Thursday, October 14, 2021

How Does Our Brain Generate Sexual Pleasure?

How Does Our Brain Generate Sexual Pleasure? Barry R. Komisaruk & Maria Cruz Rodriguez del Cerro. International Journal of Sexual Health, Oct 13 2021.

Abstract: We present herein an exploratory essay on sexual pleasure, in support of the objective of developing an evidence base of knowledge for the WAS Declaration of Sexual Rights. We have attempted to account for the feeling of erotic sexual pleasure, in terms of what is known about neuronal function. The brain regions that are activated during women’s orgasm, and their perceptual and physiological roles, are compared with brain regions related to chemically induced euphoria and craving. The brain regions that are activated at orgasm match those that are activated by both euphoria and craving. Based on these findings, we propose that erotic, sensual feeling is a simultaneous activation of euphoria plus craving. The importance of sensory stimulation, proprioception, sensations, and feelings is emphasized by evidence that their disruption leads to pathologies. The process of buildup of excitation to a peak and then resolution is proposed as a basic “orgasmic” property of the nervous system shared by multiple systems, as in a sneeze, which we consider to be a non-genital orgasm. We postulate a process by which an excitation pattern feels pleasurable and – at higher intensity – euphoric, if it is congruent with an unconscious dynamic “template,” but aversive and at higher intensity painful, to the extent that it is incongruent with the template. Under this formulation, peak neuronal excitation that is congruent with the unconscious, simultaneously “getting what is craved,” generates orgasmic, erotic, sexual pleasure.

Moderate-to-large effect of MDMA (Ecstasy) on self-reported sociability-related outcomes (e.g., feeling loving, talkative, and friendly)

Does ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy) induce subjective feelings of social connection in humans? A multilevel meta-analysis. Annie Regan, Seth Margolis, Harriet de Wit, and Sonja Lyubomirsky. In press, PLoS One, Oct 2021.

Abstract: 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is a psychostimulant known for producing positive subjective effects and for enhancing social functioning and social connection in both clinical and recreational settings. Over the past two decades, scientists have begun to study the psychological effects of MDMA through rigorous placebo-controlled experimental work. However, most existing studies have small Ns, and the average sizes of the reported effects are unknown, creating uncertainty about the impact of these findings. The goal of the present study was to quantify the strength of MDMA’s effects on self-reported social connection by aggregating sociability-related outcomes across multiple placebo-controlled studies. To this end, we conducted a multilevel meta-analysis based on 27 studies, 54 effect sizes, and a total of 592 participants. The results revealed a moderate-to-large effect (d = 0.86; 95% CI [0.68, 1.04]; r = .39; 95% CI [.32, .46]) of MDMA on self-reported sociability-related outcomes (e.g., feeling loving, talkative, and friendly). Given the magnitude of its effect on felt sociability, we propose that MDMA may have powerful implications for a variety of social contexts and for clinical settings, in particular. Finally, we discuss potential mechanisms underlying the relationship between MDMA and sociability-related feelings, as well as future directions for experimental work in this area. 

Keywords: MDMA, Psychopharmacology, Sociability, Connection, Meta-Analysis

Atheists were further perceived as more prone to infidelity, especially when attractive

Preliminary evidence for an aversion to atheists in long-term mating domains in the Southern United States. Mitch Brown. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, October 13, 2021.

Abstract: The centrality of religiosity in selecting long-term mates suggests atheism could be undesirable for that context. Given recent findings suggesting several positive stereotypes about atheists, a largely distrusted group, individuals could prefer atheists in mating domains not emphasizing long-term commitment (i.e., short-term mating). Two studies tasked U.S. participants with evaluating long-term and short-term mating desirability of theists and atheists while assessing perceptions of their personalities. Study 1 indicated atheists were more desirable in short-term mating than long-term mating, though this preference did not translate to being preferred over theists. The pre-registered Study 2 demonstrated this effect is specific to physically attractive targets. Atheists were further perceived as more prone to infidelity, especially when attractive. Results are framed from an evolutionary perspective while discussing anti-atheist prejudice.

