How the brains of adolescent girls react when thinking about sex

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  • Published: Jan 16, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: MRI Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: How the brains of adolescent girls react when thinking about sex

An MRI study of the brain has revealed how adolescent girls react when they are making decisions about low-risk or high-risk sexual behaviour.

Two scientists in the USA analysed the brain activity of a number of 14-15-year-old girls with functional MRI while asking them to make decisions about sexual activity. In practice, this meant monitoring the flow of blood throughout the various brain regions. For comparison, they were also asked to make decisions about eating food or buying household items.

The girls made quicker decisions about participating in risky behaviour than they did when considering low-risk activities. The area of the brain that controls impulses and emotion was more engaged with high-risk sexual decisions than with other high-risk decisions.

"These results suggest that when a high level of sexual risk is perceived, the brain’s resources are directed at controlling emotion and the reward associated with the decision," said researcher Devon Hensel from Indiana University in Journal of Adolescent Health.

The girls also kept daily diaries to record their past sexual attitudes and experiences. Those who claimed to be more likely to participate in high-risk sexual activities had a higher degree of sexual interest in the month following MRI compared with girls who thought they were less likely to be involved in high-risk sexual activity.

"By evaluating brain activity while young people make decisions about high- and low-risk behavior, we can better determine how the brain is involved in managing the emotions and motivations associated with different sex-related behaviors," said coauthor Thomas. "Greater knowledge in this area could lead to opportunities to better educate teens about making healthy decisions."

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