Pittsburgh Gay Nude Yoga...NOT for the Delicate!

Last Weds. evening I went to my first yoga class.  Pittsburgh has an all gay yoga class that is located over in Millvale in an art studio and I had always head about it from friends who went.  I decided it was time to give it  a try.  Now, I know a little bit about yoga and I know a lot about meditation so I sort of knew what to expect  and I told Dan, "dont think this is for cream puff's, you are going to be hurting."  I should have heeded my own advice!

We got there, with yoga mat and towel in tow and immediatly disrobed and lined up along with the other 20 guys.  The Yoga teacher asked if we were newbies and I said yes thinking MAYBE he will go easy on us!   NOT.  For 90 minutes I twisted my naked body into positions that I didnt know that the human body could withstand.  I sweated like a pig.  I was out of breath and on the verge of collapse but managed to hang on!  I felt VERY sore the next two days but felt very limber and actually am looking forward to going back!

The group of guys were very friendly and no one was made to feel uncomfortable.  To be honest, when you are naked and doing yoga, you are in too much pain and too sweaty to even think about noticing the other men in the room!

I turns out that a lot of the guys had gone to Body Electric, as did I last year and a few of them go to Roseland so it was nice to chit chat a bit afterward!

If you are interested in attending a class....Its every Weds from 7-9 in Millvale and its $8.00 per session to cover expenses for the group.

Here is the link!

Pittsburgh NUDE Yoga Group Facebook Page

And the link to an interview with OUT TV:
Youtube Video of Interview with Positive OUTlook TV

And Heres a Description from the Site:


Here's information about our all male nude yoga group.

We have been doing this in Pittsburgh for over 4 years and have had over 220 practices.

It is like a traditional yoga practice except we are nude.
We strip, get comfortable with our nakedness,
and experience our unencumbered bodies during the practice.
It's an opportunity to practice with other guys who enjoy the freedom of leaving their worries, illusions, and clothes behind.

We stretch and strengthen our bodies, while we relax our minds, harmonize our spirits, and balance our "beingness".

Generally, this is an easy to follow practice that is perfect for someone who has never practiced yoga before, or who has practiced but been away for a while.

Here's what a session is like:
Typically, we begin our practice with a stretching sequence,
we then enter our practice explaining proper alignment, positioning, and breathing;
then we begin a traditional sun salutation series,
and end with a meditative relaxation.

This practice is oriented toward providing a foundation for a personal yoga regimen.

Those who have never practiced before,
have been away from yoga,
or who lack flexiblity,
will benefit the most.

Many of our members are surprised how good they feel after just a single session.

As you develop proficiency, you can move into more challenging positions.

Whether you are a novice or yogi,
you'll fit in, follow along, and have fun.

Afterward, we snack and talk for 30 minutes or so.

We are a fun, accepting, non-judgmental all male group.

For a number of guys making the commitment to practice nude the first time seems like "hitting the stage" unprepared.
But after they get over the initial "stage fright" most guys comment they have a new sense of acceptance, calm and confidence.

Practicing nude has an awareness changing sensual quality,
but this is not an orgy.
Because it's not an orgy,
no one feels pressured to perform sexually,
or embarrassed afterward;
as a result, it's a good ongoing environment to develop your body, spirit and friendships.

It's a great group of guys.

A typical practice has 12-20 guys,
ages typically range from 20s-50s;
body types range from studs to spuds.
proficiencies range from novice to more experienced;
and sexual orientations cover the landscape.
The common element is that everyone is nice.

We meet once a week,
Wednesdays from 7-9pm.
We meet at an art gallery in Millvale.

Our visitors contribute $8 per visit to help us with expenses.

All you will need are the bare essentials:
a mat, (we normally don't have extra mats),
a towel and you.

Or for more info see our Nude Yoga interview on:
The show is under
Out TV Shows
"Positive Outlook" 8-5-10

To join our group and get directions:
just email:


We send out an invitation to join our private Facebook page
and a weekly reminder with our address and directions.

