Your Brain on Sex

by Sara Suchy Editor

The birds and the bees...and your brain.

Man and woman kissing.

Vive le difference

With all the gripes we have about the opposite sex, it is a small wonder our species lasted one generation.

But, procreate we do, despite the dramatic--but oddly complementary--differences in men and women’s brain wiring, particularly when it comes to sex. Several new studies reinforce that men and women can sometimes seem like different species.

Woman unhappy with man while cuddling in bed.

I, object

Ladies, if you think he’s just staring at your chest and not listening to a word you say, you are probably right.

A study published in Psychological Science found that men and women saw pictures of sexy woman as objects, men in the same type of images were seen as people.

Chainsaw on a stump upside down.

What is objectification?

In a nutshell, people generally have a difficult time identifying images of people that are turned upside down, but don’t have the same problem with objects.

That means you would likely have an easier time identifying a picture of a chain saw than a picture of your co-worker if both images were turned upside down.

Woman in white lingerie lounging in bed in the morning, upside down.

The upside down effect

For the study, researchers showed both men and women pictures of over-sexualized men and women. Some of the images were inverted, some were right side up.

Both men and women recognized right-side-up men better than upside-down men, suggesting that they were viewed as people.

But women in underwear were no harder to recognize by either sex when they were upside down, suggesting they were seen and recognized as objects rather than people.

Man touching a woman's face in bed.

The magic touch

Another study, from the University of St. Andrews, found that women who were touched in ‘high-intimate locations’ in a non-sexual context showed a small increase in facial temperature, suggesting sexual arousal.

Specifically, women who experienced a two-second touch on the face and chest by a medical professional displayed a marked increase in facial temperature. The temperature increase was slightly higher when a young, male doctor performed the exam.

Fruit fly.

Taming of the fruit fly

While women may feel flushed around cute doctors, a study of fruit flies found that women’s behaviors change dramatically after they’ve successfully mated.

Once they’ve mated, female fruit flies quickly move from being highly sexually-receptive to a non-receptive state. They go so far as to actively reject advances from male fruit flies and can alter their activity and feeding patters.

It’s the fruit fly equivalent of moving away and changing your number.

Bride and groom holding hands.

Settling down is her idea

In yet one more study, researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, think they may know why our caveman ancestors decided to stop being promiscuous and start settling down into families.

To put it simply: It was her idea.

Smiling couple in love.

Stable mates

Women choose their mates based on how well the man would fare in a monogamous relationship as a provider, rather than in aggressively vying for her attention.

As women began to show preferences to men who were stable and good providers, men took the hint and began to channel their previously aggressive energy into providing for females.

Sara Suchy
Meet Our Writer
Sara Suchy

Sara is a former editor for HealthCentral.