Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Culture news: The mind, the body and sex - A psychiatrist describes how the brain is shaped by sexual experience

The movie "Fifty Shades of Grey" has prompted a whole series of articles considering how its treatment of sexuality is harmful and destructive.  One of the most interesting I have come across is by psychiatrist Aaron Kheriaty who discusses how sexual practice impacts the brain itself and forms patterns that are easy to form and hard to change.

While our culture today want to treat sex as if the mind and body and be separated, Kheriaty counters:
But the human mind and the human body simply do not work this way. The modern science of neuroplasticity reveals that our brains continue to change—to be molded—across our lifespan, in response to our behaviors, our relationships, and our life experiences. Our brains obviously influence our behavior. But the reverse is also true: our behaviors influence our brain. So our choices have neurobiological consequences: our behaviors hard-wire, and re-wire, our brain in ways that profoundly shape who we are and how we function.
He goes on to note:
With this in mind, consider sexual experiences, which are also intensely emotionally charged. With sexual behaviors, things get wired into our brain rather easily; even experimentation or dabbling has tangible physical effects. Undoing these new neural networks (or brain maps) is much more difficult and prolonged than the original process of forming them. Forming the addiction was easy; recovering from the addiction is hard.
Although Kheriaty is addressing abusive sexual behavior, his comments also have application to other sexual behaviors that are now promoted by our culture: 
In The Brain That Changes Itself, psychiatrist Norman Doidge summarizes research on the neurobiological aspects of sexual development. He writes: “The human libido is not a hardwired, invariable biological urge but can be curiously fickle, easily altered by our psychology and the history of our sexual encounters,” and he goes on to conclude: “Sexual taste is obviously influenced by culture and experience and is often acquired and then wired into the brain."


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