sexual experience no longer produced an increase in corticosterone levels but continued to promote adult neurogenesis and stimulate the growth of dendritic spines and dendritic architecture. Chronic sexual experience also reduced anxiety-like behavior. These findings suggest that a rewarding experience not only buffers against the deleterious actions of early elevated glucocorticoids but actually promotes neuronal growth and reduces anxiety.
    Yay! Good news! So what does all of this really mean?

    Well, the fact that repeated sexual experiences can reduce anxiety is no big surprise.  I think most of us knew that already.  But what is interesting to me is the extent, the type, and the conditions of the neural growth that occurred following the sexual experiences.

    *to see all of the detailed graphs and data points, go to the original article here.*

    Let's look at all of the things we already know, based on this study's results, past research and basic knowledge about neurological functioning:


    • Exercise- for example, running- while it increases stress levels, it is "good stress".  Exercise has been shown in the past to promote neurogenesis.  In other words, this type of good stress actually promotes neural growth, rather than impairing it.


    • It is suggested that if the stressful event has a hedonic value, or a pleasant outcome, it
      cancels out the negative effects of the raised glucocorticoid levels.  Even though stress levels in this study were raised in the acute (one-night-stand) condition, the brain was buffered from aversive damage due to the positive nature of the stress, and still allowed for neural growth.  This means that there is some sort of protective quality from good stress. 


    • This would conclude that sexual activity, in this case, is similar in function to exercise, as it relates to neural growth and the protective features of good stress.


    • The one-night-standers (acute condition), had an increase in anxiety following the experience, which was evidenced by results of the training tasks, but this did not hinder the neural growth.




    • The one-night-stand condition yielded significant neural growth, but the chronic (female-a-day-for-fourteen-days) condition showed even more neural growth, plus nixed any of the anxiety effects after about day 4 or 5 of having consistent sex. 


    • It would stand to reason that the more sex you have, the less anxiety you'll have, plus you'll increase your neural growth, ie., get smarter.  Awesome.



    Mini-summary: According to these results, sex is indeed a good form of stress, and it induced neural growth. Additionally, more frequent sex is even better than a one-hit-wonder when it comes to maximizing the growth and easing anxiety.  All good stuff.  I am definitely adding "Have more sex" to my "Maximizing Your Cognitive Potential" checklist.

    Now- here is where I want to touch on the more interesting theoretical concepts.  These points have not been discussed as much, but they should be.  First, why is sex rewarding and pleasurable? And why does it enhance learning?

    One word: Dopamine.

    Why aren't more people discussing the dopamine factor?!? Dopamine! My BFF! Dopamine ties everything together.

    Cited by the authors of this paper, a previous study's results suggest that ICSS (Intracranial Self-Stimulation- translate: press a lever, an electrical impulse is sent to an implanted electrode to artificially stimulate an area of the brain) was enough to increase adult neurogenesis.

    Another study, Dynamic Changes in Accumbens Dopamine Correlate With Learning During Intracranial Self-Stimulation ( Owesson-White et al, 2008), looked at the action of dopaminergic neurons in response to cues of a rewarding stimulus.  Basically, they wanted to see if they could condition the activation of dopamine D1 receptors by merely presenting a cue for a stimulus, without actually having to stimulate the neurons directly.

    This phenomenon is similar to seeing a slice of lemon and salivating without tasting it; you have paired an actual lemon with a sour taste in the past, and now the visual cue of the lemon is enough to induce salivation on its own.  Well, that is what happened here, only the induced response wasn't salivation, it was activation of dopamine receptors.  Even better!

    Dopamine, as you may know, has many wonderful functions in the brain: reward, motivation, pleasure, focus and attention- just to name a few.  The fact that the subjects in the ICSS study were able to activate those specific dopamine receptors merely in response to a cue was a pretty significant discovery. 

    According to the authors, "This D1 activation is highly significant because it has been linked to neural processing related to LTP (Long-Term Potentiation), a change in synaptic strength related to learning."  In other words, they were able to stimulate neural growth just by seeing a cue for the stimulus, without actually having to engage in the activity.  Subsequent research has shown this same result.

    This is a pretty big deal.

