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Whack my bonobo! Sex, emotion and the female amygdala

→ by Danieru
'According to a recent study, women are aroused by watching monkey sex. Sure, they're more aroused by watching human sex, but the loving habits of the bonobo are enough to bring out the primate in any civilized lady...

Barbara Bartlik, a psychiatry professor at Cornell, said she was not alarmed by the women's response to the nonhuman stimuli.

"I don't know why this has surprised everybody that women get aroused watching humans and animals," she says. "Animals, because of the way they function in an uninhibited manner...can be very arousing to look at when they copulate." ' - link
Reading this I was reminded of a recent article on the inherent difference in the way male and female brains react to sex stimulus. Although women are usually deemed the most emotional of the human species, when it come to visual-stimuli the male amygdala is the one to watch:
"The emotion control center of the brain, the amygdala, shows significantly higher levels of activation in males viewing sexual visual stimuli than females viewing the same images...

The study adds to a growing body of research in animals and humans that indicates the amygdala plays a central role in male sexual behavior, Hamann says...

"There is an advantage for males in quickly recognizing and responding to receptive females through visual cues," explains Hamann. "This allows them to maximize their mating opportunities, which increases their chances for passing on their genes." - link
This would seem to suggest that when a woman watches images of mating, whether animal or human, she connects more fundamentally with the concept of sex, rather than the raw, visual stimulus. Mens' brains, on the other hand, respond directly to the visual aspect of the experience, missing altogether the arousal inherent in the sexual process itself.

That emotion evoked both visually and conceptually could be so different is fascinating, especially in relation to the mysterious amygdala. Its interesting also that copulating bonobos were used in this study, as many a male/female evolutionary stereotype has been blown out of the water in response to these creatures' mating habits.

In other recent sex-science news, female orgasms have been found to switch off brain function, also in the mysterious amygdala. Women, it seems, have a right to claim their brains masters of the emotions...

Thanks Backwards City & Kottke!
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Blogger Jennyology said...

Maybe the "cues" that men use to recognize sexual stimulation in women are different from those that women attribute to sex. For example, an erect penis is an erect penis whether it's in human or ape context, but swollen breasts or even "come hither" expressions may be too different depending on species (or cultural influence...). It would be really interesting to see whether or not a woman's sexual arousal is more dependent on specific cues, whereas mens' might have to do with just a visual UTILITY rather than a specificity in stimuli. Women are apparently brain-dead during orgasms anyways, what do we really 'know' about arousal? :)

December 16, 2005 1:30 AM    

Blogger Danieru said...

female orgasmic pleasure = brain death... hmmmm. something of the feminist in me (!?) ignites nearby bras at that thought. what could be the evolutionary advantage of a complete emotional shut down during sex?

religious rapture, meditation, drug induced hallucination and sexual transcendence ain't so different in my book:

mentally awakened infinity

December 22, 2005 12:38 PM    

Blogger Jennyology said...

sorry, this is a bit late in replying to that... but i just read your comment and thought it quite an interesting dilemma...

Personally, I think there could definately be some advantages to orgasms rendering the female unconscious. I mean, a lot of mammalian females often resist sex altogether (some, like cheetahs, have to be chased down and "tired out" by their male counterparts to engage in sex). A sleep-like moment could ease the ejaculation of the male and give fewer options of resisting the most important instant in reproduction (although simultaneous orgasms, I think(?) are quite rare in reality). And there's NOTHING wrong with you being a feminist, Mr. Danieru... it really just means one believes in equal rights, and NOT necessarily female superiority. That's what those "blank slate" folks are all about, right? Accepting the biological differences and understanding them to achieve a more full sense of equality.

btw, something of the feminist in me is going to be in the vagina monologues coming up... just fyi :)

January 21, 2006 2:16 PM    

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