Keywords: Atheism, mate preferences, evolutionary psychology, infidelity, stereotyping

How does noise generated by researcher decisions undermine the credibility of science? 73 research teams independently conducted studies on the same hypothesis with identical starting data, & we find excessive variation of outcomes

Breznau, Nate, Eike Mark Rinke, Alexander Wuttke, Muna Adem, Jule Adriaans, Amalia Alvarez-Benjumea, Henrik K. Andersen, et al. 2021. “Observing Many Researchers Using the Same Data and Hypothesis Reveals a Hidden Universe of Uncertainty.” MetaArXiv. March 24. doi:10.31222/

Abstract: How does noise generated by researcher decisions undermine the credibility of science? We test this by observing all decisions made among 73 research teams as they independently conduct studies on the same hypothesis with identical starting data. We find excessive variation of outcomes. When combined, the 107 observed research decisions taken across teams explained at most 2.6% of the total variance in effect sizes and 10% of the deviance in subjective conclusions. Expertise, prior beliefs and attitudes of the researchers explain even less. Each model deployed to test the hypothesis was unique, which highlights a vast universe of research design variability that is normally hidden from view and suggests humility when presenting and interpreting scientific findings.

Supplemental Materials 

Regional personality assessment through social media language: Openness to experience was higher on the coasts, extraversion was higher in southern states, agreeableness was higher in western states, emotional stability was highest in the south

Regional personality assessment through social media language. Salvatore Giorgi et al. Journal of Personality, September 2021.


Objective: We explore the personality of counties as assessed through linguistic patterns on social media. Such studies were previously limited by the cost and feasibility of large-scale surveys; however, language-based computational models applied to large social media datasets now allow for large-scale personality assessment.

Method: We applied a language-based assessment of the five factor model of personality to 6,064,267 U.S. Twitter users. We aggregated the Twitter-based personality scores to 2,041 counties and compared to political, economic, social, and health outcomes measured through surveys and by government agencies.

Results: There was significant personality variation across counties. Openness to experience was higher on the coasts, conscientiousness was uniformly spread, extraversion was higher in southern states, agreeableness was higher in western states, and emotional stability was highest in the south. Across 13 outcomes, language-based personality estimates replicated patterns that have been observed in individual-level and geographic studies. This includes higher Republican vote share in less agreeable counties and increased life satisfaction in more conscientious counties.

Conclusions: Results suggest that regions vary in their personality and that these differences can be studied through computational linguistic analysis of social media. Furthermore, these methods may be used to explore other psychological constructs across geographies.

The personality trait of neuroticism (proneness to negative emotions) leads to avoidance, which maintains negative emotions and can lead to emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety

Neuroticism and Disorders of Emotion: A New Synthesis. David H. Barlow, Andrew J. Curreri, Lauren S. Woodard. Current Directions in Psychological Science, August 23, 2021.

Abstract: We describe an approach to anxiety, depressive, trauma-related, and other disorders, which we conceptualize as “emotional disorders” because of shared underlying dimensions uncovered by the study of traits or temperaments. We then explicate a functional model of emotional disorders based largely, but not exclusively, on the temperament of neuroticism and describe common factors that account for the development and maintenance of these conditions. We conclude by describing, and presenting supporting data for, a unified transdiagnostic approach to the treatment of emotional disorders that directly targets the underlying temperament of neuroticism and associated temperamental characteristics.

Keywords: neuroticism, transdiagnostic treatment, emotional disorders

Salivary testosterone among men was linked to concurrent sex partners & masturbation; among women, Sal-T was positively associated with masturbation; gay women, in addition, with partnered sex

Salivary Testosterone and Sexual Function and Behavior in Men and Women: Findings from the Third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3). W. G. Macdowall et al. The Journal of Sex Research, Oct 11 2021.