    Basically, you can get the neural benefits of engaging in a pleasurable activity without actually having to do anything other than trick your brain into thinking it is getting the reward.  This can be done via conditioning or paired association learning, like in the mentioned ICSS study, but what about more technologically induced ways?  Like Virtual Reality?


    Get smarter and learn to talk to women?  This is not my World of Warcraft avatar,  mine has longer hair.

    Some of my transhumanist friends swear that by the time we perfect Full-Immersion Virtual Reality, humans will no longer need or want to have sexual intercourse.  Now, I am not saying that is my personal stance on the issue, but they do have a point in some respects.

    Leuner, et al claim that the pleasure component of the activity is crucial to the maximum benefit derived from engaging in it.  If this is the case, does bad sex induce the same levels of growth and anti-anxiety benefit as great sex?  Is it a continuum of minimum to maximum benefit based on how good the experience is?

    For example, exercise promotes neural growth, but I haven't seen any studies that rate the quality of the exercise experience and then compare the amount of resulting neurogenesis as a function of the good or bad rating of the activity.  But if the emotional valence of the activity is important in its ability to neutralize the negative impact of the stress, one would assume the more enjoyable, the better.

    So now look at Virtual Reality (VR) sex.  In theory, it is perfect in every way, tailored exactly to your utmost desires, so ultimately, it is the best sex of your life every time you switch on your little device.  Your brain actually believes it is engaging in this activity, so you would expect to see the same types of reward response in the neurons, activation of the dopamine receptors, following the simulation.  If this is true, in theory, you would also experience neural growth as a result of engaging in VR sex, even though your body is passive.

    In fact, if the amount of neurogenesis achieved is in any way related to the quality of the sex or the amount of pleasure experienced, would you get even MORE neural growth from virtual sex than you would in actual sex?

    Looking at the brain in this way opens the door for all kinds of artificial enhancements.  If we could trick the brain into perceiving an activity as pleasurable, activating those addictive little dopamine receptors, we could potentially enhance learning capacity merely by experiencing a simulation in our mind.  How many people do you think would spend all weekend having virtual sex if this were possible?

    (I personally know of MANY who would, incidentally)

    I wonder, though, after the VR sex simulation is over, and you consciously understand that it was not real, does this impact any of the positive effects that may result?  I guess the only way to really know is to conduct original research and see what results of it.

    Is there any funding out there for such a project? I'm sure I could round up several hundred volunteer subjects...


    REFERENCES:

    Leuner B, Glasper ER, Gould E (2010) Sexual Experience Promotes Adult Neurogenesis in the Hippocampus Despite an Initial Elevation in Stress Hormones. PLoS ONE 5(7): e11597. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011597

    Takahashi T, Zhu Y, Hata T, Shimizu-Okabe C, Suzuki K, et al. (2009) Intracranial self-stimulation enhances neurogenesis in hippocampus of adult mice and rats. Neuroscience 158: 402–411.

    Owesson-White CA, Cheer JF, Beyene M, Carelli RM, Wightman RM (2008)
    Dynamic changes in accumbens dopamine correlate with learning during
    intracranial self-stimulation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105:11957–11962

    Comments

    How about virtual sex with an actual partner? Or phone sex or internet chat sex?

    Andrea Kuszewski
    Really good point, Mez, and I thought of that also. Keeping in line with that line of thinking... what about intense pornography? Or visualization/fantasy? As long as you are priming those dopamine receptors, it is possible to an extent, right?

    I think someone needs to get a ginormous grant and do oodles of research on this. :D
    I'm happy to help with that research. :)

    Andrea Kuszewski
    I'll need some research assistants... and a business manager, I think. And an accountant. Wait- got the accountant. I just need an agent, perhaps.
    aidanmaslow
    Count me in for that research as well.

