Chapter 12. Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our mailing list, to receive news updates. Learn more.


Links 1 - 20 of 2223

Elle Hunt About 150 years ago, and “almost a lifetime” either side, Charles Darwin was beleaguered by the problem of the peacock’s tail. Just the sight of a feather, he wrote in April 1860, “makes me sick!” The plumage of the male bird represented a hole in his theory of evolution. According to Victorian thinking, beauty was divine creation: God had designed the peacock for his own and humankind’s delight. In, On The Origin of Species, published the previous year, Darwin had challenged the dominant theory of creationism, arguing that man had been made not in God’s image but as a result of evolution, with new species formed over generations in response to their environment. But beauty, and a supposed aesthetic sense in animals (“We must suppose [that peahens] admire [the] peacock’s tail, as much as we do,” he wrote), took Darwin the best part of his life to justify – not least because the theory he eventually landed upon went against the grain of his entire worldview. Sexual selection was of strategic importance to Darwin, says Evelleen Richards, an honorary professor in history and philosophy of science at the University of Sydney: it was a naturalistic account for aesthetic differences between male and female animals of the same species, shoring up his defence of natural selection.

Keyword: Evolution; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23642 - Posted: 05.22.2017

Susan Milius The supermoms of the mammal world are big, shy redheads. Studying growth layers in orangutan teeth shows that mothers can nurse their youngsters for eight-plus years, a record for wild mammals. Teeth from a museum specimen of a young Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) don’t show signs of weaning until 8.1 years of age. And a Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii) was still nursing during the few months before it was killed at 8.8 years, researchers report May 17 in Science Advances. Tests also show that youngsters periodically start to taper off their dependence on their mother’s milk and then, perhaps if solid food grows scarce, go back to what looks like an all-mom diet. Such on-again, off-again nursing cycles aren’t known in other wild mammals, says study coauthor Tanya Smith, an evolutionary anthropologist at Griffith University in Nathan, Australia. Marks of milk drinking Two images of a cross section of a first molar from a 4.5-year-old Bornean orangutan are shown. At left, numbers indicate days from birth (dotted line, starting with 0) when particular spots formed. At right, colors indicate concentrations of barium, which increase (shading toward red) when the youngster depended more on mother’s milk. A greenish swath at the top indicates nursing as an infant that gave way to blue as solid food became part of the diet. Yellow and red streaks indicate repeated times when the youngster again depended mostly on milk for nutrition. oragutan molar |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23632 - Posted: 05.18.2017

Nicola Davis Humans can determine a dog’s mood by the sound of its growl, scientists have found, with women showing greater ability than men. While previous studies have found that humans can unpick the context of barks, the latest study investigated whether the same was true of canine grumbles, with some previous research suggesting humans struggle to differentiate between playful and aggressive vocalisations. “It is an important thing that humans are capable [of recognising] the emotional state of another species just based on the vocal characteristics,” said Tamás Faragó, first author of the study from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. To tackle the conundrum, Faragó and colleagues used previously captured recordings of 18 dogs growling in three contexts: guarding food from other dogs, playing tug-of-war with humans, and being threatened by the approach of a stranger. The researchers monitored several features, including the length of each growl and its frequency. Two sets of the recordings, which included two growls from each context, were played to 40 adults. Each participant was asked to record their impression of the first set of growls on a sliding scale, rating their perception of the dog for five emotions: fear, aggression, despair, happiness and playfulness. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Animal Communication; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23621 - Posted: 05.17.2017

By STEPH YIN In most mammals, us included, biological sex is determined by a lottery between two letters: X and Y, the sex chromosomes. Inherit one X each from mom and dad, and develop ovaries, a womb and a vagina. Inherit an X from mom and a Y from dad, and develop testes and a penis. But there are rare, mysterious exceptions. A small number of rodents have no Y chromosomes, yet are born as either females or males, not hermaphrodites. Now, scientists may be one step closer to figuring out how sex determination works in one of these rodents. In a study published in Science Advances on Friday, Japanese scientists suggested that cells of the endangered Amami spiny rat, from Japan, are sexually flexible and capable of adapting to either ovaries or testes. When the researchers injected stem cells derived from a female rat into male embryos of laboratory mice, the cells developed into and survived as sperm precursors in adult males. The result was surprising since scientists have never been able to generate mature sperm from female stem cells, largely because sperm production normally requires the Y chromosome. Found only in the subtropical forests of an island in Japan called Amami Oshima, Amami spiny rats are threatened by habitat destruction, competition with black rats not native to the island and predation by mongooses and feral cats and dogs. Their range has been reduced to less than 300 square miles, an area smaller than New York City. Both female and male Amami spiny rats have only one X chromosome, an arrangement only known to occur in a handful of rodents among mammals. Arata Honda, associate professor at the University of Miyazaki and the lead author of the paper, said in an email that he was partly motivated to study Amami spiny rats in the hope that learning about them might reduce their risk of extinction. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23611 - Posted: 05.13.2017