Abstract: Using data from the third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) we examined associations between salivary testosterone (Sal-T) and sexual function and behavior. Single morning saliva samples were self-collected from a subsample of participants aged 18–74 years and analyzed using mass spectrometry. 1,599 men and 2,123 women were included in the analysis (40.6% of those invited to provide a sample). We adjusted for confounders in a stepwise manner: in model 1 we adjusted for age only; model 2 for age, season and relationship status, and model 3 we added BMI and self-reported health. In the fully adjusted models, among men, Sal-T was positively associated with both partnered sex (vaginal sex and concurrent partners) and masturbation. Among women, Sal-T was positively associated with masturbation, the only association with partnered sex was with ever experience of same-sex sex. We found no clear association between Sal-T and sexual function. Our study contributes toward addressing the sparsity of data outside the laboratory on the differences between men and women in the relationship between T and sexual function and behavior. To our knowledge, this is the first population study, among men and women, using a mass spectrometry Sal-T assay to do so.


To our knowledge, this is the first population level study, of both men and women, using a validated salivary measure to explore the associations between Sal-T and aspects of sexual function and behavior.

We found no clear associations in our data between Sal-T and either overall sexual function (as measured by the Natsal-SF) or individual problems with sexual response in men or women. Among women, our data showed solitary sex to be more strongly associated than partnered sex with Sal-T; levels of Sal-T were higher in those who masturbated more recently and more frequently. We found no association between Sal-T and heterosexual partnered sexual activity among women, as measured by occurrence of vaginal sex in the past month, and nor did we find an association with number of partners or concurrency. The only measure of partnered sex associated with Sal-T among women was ever experience of same-sex behavior.

Among men, Sal-T was associated with masturbation but not more strongly than it was with partnered sex. Associations were seen between higher levels of Sal-T and recent occurrence of heterosexual partnered sex and with concurrency of sexual partners in the last five years, but not with number of sexual partners. The association with concurrency was reflected in men’s attitudes toward ‘casual’ sexual encounters, which were similarly linked with higher levels of Sal-T.

Contextualization and Interpretation

The absence of an association between T and overall sexual function in men in our large dataset is unsurprising given the measure of overall sexual function used in Natsal-3 which, as indicated above, took account not only of individual problems with response, but also the relational context, which is heavily influenced by psychosocial factors. The absence of any association with individual aspects of sexual function (erectile difficulties, lacking enjoyment in sex, distress about sex life, lacking interest in sex) is perhaps more surprising. The dominant narrative assumes T is the ‘biological driver’ of sexual desire in men. The fact that men have both higher levels of T and report higher levels of interest in sex than women seems to speak to this narrative (van Anders, 2012). Much of the evidence linking T with sexual desire in men has, however, come from clinical studies among those with overt T deficiency in the context of investigating the effects of TRT (Corona et al., 2017). There is little empirical evidence (van Anders, 2012), including that now provided by our study that T levels in men within the normal range are associated with sexual desire. In the European Male Aging Study (EMAS), which focused specifically on older men – though like Natsal drew on a large sample of community dwelling individuals – only weak associations were found between aspects of sexual function and T. These included ‘overall sexual function’ (O’Connor et al., 2011) and erectile dysfunction and frequency of both sexual thoughts and morning erections, though the associations with these latter three sexual symptoms were attenuated when adjustments were made for age, BMI, and co-existing health conditions (Wu et al., 2010). Further, the findings from EMAS highlight the non-linear relationship between T and aspects of sexual function and point to symptom-specific T ‘thresholds’; only under the ‘threshold’ does the probability of experiencing the sexual symptom increase (O’Connor et al., 2011; Wu et al., 2010). Hence, among older men, androgen deficiency is only likely to be a key pathogenic component in problems of sexual function when T levels are overtly subnormal (Wu et al., 2010). In older men with unequivocal age-related hypogonadism, TRT has been associated with modest improvements in sexual function (Matsumoto, 2019; Snyder et al., 2016). Evidence of the value of T supplementation for ‘low T’ within the normal range as a therapeutic solution to problems, such as erectile dysfunction and low libido, however, is lacking (Huo et al., 2016).

