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Sex and Brain: A Fruitless Hunt?

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The debate over whether men and women's brains are wired differently has been going on for centuries, and when the discussion focuses on sexual behavior the arguments can get even more heated. Making the issue even more confusing, is the vagueness that is often associated with any of the research studies. Brain scans can show that different portions of a man and woman's brain respond differently to sexual stimulation, but they do not explain why. Adding to the sensitive nature of the subject are the theories put forth by certain evolutionary researchers who believe that men and women's brains may be "wired" differently simply because it was decided by nature. This theory is even more undependable due to the fact the evolutionists based their theory only on sexual behavior observations.

To help clear up some of the confusion surrounding the differences in men and women's sexual behavior, researchers at the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England released a paper that helps to explain the differences and perhaps the reasons why. The differences in sexual behavior was traced to the pattern the neurons are wired in, and they work similar to a switch. Pheromones that are released in the sweat glands are what trigger the neurons' responses, causing a separate reaction in men and women.

What is surprising is that the researchers did not study human behavior during their study, but instead chose to observe the behavior patterns in fruit flies. It should be made clear that the study does not attempt to show a direct correlation between human behavior and the fruit flies, it only offers an additional explanation for the differences between men and women.

Pheromones are defined as chemicals that are released by the body and cause a certain reaction in others. While there is still little actual scientific research available on pheromones and the exact effect they can have on men and women, researchers do agree that they do cause a specific response. Some pheromones can invoke fear or hunger, while others affect the reproductive system. A specific pheromone can indicate the right sexual partner, or inform men when a woman is ovulating.

Researchers observed similar sexual behavior in fruit flies, especially when the molecule cVA was added during the female mating ritual. The molecule is similar to the human steroid androstenone and can cause the female fruit flies to enter the mating ritual. Researchers were surprised to notice that when the molecule was introduced to male fruit flies instead of exciting their libidos, it actually could cause a decrease in desire to mate along with inducing aggressive behavior. Researchers surmised that the reaction in the male fruit flies was an evolutionary response to competition from other males.

The Causes for Different Reactions

While some pheromones can only be scented by members of the opposite sex, and this is because only they have the right neuron transmitters to notice the chemical signature. Others like cVa in fruit flies, can be detected by both sexes and elicit different responses. During the study on male and female fruit flies, researchers learned that the neural pathways were basically the same for the first two rows. It was not only they began to study the third row of neuron transmitters that they noticed the signal in the brain was being routed in different directions.

The difference in wiring in male and female fruit fly brains is attributed to a single gene referred to as "fruitless". This gene is critical for male behavior and also contains the various proteins that cause the neurons in the third row to line up in what is being called "male type" behavior. In the female fruit fly brain, researchers found that this gene was not present. Adding support to the male pattern gene is the fact that when the neurons in the female brain were changed to produce the proteins, the wiring in the neurons also changed to reflect male pattern behavior.

Conclusion

While studying the brains' response to different pheromones in fruit flies and its effect on their neuron transmitters does not necessarily mean that it is the same for humans, it does help to provide some insight on why men and women do have different patterns of sexual behavior. It seems that while some behavior patterns can be learned, the majority of them originated in our brains.

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