Busy Weekend

This past holiday weekend I went to Roseland to relax since it was FINALLY a decent warm, sunny weekend! I needed some R&R and wanted to try to feel better since the last two weeks have been sorta shitty with my weird eye and dizzy stuff going on.

I felt pretty awful on Saturday when I left David's house but felt better once I got to Roseland and laid in the pool for a while.  It was a holiday weekend so it was jam packed with guys and the pool was crammed full but it still felt great to be outside and in the sun. I chilled by the pool for most of the day and then had dinner with some very good friends.  My friend Carl made it to camp despite being exhausted from just finishing his battle with stage four throat cancer.  I was so happy to see him and it made me even more happy that his strength is returning.  We missed him very much at camp...it just didnt seem the same without him.  I always enjoyed sitting by the pool with him and also Sunday morning breakfasts with the guys.  Walt, Tommy, Dan, Carl, and Jay and I all had a great dinner and sat and caught up for a while. After a bit of camper drama (something always breaks or needs to be fixed) with a fridge on the fritz and a very frazzled me, I managed to figure out the problem and avoid an $800.00 fridge replacement!  I headed back to the camper to shower and get ready to go to the evening party.  Dan and I went for about an hour and I still wasnt feeling 100% so I decided to go back and just rest.  My friend Matthew invited us down just to chill out on his deck and make pizzas on the grill (which are fabulous by the way!).

Today was more pool time and then I left around four.  Dan decided to stay for the week.  I DREAD the drive down the mountain alone, and even more so with my current dizzyness going on.  Luckily Walt and Tom left and let me convoy down the mountain with them.  What a relief.  Now I just have to get through work this week and manage to get back down next Sat. for another stressful drive back up the mountain to retrieve Dan and the dog.  I left two instructions with Dan....ONE, dont burn down the trailer, and TWO....DO NOT LOSE MY DOG!

So here I sit, in my sweltering house, alone, with no dog....seems sorta strange.  I find myself looking for him and its almost like having a kid. You have to have eyes in the back of your head with a Doxy.  They get into EVERYTHING.  I was just eating some dinner in the living room and found myself waiting for him to come running out and lunge for the plate.  Sadly, no Doxy came running!  Just me and my aloof cat who wouldnt probably notice if I were dead on the floor.

Hopefully this week goes fast....I just want to be back by the pool...and not worrying about if I am going to pass out, or have another horrible migraine attack!


The Wonkey Eye

The last couple of weeks have been a little strange and a little stressful.  The Friday before last David and I went to a garden center to look for a statue for his yard.  While there, I felt like I was getting a bad migraine and had some sharp pain above my right eye.  I didn't think much of it until we went to lunch and my eye just didnt feel right.  I looked into a mirror at the restaurant and noticed that my left pupil was blown and my right was constricted.  This put me into a bit of panic since working in healthcare gave me the knowledge that often times pupil changes can indicate all sorts of not so nice things like a stroke or a TIA.  I went through the weekend and it happened twice more.  Monday I went to the ER at St. Margaret where I work and was given two MRI scans which didnt show anything other than what the prior scan four years ago showed.  Weds. I went to the neurologist and to the eye doctor and was forced to have an MR angiogram of my carotid arteries to rule out a tear and also any kind of vascular malformation in my brain.  All came back normal.  The nuero thinks its all related to my horrible migraines (again!!!!).

Its been almost two weeks and I still have, what my coworkers have so aptly named "the wonkey eye".  It seems that the wonkey eye is not leaving anytime soon and neither is the sense of dizzyness that has returned.  I thought I was finally rid of it and boom, its back again and now it brought its friend the wonkey eye.  Whats next?  I am afraid to even think about it!