The few large community studies that have been conducted in women have identified associations between androgens and sexual function though in unadjusted analyses (Davis et al., 2005), or among women in menopausal transition (Randolph et al., 2015). In our unadjusted model, we did find an association between Sal-T and sexual desire in women, which remained significant after adjustment for age (with women lacking interest in sex having lower Sal-T than those who did not) but was attenuated after further adjustments for relationship status, season, BMI, and general health status, highlighting the importance of contextual factors. The current global consensus is that there is insufficient evidence regarding the use of T for the treatment of sexual function in premenopausal women, but among postmenopausal women T may yield benefits in terms of increasing sexual desire (as well as other components of sexual function including arousal and orgasmic function) (Davis et al., 2019). Evidence from controlled trials among postmenopausal women indicates that estrogen-only therapies are also associated with increases in sexual desire and that these effects can be enhanced when estrogen is coupled with T (Cappelletti & Wallen, 2016).

Our data support our prior assumption that the relative influence of hormonal status and social context, and hence the strength of associations between Sal-T and sexual behavior, would vary between men and women. Attempts to understand why dyadic sex, especially partner concurrency, is more strongly associated with T among men than women have drawn on evolutionary theories asserting that it may have greater reproductive advantage for men (Puts et al., 2015; van Anders et al., 2015). Yet associations between T and dyadic and solo sex may also be differentially moderated in men and women by gendered social norms regulating sexual behavior (van Anders et al., 2015). Variation in the extent to which men and women may be differentially socialized to non-exclusivity features regularly in explanations as to why men report larger numbers of sexual partners than women in research (Jonason & Fisher, 2009; Mitchell et al., 2019).

Sal-T’s marked link with masturbation among women, in the absence of an observed link with aspects of partnered behavior, may be seen as consistent with the notion of a stronger moderating effect of social factors on hormonal influences on women’s behavior. It has been proposed that masturbation may be a ‘truer’ measure of sexual desire, as although socially censured, it is neither constrained by social surveillance nor dependent on social relations. The suggestion in our data of a stronger link with solitary than partnered sexual activity among women accords with evidence reported elsewhere; albeit from either laboratory studies and/or those utilizing smaller convenience samples (Randolph et al., 2015; van Anders, 2012). Interpretation of these findings has drawn on the bi-directionality of the association between T and sexuality (Goldey & van Anders, 2011) and on the different meanings and motivations attached to solitary and partnered sex. For example, qualitative research among women points to solitary sexuality as primarily erotic and partnered sexuality as nurturant (Goldey et al., 2016). Women self-identifying as heterosexual have been shown to be more likely to reach orgasm in solitary compared with partnered sex (Carvalheira & Leal, 2013) and the experience of orgasm has been found to increase levels of T (van Anders et al., 2007).

Our finding of higher mean Sal-T in women with ever experience of same sex sex is illuminated by a recent systematic review, investigating whether lesbian and bisexual women may have different levels of sex hormones compared to heterosexual women. The review found tentative evidence of higher T among sexual minority women, though the heterogeneity of studies and problems with confounding made it hard to draw definitive conclusions (Harris et al., 2020).

Strengths and Weaknesses

This study had a number of strengths. Firstly, Natsal-3 is a large population-based study of men and women, covering a wide age range and capturing multiple aspects of sexual function, behavior, and attitudes. Secondly, Sal-T was measured by the ‘gold standard’ method of mass spectrometry using samples collected at the same time of day in order to account for the diurnal variation in testosterone. Thirdly, we were able to adjust for known confounders identified in our earlier analysis (Clifton et al., 2016; Keevil et al., 2017), so that independent associations between Sal-T and sexual function and behavior could be established. A number of limitations need also to be considered. Firstly, nonparticipation bias is likely to have occurred both in relation to recruitment to the main survey and providing a saliva sample. There were known differences between those who did and did not return a saliva sample, though statistical weighting was used to minimize these biases. The second limitation is that, with the exception of items relating to appraisal of sex life, the Natsal-SF (which included the questions about the individual problems with sexual response) was only asked of people who were sexually active in the past year and so excluded those who may not have had sex in over a year because of sexual difficulties. The third limitation relates to the adjustments made. While we did adjust for variables identified from our previous analyses as linked with both Sal-T and sexual function and behavior (Clifton et al., 2016; Keevil et al., 2017) there are, however, likely to be other confounders that we have not adjusted for. A further limitation relates to the complexity of the phenomena under investigation and the challenge in establishing causal direction when using cross-sectional data and single saliva samples given evidence that the relationship between T and sexual behavior is bi-directional (Escasa et al., 2011). We also have to recognize the limitations of a peripheral measure of T in assessing T status. In men and women, it is thought that a large proportion of androgens (and estrogens) are produced within cells where they exert their action and circulating androgens do not reflect this ‘intracrine’ androgen synthesis (Labrie, 1991). Relatedly, different forms of the androgen receptor are thought to vary in their sensitivity to T (Wåhlin-Jacobsen et al., 2018). Hence, circulating T is only part of a complex picture.