    To be fair, though, sex does not make you more intelligent. It does simulate neural growth, but it is not neural growth in respect to your understanding quantum mechanics, economic theory or an understanding of the universe in general. It stimulates neural growth in respect to that person, the specific experience and the related experiences. It works to ingratiate the person to your mind and encourages future socializing with that person, perhaps, even socialization in general. Not that the temporary increase in neural function cannot be used toward more "substantial" memories, but how often does someone pick up a book and start reading after really great sex? Or how often does a person leave the bed, kitchen counter, the alley behind some random bar or the top of a washing machine at some 24 hr laundry mat and put that person they were just with, intimately, out of mind and begin to think about the behavior of strings or sociopolitical ramifications of the downfall of the Soviet Union on Eastern European countries?

    I would be willing to bet a large sum of money that if a study was conducted looking at the relationship between the frequency of sex and IQ that you would find that there would likely be a strong negative correlation between those two variables. In other words, as the frequency of sex went up, IQ would go down. However, if you were to compare frequency of sex with social competence you would get a strong positive correlation between those two variables. In other words, the more sex you have, the more socially competent you are. Or, perhaps, more accurately, the more socially competent you are, the more sex you have.

    To the main point of the article, I think that virtual sex could, in theory, replace the sexual act itself, though it will be hard to replace the stimulating conversation, both before and after, that can occur when you really click with someone.

    - Aidan
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Well, Aidan, in response to your response:

    Not that the temporary increase in neural function cannot be used toward more "substantial" memories, but how often does someone pick up a book and start reading after really great sex? Or how often does a person leave the bed, kitchen counter, the alley behind some random bar or the top of a washing machine at some 24 hr laundry mat and put that person they were just with, intimately, out of mind and begin to think about the behavior of strings or sociopolitical ramifications of the downfall of the Soviet Union on Eastern European countries?
    Um... I actually do. Well, to be honest, I prefer lying in bed after sex discussing philosophy or science, or the complexities of human nature, existentialism, and our place in society as modern humans. But that's just me. So I guess I am one of the few who take advantage of that surge in neurogenesis to increase my cognitive potential. I am an opportunist, after all. ;)
    Fred Phillips
    You're in the minority, Andrea. Survey research shows that, following sex, 20% of people have a smoke; 10% head to the fridge for a snack; 15% go to sleep; and 65% go home ;<)
    Andrea Kuszewski
    HA! Good one, Fred! :)
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    We bonobos are prime examples of primates who's high intelligence is obviously a result of our correspondingly high sex drives. This video shows us solving the jungle's immediate problems with plenty of sex and then spending the rest of the time using our corrspondingly high intelligence to contemplate upon the beauty of life in the jungle. Unlike you humans we don't constantly speculate upon the meaning of life because we already know it. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eubDSQrFako&feature=fvst
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Aitch
    "What Professor de Waal describes is a society of mamma's boys, permanently subject to female control. It is also an erotic society, with sexual contacts conducted steadily, ingeniously, and with no discernible concern for sex or age. One of Mr. Lanting's many photographs sums up these apes rather well. It is of a male bonobo, standing straight as a palace sentry, well prepared for sexual action, and offering handfuls of sugarcane. Bonobo may lie at the root of civilized behavior. "
    A review of Frans de Waal with photos by Frans Lanting, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape 1997
    Sugarcane, anyone?

    Aitch :)
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Very funny!
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    While no one would disagree that sex is pleasurable, having tons of sex whether real or virtual will inevitably lead to diminishing returns that will cancel out the benefits received. Why? Excessive sensual experiences can lead to addictions (sexual addictions being some of the most common) which bring about a whole new slew of problems.

    Andrea Kuszewski
    This sounds like rationalization from someone with an unsatisfactory sex life. Participating in anything to an excess may lead to doing it in excess and being irresponsible, but addictions are at least partially predisposed genetically. Sex is not the same as cocaine, at least not in the extreme nature of the response from the brain.

    If someone has an addiction response from merely having sex, I would guess they have other addictive behaviors as well, and that is part of a bigger problem. A person with no addictive tendencies having sex every day would not turn into an addict, but it may make them very satisfied. ;)
    For the sake of scientific research, I'd be more than willing to risk a sex addiction.