Amy Maxmen Cells that prune connections between neurons in babies’ brains as they grow are thought to have a role in autism spectrum disorder. Now, a study suggests that the number and behaviour of these cells — called microglia — vary in boys and girls, a finding that could help to explain why many more boys are diagnosed with autism and related disorders. Donna Werling, a neurogeneticist at the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues found that genes associated with microglia are more active in male brains than in female brains in the months before birth. “This suggests there is something fundamentally different about male and female brain development,” she says. The research, to be presented on 13 May at the International Meeting for Autism Research in San Francisco, California, is still preliminary. Very little is known about how microglial trimming behaviour affects brain development. But the study by Werling’s team “is the kind of work that makes you say ‘Wow, this is really interesting, and we should take it seriously’”, says Kevin Pelphrey, a neuroscientist at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. There are two to five times many males with autism as females. Although the disorder — whose cause remains elusive — is widely acknowledged to be underdiagnosed in girls, psychiatrists agree that there is a significant disparity between the numbers of male and female cases. It suggests that biological differences between the sexes are involved. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Autism; Glia
Link ID: 23605 - Posted: 05.12.2017

By Alice Klein It is pest control without poison. A new type of bait that stops rats from having babies is helping to tackle infestations in several US cities. The bait – known as ContraPest – was approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency last August. It makes rats infertile by triggering early menopause in females and impairing sperm production in males. There are no side effects and the rats eventually die of natural causes. The technique is considered more benign than other control strategies being investigated, such as gene drive, which can be used to spread infertility genes through pest populations. A recent report by the US National Academies of Sciences warned that gene drive could have unforeseen consequences. The first field trial of ContraPest, conducted in the New York City Subway in 2013, halved the resident rat population in three months. Two more trials have now been completed in the US – one at a large-scale farm and one in an urban area – both in East Coast cities. Rat numbers at the farm fell by one-third over three months. In the urban area, population growth was suppressed during the peak breeding season so that the population expanded at only one-third the expected rate. “You’ll never wipe out rats completely – they’re too smart,” says Brandy Pyzyna from SenesTech, the biotechnology company in Arizona that developed the bait. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 23583 - Posted: 05.06.2017

By Jef Akst Drawing on data on organ-, tissue-, and individual-specific gene expression from the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTex) Portal, Shmuel Pietrokovski and Moran Gershoni of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel developed a comprehensive map of genes that are differentially expressed in men and women. The study was inspired by work the duo conducted several years ago, in which they found that mutations accumulated in genes for sperm formation likely because they were expressed only in men, not in women. As a result, even harmful mutations would only cause problems to half the population; unaffected women would continue to pass on the defective gene without any hit to their fitness. To explore whether other genes expressed differentially between the sexes might be similarly subject to mutation accumulation, Pietrokovski and Gershoni examined some 20,000 protein-coding genes, of which around 6,500 were expressed more in one sex than the other somewhere in the body. And sure enough, selection was effectively weaker in these genes, leading to the pile up of deleterious mutations. “The more a gene was specific to one sex, the less selection we saw on the gene,” Gershoni told the institute’s news publication, Weizmann Wonder Wander, this week (May 3). “The basic genome is nearly the same in all of us, but it is utilized differently across the body and among individuals,” he continued. “Thus, when it comes to the differences between the sexes, we see that evolution often works on the level of gene expression.” © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23581 - Posted: 05.06.2017

