HUMAN sexuality used to be perceived as a lot less fluid (and more intuitive) than we now know it to be. The more scientists learn about what turns us on — much of desire is sparked in our brains rather than our groins; aphrodisiacs can come from the most unlikely places — the less we can definitively say about it.
Arousal is different for everybody, in other words, even among those who happen to be of the same gender identity or sexual orientation, and what’s true for an individual at one point in time is very likely to change as the years pass and relationships evolve (and innovations like so-called female Viagra — pop up).
In spite of all the researchers these days attaching electrodes to genitals and forcing people to watch naked yoga, in some ways the sources and varieties of human pleasure remain as mysterious as ever.
- Porn isn’t going to screw up your sex drive.
You’ve likely heard that pornography can be destructive for real-life relationships. Too much porn, the thinking goes, desensitizes the viewer to erotic images and makes it more difficult to become aroused in real-life sexy situations. Some have even claimed that men who frequently watch online porn are more likely to struggle with erectile dysfunction. Earlier this year, however, a pair of studies were published that found no correlation between porn viewing and erectile dysfunction. Other research has even suggested that both men and women with a casual porn habit report having more frequent and higher-quality sex compared with people who don’t watch porn.
- “Female Viagra” releases the brain’s sexual brakes.
The drug flibanserin, intended to treat low sexual desire in women, isn’t exactly the pink version of the little blue pill. Rather than pushing blood flow to the genitals, flibanserin targets key neurotransmitters that are involved in sexual response: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. The drug increases the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are like the brain’s accelerators when it comes to sexual response; at the same time, it turns down the level of serotonin, which is responsible for inhibition. Since 2010, the FDA has twice shot down flibanserin. Each time, the drug manufacturers couldn’t prove to a review panel that the medication’s benefits were greater than the risks it posed. Flibanserin gets a third chance at approval this summer — this month, an advisory panel was convinced that flibanserin is safe to use for women taking antidepressants and that the drug does not impair driving; the FDA won’t make the final decision until August, but the committee’s vote is highly influential.
- There’s good naked, and there’s bad naked.
Meredith Chivers is somewhat famous in her field for showing study subjects a wide range of visual stimuli in order to assess what kind of imagery tends to get people going. In one study, her human lab rats watched all sorts of films, including some of people exercising naked. Set to background music, those movies depicted a lone nude person doing yoga, calisthenics, or simply walking. These were the least popular of all the films, resulting in the weakest arousal response.
- One percent of the population likely isn’t turned on by anything at all.
The science on asexuality has picked up lately. Last year, scientists at the University of British Columbia examined whether people who say they are asexual really just have extremely low sexual desire. They don’t. On the contrary, asexuality, like homosexuality or heterosexuality, seems to be a distinct sexual orientation. This year, that same research team developed a 12-item survey that, they argue, can identify asexuals. It’s called the Asexuality Identification Scale, or AIS for short, to mimic the nickname some asexuals give themselves: aces.
- Zoophilia may be the most common uncommon turn-on.
Researcher Justin Lehmiller last year ran a survey for readers of his popular blog, Sex and Psychology, asking them to share the “most unusual” things that make them sexually aroused. As Lehmiller combed through the answers, a theme emerged: sexual attraction to animals, horses especially.
- Oysters are a sham.
Although many foods have been touted as aphrodisiacs, there is little to no scientific evidence that any of them, including oysters, actually boost sexual desire. Most people who swear by aphrodisiacs have probably just experienced a change in sexual desire because they strongly believed that they would. Put that way, pretty much anything can be an aphrodisiac if you want it to be. – CNN
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