    Speaking of which, I'm still not convinced there is such thing as a "sex addict" the way there are drug addicts, and as of writing this, I'm not aware of any substantial studies that have come to that conclusion either. That doesn't mean I don't think people can't have some sort of psychological sexual disorder, I just wouldn't call it sex addiction, and I also don't think it's something that you can be at risk of just by having lots of sex.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I think you're right, tons of sex both real and virtual has definitely led to diminishing returns for bonobos. Ten years ago we numbered over 100,000 now we are less than 10,000. Instead of swinging over waterfalls and having sex we should have organised ourselves into a terrorist movement and wiped out you humans before you wipe us out.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Only joking, We bonobos make love not war, unlike you humans. We will look sympathetically at you as you shoot us for bush tucker or send in the bulldozers to eradicate the last bit of our jungle for BP to drill for oil, because we would rather be in our skulls than yours.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    The prime motivation of life is sustenance and reproduction (casual sex is even more of a motivation as it lacks the added complications of rasining children.) Sustenance in todays society is easy, casual sex with whomever you please, whenever you please is virtually impossible.

    In my opinion, experimentally inducing repeated casual sex with differing partners daily for a period of weeks reverts the subject to a "natural" state of being, similar to quenching a hunger, whereby many cerebral functions suddenly become accustomed to being freed of modern day inhibitions, self judgements and paradigms. It is not surprising to me that some functions show neural growth.

    I do however believe this is not because of the repeated "act" of sex. But the implication induced by experiment that the subject has the "actual" ability to quench his or her sexual hunger at will, that transforms their self worth and frees up the mind from distractions, diversions and interference that are normally used in attempts to quench that hunger.

    After all almost 90% of actions taken in the presence of an attractive member of the opposite sex are diversions to serve an alterior motive.

    Proper spelling may not imply understanding of the idea denoted by a word though it does follow from such an understanding.

    You do not seem to understand the ideas you are hinting at.

    Please forgive me if this was missed in my cursory glance over the research; if it was, I owe you an apology.

    I believe it might be beneficial to explore the variance in partners and the effects of monogomy versus polyamory, or alternately, the variances in purely hetero, purely homosexual or alternately bisexual experiences. And not just because of the 'sex- tee hee' factor. It might actually help heal some hurt people- or let people accept those who might be different.

    At a basic glance you might think the variances are cosmetic, but I would theorize that throughout social strata widely variable results occur in different permutations of sexual relations- in relation to and effecting the cognitive and neural biology touched upon here.

    First, though, to cover single chronic partnership against chronic variable partners: for a basic hetero leaning male, the long term implications of chronic variable partnership might result in greater neurogensis as a side effect or result- whether you think it initiated by the selfish gene or the product of evolutionary psychology- quite simply, more partners equals more chances of greater progeny with a wider variable. Cause and effect evolution could produce- on perhaps even a subconscious level- a greater implicit interaction with that neurogenesis in the individual, leading them to continue the same behaviour pattern as more than simply a subservience to physical pleasure.

    In plain English, a selfish gene would stimulate the seekers of variable partners beyond simply orgasmic satisfaction and possibly coerce them on levels outside of cognizant recognition, in order to continue the behaviour- in doing so, hijacking the neurogenesis in order to direct it towards developing new strategies and tactics towards continuing this pattern.

    At any rate a good argument against the theory I just posted, would be chronic protected sex- knowing it prevented the end goal of procreation. You could counter that, I suppose, by adding more weight to the cognizance of the participants, less to the control of the selfish gene, or the advent of widespread knowledge of the negative implications of diseases and possible death.

    Well, it's just a thought, and although I'd like to go on further into my queries on how this work can be applied to variant partners (or chronic partners) in variable sexual lifestyles and how they might develop entire behaviour patterns and subcultures just to achieve the underlying stimulation provided by neurogenesis- which might possibly only occur when the particular individual acts with the 'correct' partner (for them). And, then, you've just explained at a biological level why certain people cannot be forced into certain sexual behaviour patterns (and maybe healed a whole bunch of hurt in others- always a good thing).

    You know, developing a coherent idea that could explain a vast portion of human society, why it does what it does, etc, etc; but I am too long winded. If you decide to drop everything and study and heal humanities sexual misadventures because of anything I wrote, let me know, I'd be happy to help. (Write, I mean. I'm terrible in bed.)