Our study contributes toward addressing the deficit in terms of attention paid to the role of T in women’s sexuality (Bancroft & Graham, 2011) and the sparsity of data on the differences between men and women in the relationship between T and sexual function and behavior. Our data tend to confirm that differences between men and women need to be understood by examining them in the context of both social and hormonal influences on sexual function and behavior.

Larger and higher‐earnings zones have much higher housing costs, enough so to more than completely offset their larger effects on nominal earnings; thus, movements to larger or to higher earnings locations mean reductions in real income

Location, Location, Location. David Card Jesse Rothstein Moises Yi. US Census, CES 21-32, Oct 2021.

Abstract: We use longitudinal data from the LEHD to study the causal effect of location on earnings. We specify a model for log earnings that includes worker effects and fixed effects for different commuting zones (CZs) fully interacted with industry, allowing us to capture potential impacts of local specialization. Building on recent work on firm‐specific wage setting, we show that a simple additive model provides a good approximation to observed changes in log earnings when people move across CZ’s and/or industries, though it takes a couple of quarters for migrants to fully realize the gains of a move. We also show that the earnings premiums for different CZ‐industry pairs are nearly separable in industry and CZ, with statistically significant but very small interaction effects. Consistent with recent research from France, Spain and Germany, we find that two thirds of the variation in observed wage premiums for working in different CZs is attributable to skill‐based sorting. Using separately estimated models for high and low education workers, we find that the locational premiums for the two groups are very similar. The degree of assortative matching across CZs is much larger for college‐educated workers, however, leading to a positive correlation between measured returns to skill and CZ average wages or CZ size that is almost entirely due to sorting on unobserved skills within the college workforce. 

Redheaded Women Are More Sexually Active Than Other Women, but It Is Probably Due to Their Suitors

Sýkorová, Kateřina, Vojtěch Fiala, Jana Hlaváčová, Šárka Kaňková, and Jaroslav Flegr. 2021. “Redheaded Women Are More Sexually Active Than Other Women, but It Is Probably Due to Their Suitors.” OSF Preprints. October 13. doi:10.31219/

Abstract: Women with red hair colour, i.e., 1–9% of female Europeans, tend to be the subject of various stereotypes about their sexually liberated behaviour. The aim of the present case-control study was to explore whether a connection between red hair colour and sexual behaviour really exists using data from 110 women (34% redheaded) and 93 men (22% redheaded). Redheadedness in women, but not in men, correlated with various traits related to sexual life, namely with higher sexual desire as measured by Revised Sociosexual Orientation Inventory, with higher sexual activity and more sexual partners of the preferred gender over the past year, earlier initiation of sexual life, and higher sexual submissiveness. Structural equation modelling, however, showed that sexual desire of redheaded women meditated neither their higher sexual activity nor most of the variability of having more sexual partners. These results indicate that the apparently more liberated sexual behaviour in redheaded women could be the consequence of frequent attempts of potential mates to have sex with redheaded women. Other hypotheses, based on different physiology, faster life history strategy, or altered self-perception of red-haired women induced by stereotypes about them, were also tested and discussed.