By RICHARD O. PRUM In a mossy forest in the western Andes of Ecuador, a small, cocoa-brown bird with a red crown sings from a slim perch. Bip-Bip-WANNGG! It sounds like feedback from an elfin electric guitar. Three rival birds call back in rapid response. These male club-winged manakins are showing off to attract female mates. Their strange songs are associated with an even stranger movement. Instead of opening their beaks, they flick their wings open at their sides to make the Bips, and then snap their wings up over their backs to produce the extraordinary WANNGG. They are singing with their wings, and their potential mates seem to find the sound very alluring. This is an evolutionary innovation — a whole new way to sing. But the evolutionary mechanism behind this novelty is not adaptation by natural selection, in which only those who survive pass on their genes, allowing the species to become better adapted to its environment over time. Rather, it is sexual selection by mate choice, in which individuals pass on their genes only if they’re chosen as mates. From the peacock’s tail to the haunting melodies of the wood thrush, mate choice is responsible for much of the beauty in the natural world. Most biologists believe that these mechanisms always work in concert — that sex appeal is the sign of an objectively better mate, one with better genes or in better condition. But the wing songs of the club-winged manakin provide new insights that contradict this conventional wisdom. Instead of ensuring that organisms are on an inexorable path to self-improvement, mate choice can drive a species into what I call maladaptive decadence — a decline in survival and fecundity of the entire species. It may even lead to extinction. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 23580 - Posted: 05.06.2017

By Simon Makin The past few decades have seen intensive efforts to find the genetic roots of neurological disorders, from schizophrenia to autism. But the genes singled out so far have provided only sketchy clues. Even the most important genetic risk factors identified for autism, for example, may only account for a few percent of all cases. Much frustration stems from the realization that the key mutations elevating disease risk tend to be rare, because they are less likely to be passed on to offspring. More common mutations confer only small risks (although those risks become more significant when calculated across an entire population). There are several other places to look for the missing burden of risk, and one surprising possible source has recently emerged—an idea that overturns a fundamental tenet of biology and has many researchers excited about a completely new avenue of inquiry. Accepted dogma holds that—although every cell in the body contains its own DNA—the genetic instructions in each cell nucleus are identical. But new research has now proved this assumption wrong. There are actually several sources of spontaneous mutation in somatic (nonsex) cells, resulting in every individual containing a multitude of genomes—a situation researchers term somatic mosaicism. “The idea is something that 10 years ago would have been science fiction,” says biochemist James Eberwine of the University of Pennsylvania. “We were taught that every cell has the same DNA, but that's not true.” There are reasons to think somatic mosaicism may be particularly important in the brain, not least because neural genes are very active. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 23565 - Posted: 05.04.2017

By Elizabeth Pennisi When, 6 years ago, divers captured on video a cuckolding attempt among squidlike animals called cuttlefish, experts were stunned. “The violence was beyond anything we had ever seen in the laboratory,” says Roger Hanlon, an ecologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who had been studying captive cuttlefish for years. Now, by carefully analyzing the behavior of the two males involved, he and his colleagues suggest the stepwise escalation of their fight likely required more brainpower than many researchers thought invertebrates had, they report this week in American Naturalist. The video (above) first shows a common European male cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) mating with a female. While he escorts her to where she will lay her eggs, a second male suddenly appears and chases him away. But the first male doesn’t give up, and as his rival starts to get fresh with the female, the scuffle gets ever more intense. The rivals squirt ink at each other and jet about. Then, their dark markings turn even darker, and they engage in a quick battle of biting, grappling, and cork-screwing that soon sends the intruder scurrying off. Now that the scientists know how such explosive situations come about, they hope to recreate those circumstances in the lab to study male rivalries more systematically. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science. A

Keyword: Aggression; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23564 - Posted: 05.04.2017