    I find it oddly prescient that my captcha consists of the two word phrase: 'conserve experiences' haha.

    If I read your comment correctly, you espouse that humans have a natural predilection towards polygamy in that multiple sexual partners would allow someone to maximize the genetic diversity of young and satisfy their selfish gene. If that were the case, why do humans experience a surge of oxytocin after sex? Oxytocin serves to build trusting relationships between individuals. And, evolutionarily speaking, that bonding between humans encourages the male parent to aid the female. Naturally, the need for a male parent is not as great in cultures where the female has support from her relations in raising children like the Mosuo. But that type of culture seems the exception and not the rule. You raise a good point, however, that the presence of the same female would not appear to encourage neurogenesis as much in species where young are raised by single parents as it would in monogamous species. This would require more careful observation of humans rather than known polygamous animals to validate.

    Gerhard Adam
    Forget the genetics (especially "selfish gene").  Under the best of circumstances it would be a stretch to grant genes that level of control and even more so when you include "evolutionary psychology".  So, in other words, if you examine the sexual behavior of humans in the world today, we see no evidence that polyamory is preferred, nor that there is anything to suggest that at any point in history it has ever played a significant role.  There is little evidence to suggest that such behaviors are genetically determined and heritable.  (Genetics may determine what we find attractive, but it is unlikely to determine whether we are promiscuous or not).

    In addition, I'm not sure why the comparison is between monogamy and polyamory.  Even the most conservative description of humans must acknowledge that we are serially monogamous and not simply monogamous.  In conjunction with our cultural evolution, polyamory is an even less desirable a state to embrace.  Virtually ever species has to deal with the issue of resources available to rear offspring.  Therefore, despite whatever attitudes might exist as a result of recent cultural beliefs, our evolutionary history dictates that we have little resource to spare by being too free with our reproductive inclinations.

    Mundus vult decipi
    I'd have to disagree with you on your suggestion about polyamory. The only variance is in how the outward facets of culture accept it. Throughout history multiple partners has been the norm. We might have been disagreeing purely on our definitions of polyamory though- I won't argue that as an established, accepted cultural norm it has ever been dominant outside a few small instances; on a more practical level it has been practised by every generation of every culture- more often than not degraded into the concept of 'cheating'.

    For the animal world, you need look no further than our closest genetic relative- the bonobo. Their sexual practises- not that I am saying we should adopt them- are well documented and have been studied and shown to encourage group harmony.

    In an individual situation, as oxytocin is released during orgasm between two partners, there is no science or study saying that the same oxytocin is in the presence of any physical barrier that prevents the effect of trust building and partnership bonding if it were achieved in the presence of multiple partners. It would argue against serial pair bonding, but we see examples of serial monogamy (with hidden serial polyamory) proving that oxytocin cannot be the dominant force regardless.

    Polyamory is not the social norm because it is suppressed by authoritarian cultural codes; it is, however still practised throughout every stage of human history. Acceptance is not the issue; whether it happens or not, is.

    Gerhard Adam
    Polyamory is not the social norm because it is suppressed by authoritarian cultural codes; it is, however still practised throughout every stage of human history. Acceptance is not the issue; whether it happens or not, is.
    Where is your evidence for this?  You're suggesting that several hundred thousand years of human evolution are simply supplanted by a few arbitrary social rules? 

    The reality is that our social norms are established precisely by our cultural evolution which is a direct result of our biological evolution and the requirements of maintaining social cohesion.  The do not exist as independently of each other.  While there may be generational variations and certainly individual variations, overall the human species behaves in a remarkably consistent pattern regardless of the social group or cultural in which it exists.

    While it is often argued that human "morality" is derived from some external authority, in reality, it is derived from a long history of ensuring greater cohesion among social groups than other forms of behavior, which is why it persists.

    Mundus vult decipi
    "more partners equals more chances of greater progeny with a wider variable. Cause and effect evolution could produce- on perhaps even a subconscious level- a greater implicit interaction with that neurogenesis in the individual, leading them to continue the same behaviour pattern as more than simply a subservience to physical pleasure.

