Can sex make us smarter

SARAH BERRY
Last updated 05:00 16/01/2014
sex
BRAIN TRAINING: “You can make new cells with exercise, Prozac and sex," says Rutgers University psychologist Tracey Shors.

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Can sex make us smarter? In news set to elicit shrieks of sheer elation, the latest research shows that it just might.

At the very least in mice.

Psychologists from the University of Maryland found that sex enhances the number of neurons in the part of the brain associated with memory and learning.

Whether the rodents used in the study had sex once or many times, their brain cells multiplied.

Additionally, when they had sex regularly over time, "cognitive function was improved", the paper's authors said in April.

The caveat here is that to preserve the perks, you have to persevere. The researchers found that, despite the generation of new neurons (cells that transmit information throughout the body), the cognitive benefits were lost when the rats stopped having sex for prolonged periods. 

The findings, taken together, revealed that sex can stimulate and restore cognitive function, the authors concluded. But, the extent to which it can do this is still unknown.

Separate studies of rats have come to similar conclusions and shown that regular sex flushes the brain cells with fresh oxygen, theoretically leading to a boost in brain power.

A new study by researchers in South Korea is set to take these findings a step further. Stress is known to inhibit the production of neurons so they wanted to examine how sex affects new cell development in stressed individuals. 

They looked at the survival rate of newly generated cells, the differentiation of neurons in chronically stressed and/or sexually active mice and conducted learning and memory tests. 

It was found that sexual activity increased the expression of brain-derived proteins that facilitate the survival of new neurons. They also found that sex can counteract some of the negative neural side-effects related to chronic stress.

Before you get too excited though, there are a couple of things worth remembering. Just because we develop new cells, doesn't mean they're utilised.

Abandoning the books for the bedroom may not be so much the answer as balancing the two.

“You can make new cells with exercise, Prozac and sex," Rutgers University psychologist Tracey Shors, is reported as saying by The Atlantic.

"If you do mental training, you'll keep alive more cells that you produced. And if you do both, now you have the best of both worlds – you're making more cells and keeping more alive.”

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Just beware of getting your jollys through too much porn. Recent research has shown that it can rewire our neural pathways and harm our ability to be intimate, among other things.

Sexual health therapist and Fairfax blogger Matty Silver is sceptical of these claims, however, and also questions how the intelligence-through-intercourse studies translate to humans.

"Yes, sex helps with stress levels," she says. "But ... how can it show that it increases intelligence in rats or mice?

"One of my last blogs was about the health benefits of masturbation (which really is the same for having sex) and it showed lots of health benefits (I researched every paper I could find on the subject but NONE mentioned – becoming more intelligent) 

"The same for people, it's a nice thought – makes a great article but I don't believe it."

Believe it or not, this may be one area where, provided we're enjoying ourselves, it doesn't hurt to be our own guinea pigs.


- Sydney Morning Herald

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