Jon Brooks Max, age 13, is agender — neither male nor female. When referring to Max, you don't use "he" or "she;" you use "they." Once strictly a pronoun of the plural variety, "they" is now doing double duty as singular, too — referring to individuals, like Max, who do not see gender as an either/or option. (NPR agreed not to use Max's last name, because the family feared the sort of online threats that have been made to other transgender families.) If the whole he/she pronoun thing feels awkward to you, Max is sympathetic — and patient. 'We are seeing more and more kids saying, 'You know what? What's with this either-or business? What's with this boy-girl and you have to fit in one box or the other?' " Diane Ehrensaft, psychologist, Child and Adolescent Gender Center, UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital "I can't expect anyone to use the right pronouns for me because it's not a thing that people know," Max tells me. "It's been great being myself, but it's also been really hard for people to get it, and for even family to get pronouns and stuff." We're talking in Max's room at home, where posters on the wall showcase the teen's love of theater: Peter Pan, Tarzan, The Pirates of Penzance. Max is old enough now to enjoy using make-up — blush, foundation, lipstick — but still young enough to enjoy going with their mom to see "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory." (The review from Max: Gene Wilder's great!) From these surroundings, you wouldn't think the room's occupant is someone who has already poked and prodded at the most fundamental sense of who they are. Really, this is just a kid's room. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23562 - Posted: 05.02.2017

By Abigail Beall You can’t eat, you can’t sleep and all you can think about is your next fix. You may be addicted to love. Intense romance can often come with symptoms resembling addiction – euphoria, craving, dependence, withdrawal and relapse – and brain scans have shown that it can be linked to drug-addiction-like activity in the brain’s reward centres. But the idea that people can be addicted to love is contentious. “It gets complicated because people disagree on the correct theory of addiction, and people especially disagree about what we mean when we use the term ‘love’ ”, says Brian Earp, at the Oxford University Centre for Neuroethics. “I think it is when you realise you do not want to be in love yet cannot avoid it, and it causes bad things, like abuse, that we cross the line into something addiction-like,” says Anders Sandberg, also at the Oxford University Centre for Neuroethics. Now Earp and his team have found evidence that there are in fact two different types of love addiction, after reviewing 64 studies of love and addiction published between 1956 and 2016. They found that people who feel desperately alone when not in a relationship, and try to replace an ex-partner straight away, could have what the team has called a “narrow” form of love addiction.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23552 - Posted: 04.29.2017

By Debra W. Soh The reasons behind why people are gay, straight, or bisexual have long been a source of public fascination. Indeed, research on the topic of sexual orientation offers a powerful window into understanding human sexuality. The Archives of Sexual Behavior recently published a special edition devoted to research in this area, titled “The Puzzle of Sexual Orientation.” One study, conducted by scientists at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, offers compelling, cross-cultural evidence that common genetic factors underlie same-sex, sexual preference in men. In southern Mexico, individuals who are biologically male and sexually attracted to men are known as muxes. They are recognized as a third gender: Muxe nguiiu tend to be masculine in their appearance and behavior, while muxe gunaa are feminine. In Western cultures, they would be considered gay men and transgender women, respectively. Several correlates of male androphilia — biological males who are sexually attracted to men — have been shown across different cultures, which is suggestive of a common biological foundation among them. For example, the fraternal birth order effect—the phenomenon whereby male androphilia is predicted by having a higher number of biological older brothers—is evident in both Western and Samoan cultures. Interestingly, in Western society, homosexual men, compared with heterosexual men, tend to recall higher levels of separation anxiety — the distress resulting from being separated from major attachment figures, like one’s primary caregiver or close family members. Research in Samoa has similarly demonstrated that third-gender fa’afafine—individuals who are feminine in appearance, biologically male, and attracted to men—also recall greater childhood separation anxiety when compared with heterosexual Samoan men. Thus, if a similar pattern regarding separation anxiety were to be found in a third, disparate culture—in the case, the Istmo region of Oaxaca, Mexico—it would add to the evidence that male androphilia has biological underpinnings. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 23540 - Posted: 04.26.2017

By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS In her 30s, Sophie Marat, now 42, used to record herself reading poetry aloud, then play it back to hear if she sounded like a woman. Ms. Marat, who is transgender, had spent years trying to remake her voice in private by speaking in a higher pitch but ultimately felt that her efforts were hopeless. “I was feeling like changing my voice to match my gender identity was almost impossible,” she said. “It was terrible.” Ms. Marat’s transition from male to female has been a gradual evolution. She had come out to friends and family back home in Mexico, then began to wear skirts to work as a software engineer in Manhattan. Still, her confidence would falter with everyday tasks like ordering takeout. “It was really painful to speak on the phone,” she said, “because they would reply, ‘O.K., sir.’” That was before she started her weekly sessions with a voice therapist at New York University’s speech-language-hearing clinic, one of a growing number of programs that cater to transgender clients seeking to retrain their voices. Just as some transgender women and men choose to take hormones or have surgery, or choose neither, some seek to feminize or masculinize their voices. Many say they want a voice that matches their appearance or that the change allows them to escape unwanted attention. There’s also a growing recognition among health professionals who have transgender patients that altering one’s voice can improve quality of life and reduce distress. After eight months, she had raised her pitch, worked on moving her resonance forward and finishing phrases with an open ending, rather than bluntly. “This isn’t just a sidebar,” said Sandy Hirsch, a Seattle-based speech language pathologist who was a co-author of the pioneering textbook on transgender voice and communication therapy. “It’s an integral part of care for transgender people as they transition.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Language
Link ID: 23539 - Posted: 04.26.2017