    In plain English, a selfish gene would stimulate the seekers of variable partners beyond simply orgasmic satisfaction and possibly coerce them on levels outside of cognizant recognition, in order to continue the behaviour- in doing so, hijacking the neurogenesis in order to direct it towards developing new strategies and tactics towards continuing this pattern."

    That could serve as an attempt at a scientific explanation as to why (wo)Men cheat.

    Yet preventing the end goal of procreation as you say is not an argument against the theory if you consider my view that it is not the end goal that motivates, but it is ones ability to achieving that end goal whenever one pleases that creates the neurogenesis in the first place. Again, my reasoning is that the neurogenesis is not caused by the act of sex itself but by the mind being freed of this hidden away prehistoric hunger, to concentrate more fully and completely on other things (unlike it has ever before).

    I 'm unsure with your idea that the neurogenesis occuring from chronic daily sex with differing partners, could itself be hijacked by some subconsiouss process to fuel the pattern of chronic sex itself, as I don't believe neurogenesis (through its catalyst: in this case chronic sex) has an addictive quality. In any case the catalyst in this case (chronic daily sex with differing partners) was induced externally by experiment and wasn't a result of internal thought processes, standard or boosted through neurogenesis.

    Then again, I'm not a neuroscientist or a psychiatrist.

    Maybe I missed it in your synopsis (very interesting, by the way), but did they only do the neural tests on the males, or also on the females? Might there be any difference between the effects on opposite genders, if one assumes that males are hardwired to pursue more sex with more partners due to the biological fact that males can father many children at one time from many different partners while females, obviously, cannot?

    Andrea Kuszewski
    Hey Adam- thanks for the questions and comments!

    They only looked at male rats in this study. I agree that there may be a difference in the brains of males versus females, but in a study like this, where they are already testing so many variables (three groups of sexual conduct, plus the anxiety measures), I imagine they had to choose their battles, so to speak. I'm sure replication of the study looking at the females would be a good idea in the future. But the males are a "sure thing".. you can tell if they... um, completed the act... due to ejaculations. It would be difficult to tell if the females were fully engaged, really into it, whatnot. Male rats having sex is cut-and-dry, easy to observe- start to finish. Females, not as much. Perhaps doing a study like this using primates would be easier to see the female response, since their behaviors are more similar to ours.
    Don't mistake my question--I wasn't criticizing, just wondering aloud (or whatever the word for "aloud" is online).

    And very good point about the difficulties in telling if the females are "into" the act or not. This has been a difficulty facing males for centuries!

    I would definitely be interested in a new study to compare to the male study. My guess is you'd find similar brain activity in males and females after the "one-night stand", but that the difference you'd see would be from those who participated in the chronic encounters.

    Another question I'd be interested in seeing them raise in future studies is whether or not there is a difference in the chronic condition for those that have many different partners vs. just one consistent partner.

    Just have few questions ...
    1- Does acute (one-night-stand) condition means having sex once in a month ? I mean what is the time frame/frequency in relation to time?

    2- Regarding multiple (chronic) sex, does it mean one female for 14 days or a different female for 14 days?

    3- In the comments, I can see a possible difference between the male and female gender on the after-sex feeling/motives. A male would not be interested in doing intellectual activity after sex while the opposite for females. Could this be true?

    Andrea Kuszewski
    Hi Yusuf!

    The acute condition is having sex once, with only one receptive female. They abstained the rest of the 14 days.

    For the chronic condition, they were exposed to sexually receptive females once every day for 14 days; a few of the opportunities the male rats decided not to have sex with the female (shocker!). So I think (if I remember correctly) the average # of times the males in that group had intercourse was 12 times over the 14 day period. They had an opportunity every day, but every so often, they opted out. The females used were rotated in, so there was a group of three females they used, and the males were exposed to all three of them at least a few times.

    A male would not be interested in doing intellectual activity after sex while the opposite for females. Could this be true?
    Didn't someone conclude years ago that men like to sleep after sex and women are the ones who like to talk? Maybe this explains why women are smarter than men.... ;)
    Not so fast there, Andrea! We males may be onto something:

    http://www.neurology.org/cgi/content/full/64/7/E25

    Couple the benefits of sex AND sleep to the brain, and I'd compare a good romp in the hay for a man to a full semester of grad school.

    Andrea Kuszewski
    Couple the benefits of sex AND sleep to the brain, and I'd compare a good romp in the hay for a man to a full semester of grad school.
    It is a testable hypothesis. ;)

    Ha! The study on sleep. Yes, I preach that also, although I need to remember it more in practice. :)

    However... in both cases, some information needs to be coming in, in order for the cognitive benefits to be seen. After sex, your neurons are primed for learning, so you need to take advantage of that to see the full benefit. Sleep aids in memory after  learning- you take in new material, get a good night's sleep, and are more likely to commit it to memory.

    So...

    I guess the ideal situation would be: sex, study quantum mechanics, sleep.... sex, study neurobiology, sleep...... sex, etc...

    Either way, it looks like a WIN. ;)
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Ok, here we go, from the methods:

    "Male rats were placed in a novel cage with a sexually-receptive female, a non-receptive female, or were naive and remained undisturbed in their home cage. The same sexually-receptive females were used every 4th day and as a result, the males on occasion were exposed to a female with which they had previously copulated. This did not change sexual behavior. Males were allowed to engage in sexual behavior for 30 min, starting from the first intromission. The duration of exposure to non-receptive females was matched to that of a sexually-experienced rat. Exposures were monitored and videotaped in the dark under red light illumination (1300–1600 h). For the long-term sexual experience studies, digital videos were analyzed for mounts, intromissions, and ejaculations." (<---- Ok, these need to go up on YouTube)
    Gerhard Adam
    Adult male rats were exposed to a sexually-receptive female once (acute) or once daily for 14 consecutive days (chronic) and levels of circulating glucocorticoids were measured.
    In all the comments, why does it seem that everyone is missing the point that these are rats?  While this might be useful to gauge the neural effects in rats, it would be a real stretch to extrapolate these findings to human behavior.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    You might be surprised by how much humans have in common with rats.According to ABC News, U.S.A., By Geraldine Sealey, Oct. 2, 2002 in an article titled “Duped Dads Men Fight Centuries-Old Paternity Laws” See http://www.canadiancrc.com/Newspaper_Articles/ABC_Duped_Dads_02OCT02.aspx Quote “Supporters of paternity identification bills point to a 1999 study by the American Association of Blood Banks that found that in 30 percent of 280,000 blood tests performed to determine paternity, the man tested was not the biological father.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Gerhard, we often use animal models when studying human neuroscience. How do you think we ever got to where we are now in neurological research? Using human subjects? Strapping them into a stereotax and drilling holes in their skulls to insert a cannula? Their brains are simpler than ours, but the areas and function of those areas compare with humans on most levels.
    Gerhard Adam
    Andrea

    I'm not disputing the use of animal models for this research, but some of the comments simply extrapolate simple results into the realm of human behavior. 

    My point is that our behavior is as much influenced by our cultural evolution as it is by pure biology, so such an extrapolation from rats is highly suspect and warrants a great deal of caution.  I have little doubt that the brain physiology is comparable and useful for study, but anything beyond that is unsubstantiated.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Remeber the 1st generation of The Matrix ?
    It was too good that nobody in it believed it was real.
    The Architect had to destroy it with everybody in it, and create a new one.
    Flawed one to be exact.

    miles
    Something pleasurable is of course not bad. One I believe should think however, that while promoting neurogenesis thru sex can also promote STD if one is not careful. 
    I have been thinking Andrea, have you encountered a research that sperm ejaculation in men can lower abnormally high cholesterol level? Well, if this is so it is an added advantage of sex.  We know that cholesterol is needed in the production of testosterone hormones and these hormones promote sperm growth. I been thinking if it follows that the more sperm ejaculated the more cholesterol are  used up. I have been searching for researches about this but cannot find a substantial one that blantly state this relationship.


    miles
    M4Y0U
    The brain actually doesn't make the difference if the sex is real or not, with partners or not. When you are dreaming it is possible to be sexually aroused and even reach orgasm. Dreaming is our most primitive way of replicating reality and tricking the brain. The only fact of being sexually aroused would not only suggest a D1 receptors activation but also an improved blood circulation circulation which is to be considered an important factor too. Having a partner would suggest increased cortisol levels and non-partner sex would suggest lower cortisol levels. Dopamine and better blood circulation are still affected in both virtual, not virtual, partner, no partner sex.