Carl Zimmer The oldfield mouse doesn’t seem extraordinary. With soulful black eyes and tiny teacup ears, the rodent lives a humdrum life scurrying about meadows and beaches in the Southeast. But field biologists have long known that when it comes to sex and family life, this mouse is remarkable: Peromyscus polionotus is monogamous — an exception among mammals — and a solicitous parent. Fathers and mothers will dig burrows together and build elaborate nests when pups are on the way; after they’re born, the father will help tend to the pups, retrieving them when they fall out of the nest, licking them, and huddling to keep them warm. In a pioneering study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers at Harvard University identified a genetic basis for this distinctive behavior. It is the first time that scientists have linked DNA to variations in parenting habits among mammals. Dieter Lukas, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Cambridge who was not involved in the research, hailed the study as a sophisticated tour de force, saying that uncovering these links “is like designing a tool to follow individual threads through a large colorful tapestry.” The findings may one day help scientists make sense of how human couples bond and care for their children. Mammals share many of the genes governing the production of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain. Variations in how they function may explain why most species are promiscuous, why a few are monogamous — and why some, like humans, are somewhere in between. “We can go from the bottom up and build our knowledge base, and then ask questions about human biology,” said Gene E. Robinson, a biologist at the University of Illinois who was not involved in the new work. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 23516 - Posted: 04.20.2017

by Claire Lehmann and Debra W Soh “Neurosexism,” “populist science,” “neurotrash,” the problem with using terms like these to describe scientific investigations of sex differences is that their use may be interpreted as hostile. “Not fair!” claim the espousers of these terms, who argue that they only ever use such terms for pseudoscience and media distortions, not robust and replicable studies. In a recent op-ed for The Guardian, Cordelia Fine—the author who coined the term “neurosexism”—together with Rebecca Jordan-Young, argue that they have never been prima facie opposed to sex differences research. Their only concern is that of scientific rigour. In 2005, the British philosopher Nicholas Shackel proposed the term “Motte and Bailey Doctrine” for this type of argumentative style. Taking the name of the castle fortification, the “motte” is strong and is built high on an elevated patch of land and is easy to defend. By contrast, the “bailey” is built on lower, more exposed ground, and is much more difficult to defend from attacks. Shackel used this metaphor to describe a common rhetorical trap used by postmodern academics, where a controversial proposition is put forward (a “bailey”) but is then switched for an uncontroversial one (a “motte”) when faced with criticism. In this case, the controversial position that has been proposed by authors such as Fine and Jordan-Young is that the scientific investigation of sex differences reinforce and legitimize harmful and sexist stereotypes about women. The uncontroversial proposition is that their concern is simply one of “[ensuring] the [maximum possible contribution] of neuroimaging research.” © 2017 Quillette

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23507 - Posted: 04.19.2017

By Michael Price Do the anatomical differences between men and women—sex organs, facial hair, and the like—extend to our brains? The question has been as difficult to answer as it has been controversial. Now, the largest brain-imaging study of its kind indeed finds some sex-specific patterns, but overall more similarities than differences. The work raises new questions about how brain differences between the sexes may influence intelligence and behavior. For decades, brain scientists have noticed that on average, male brains tend to have slightly higher total brain volume than female ones, even when corrected for males’ larger average body size. But it has proved notoriously tricky to pin down exactly which substructures within the brain are more or less voluminous. Most studies have looked at relatively small sample sizes—typically fewer than 100 brains—making large-scale conclusions impossible. In the new study, a team of researchers led by psychologist Stuart Ritchie, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh, turned to data from UK Biobank, an ongoing, long-term biomedical study of people living in the United Kingdom with 500,000 enrollees. A subset of those enrolled in the study underwent brain scans using MRI. In 2750 women and 2466 men aged 44–77, Ritchie and his colleagues examined the volumes of 68 regions within the brain, as well as the thickness of the cerebral cortex, the brain’s wrinkly outer layer thought to be important in consciousness, language, memory, perception, and other functions. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Brain imaging
Link ID: 23478 - Posted: 04.11.2017