    J-S B. M
    Another question

    It is written that Adult male rats were exposed to a sexually-receptive female ... But what defines "sexually-receptive female " ?

    Is it female that is interested in sex? or a female rat that is relatively good-looking? or something else?

    And if it was one of these answers, how can us (humans) know/measure the interest in sex and/or the good-looking of rats?

    "It would stand to reason that the more sex you have, the less anxiety you'll have, plus you'll increase your neural growth, ie., get smarter. Awesome." Question - did it have the sam eeffect on female rats, or was it just the males that benefitted from regular sex? Or did they not test that?

    Andrea Kuszewski
    They only tested the male rats in this study. But it would be interesting to look at the females as well.
    Aitch
    Whoa!
    So it was a sexist rigged test from the start?
    Have male rat testers got a sexual partner problem?

    Quick ladies, we need the other side's views/reactions!

    Aitch
    Gerhard Adam
    The one-night-standers (acute condition), had an increase in anxiety following the experience, which was evidenced by results of the training tasks, but this did not hinder the neural growth.
    Since no one else seems to have asked ....

    What exactly is considered a "one-night stand" in the rat world, and what possible anxiety would a rat experience?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Andrea Kuszewski
    What exactly is considered a "one-night stand" in the rat world, and what possible anxiety would a rat experience?
    That was the 'acute condition', or only being exposed to a receptive female one time.

    Regarding anxiety, I refer you to the article again:

    We found that acute sexual experience increased circulating corticosterone levels and the number of new neurons in the hippocampus. Chronic sexual experience no longer produced an increase in corticosterone levels but continued to promote adult neurogenesis and stimulate the growth of dendritic spines and dendritic architecture. Chronic sexual experience also reduced anxiety-like behavior. These findings suggest that a rewarding experience not only buffers against the deleterious actions of early elevated glucocorticoids but actually promotes neuronal growth and reduces anxiety.
    The new experience, in and of itself caused the anxiety; but once the rat was having sex on a regular basis, apparently he no longer had 'performance anxiety'. Makes perfect sense to me. ;)
    Gerhard Adam
    The new experience, in and of itself caused the anxiety; but once the rat was having sex on a regular basis, apparently he no longer had 'performance anxiety'.
    Are you suggesting that the rats formed a "relationship" and anxiety was reduced because he didn't feel obligated to call her the next day? :)

    Well, this does relate to another recent article Stress Hormone Discovered In 500 Million Year Old Fish  which clearly suggests they weren't real big on long-term relationships.  I suspect that when you only have sex just before you die, stress is probably going to be a factor.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I had a quick glance at this at work and nearly gave myself an aneurism trying not to laugh out loud in a very inappropriate work environment. Thanks Gerhard, very funny!
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Hfarmer
    Andrea I have thought long and hard about what to say to this. This is my personal experience. I have had virtual sex both on a webcam, and via a program called second life. When it is good I get the same sense of well being as after normal sex. However if it's just a one way conversation I don't . It's just me acting why some guy watches. This makes me wonder... Has anyone compared the effects of good sex vs bad or disappointing sex?
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    J Altman and Shirley Bayer originally discovered adult neurogenesis accidentally during the process of perfecting the complex 3H-thymidine autoradiographic technique.
    See our related research, previously only available in medical journals totaling over $700

    ,,,,,,,,, long & short seems to be pointing toward some sort of casual sex center(s) where clean healthy individuals can copulate freely and frequently, in view of all the benefits, thanks for a roaring good time to all who've contributed ,
    incidently , far more than contributed to the artical on DNA capture!, lets build those centers , on with science!
    ciao S

    I wonder what happens to societies that actively encourage one man to have multiple women as partners (polygamy)--there would be a whole population of men that are deprived of regular sexual encounters (and a whole lot of women who don't get any either). This society would have high stress level, lower average dopamine levels, decreased capacity to learn, and lower cognitive flexibility. Such a society would not do well even in a short term...