By Andy Coghlan “PRENATAL exposure to progesterone affects sexual orientation in humans”. A bold and unequivocal-sounding title for a scientific paper. And certainly important if true. But is it? The study claimed to show that women given extra progesterone during pregnancy, routinely prescribed to prevent miscarriage, bleeding or premature delivery, have children who are “29 per cent more likely” to later identify as bisexual. It would be a landmark finding, allowing us to also ground in biology the established social science contention that sexuality has more dimensions than straight and gay. We suspected that exposing a fetus to strong hormones can shape sexual orientation. But there are no animal models of sexual orientation, and doing this kind of experiment in humans would be deeply unethical. The next best thing would be a retrospective analysis looking at a birth cohort exposed to a specific hormone “in the wild”. And that’s what this study did. June Reinisch of the Kinsey Institute in Indiana and her colleagues trawled a public database containing records of more than 9000 pregnancies in Denmark between 1959 and 1961. They identified women who were given a progesterone-mimicking hormone by the trade name lutocyclin to prevent miscarriage. Lutocyclin did seem to have mild effects on sexual orientation: later in life, exposed individuals were five times more likely to self-identify as non-heterosexual, and were more likely to report relationships with the same sex, than unexposed controls. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23477 - Posted: 04.11.2017

Cordelia Fine and Rebecca Jordan-Young At a time when both science and feminism are under attack, there are welcome signs that neuroscience is showing new openness to critiques of research into sex differences. Mainstream journals increasingly publish studies that reveal how misleading assumptions about the sexes bias the framing of hypotheses, research design and interpretation of findings – and these critiques increasingly come with constructive recommendations, discussions and debates. For example, we, together with other colleagues, made recommendations in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience on best practice in sex/gender neuroscience. Some of the errors and traps we identified included human neuroimaging studies with small sample sizes, and the common “snapshot” approach, which interprets neural associations with sex as a matter of timeless and universal male and female essences, without taking seriously the fact that biological associations might as easily be the effect of social differences as the cause of them. For example, a study reporting female-male differences in spatial processing should take into account that women and men have different life experiences, on average, that can build such skills – such as practice with aiming at targets that comes from certain kinds of sports and video games. We also expressed concern about studies that draw on and reinforce stereotypes, even as they slip and slide regarding specific predictions about sex differences in the brain, and what findings might mean for how women and men think, feel, and behave.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23465 - Posted: 04.08.2017

Aaron E. Carroll One of the biggest American public health victories of the last decade has been the record low reached in the teenage birthrate. Along with that have been lows in rates for teenage pregnancy and abortion. Most researchers believe that improved access to contraception is a large part of this success. But news continues to focus on the concern that hormone-based contraception — like the pill or the patch — causes depression, and that this should lead us to question its wider use. A more nuanced discussion would consider both the benefits and the harms. This issue drew widespread coverage at the end of last year with a large study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers tracked all women and adolescent females (ages 15 to 34) living in Denmark from 2000 through 2014. The study found that those who used hormonal contraception had significantly higher risks of also taking an antidepressant. The study broke down the increased relative risk for each hormonal method this way: combined oral contraceptives (23 percent), progestogen-only pills (34 percent), the patch (100 percent), vaginal ring (60 percent) and levonorgestrel intrauterine system (40 percent). The risks were highest in adolescents and decreased as women aged. The risks also peaked six months after the start of contraception. Needless to say, many news outlets covered this finding widely. Some portrayed it as shocking new information that should change the way we think about hormonal birth control. Others saw it as a vindication of many women who said for years that birth control had triggered their depression while scientists and doctors ignored them. But we have to acknowledge the limitations of this type of research. It’s not a controlled trial, and it’s impossible to establish causality. Women who choose to have sex could also be more likely to consider antidepressant use. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23439 - Posted: 04.03.2017