I am, more than anything, frustraited at being 38 years old and having to worry about getting from point A to point B and falling down.  It makes driving a chore and it also sucks very much when trying to work.  I think the most frustraiting thing is that no one seems to get it.  Migraines suck and most people (except  the people who are unlucky enough to have them) just think we are whining about a simple headache.  It is so much more that that!  Migraines affect your whole body.  The make you dizzy, sometimes sick to your stomach, your head feels like an ice pick has been driven into it, you sometimes get black spots in your vision, or sometimes you lose your vision, you get tingling in your arms and legs, and worst of a all, it affects how you concentrate and your short term memory.  Some days I feel like I have a hangover or like I am jet lagged and cant concentrate which makes it VERY hard to work in an OR type setting. I know that it drives the people around me crazy because they dont understand and they get sick of hearing about it.  I usually get the glazed over look or the change of subject. Some days I get depressed and tired of dealing with it and would give anything just to feel like normal again. I miss those days.  Sometimes I feel like people think that I am just making it up, or that I am crazy, or just wanting attention.  Some days I feel like no one understands and I feel alone and like no one cares.  It sucks and unfortunatly my options are few.  I can take drugs that have lovely side effects, or just deal with feeling mentally off and having ice pick pain several times a week. Had I known that my life would change forever four years ago when I woke up one morning feeling like the world was spinning I would have enjoyed every minute of it.  I miss being able to not worry about what the next suprise will be with my body or if I will be able to think clearly or be able to balance normally when I wake up the next day. 

Enough whining I guess....I am just tired of the four year fight with no end in sight......I know people cant fix it...I just want them to know that most days it takes a huge effort just to get through the day and most days I don't express it but some days I just get tired and it gets me down.  I dont enjoy feeling this way and I wouldnt wish it upon my worst enemy!


What Makes People Gay?

The debate has always been that it was either all in the child's upbringing or all in the genes. But what if it's something else?

Researcher Alan Sanders signs up Daniel Velez Rivera on Boston Common for a study using gay brothers to search for the genetic basis for homosexuality.
Researcher Alan Sanders signs up Daniel Velez Rivera on Boston Common for a study using gay brothers to search for the genetic basis for homosexuality.
With crystal-blue eyes, wavy hair, and freshly scrubbed faces, the boys look as though they stepped out of a Pottery Barn Kids catalog. They are 7-year-old twins. I'll call them Thomas and Patrick; their parents agreed to let me meet the boys as long as I didn't use their real names.
Spend five seconds with them, and there can be no doubt that they are identical twins - so identical even they can't tell each other apart in photographs. Spend five minutes with them, and their profound differences begin to emerge.
Patrick is social, thoughtful, attentive. He repeatedly addresses me by name. Thomas is physical, spontaneous, a bit distracted. Just minutes after meeting me outside a coffee shop, he punches me in the upper arm, yells, "Gray punch buggy!" and then points to a Volkswagen Beetle cruising past us. It's a hard punch. They horse around like typical brothers, but Patrick's punches are less forceful and his voice is higher. Thomas charges at his brother, arms flexed in front of him like a mini-bodybuilder. The differences are subtle - they're 7-year-old boys, after all - but they are there.
When the twins were 2, Patrick found his mother's shoes. He liked wearing them. Thomas tried on his father's once but didn't see the point.
When they were 3, Thomas blurted out that toy guns were his favorite things. Patrick piped up that his were the Barbie dolls he discovered at day care.
When the twins were 5, Thomas announced he was going to be a monster for Halloween. Patrick said he was going to be a princess. Thomas said he couldn't do that, because other kids would laugh at him. Patrick seemed puzzled. "Then I'll be Batman," he said.
Their mother - intelligent, warm, and open-minded - found herself conflicted. She wanted Patrick - whose playmates have always been girls, never boys - to be himself, but she worried his feminine behavior would expose him to ridicule and pain. She decided to allow him free expression at home while setting some limits in public.
That worked until last year, when a school official called to say Patrick was making his classmates uncomfortable. He kept insisting that he was a girl.
Patrick exhibits behavior called childhood gender nonconformity, or CGN. This doesn't describe a boy who has a doll somewhere in his toy collection or tried on his sister's Snow White outfit once, but rather one who consistently exhibits a host of strongly feminine traits and interests while avoiding boy-typical behavior like rough-and-tumble play. There's been considerable research into this phenomenon, particularly in males, including a study that followed boys from an early age into early adulthood. The data suggest there is a very good chance Patrick will grow up to be homosexual. Not all homosexual men show this extremely feminine behavior as young boys. But the research indicates that, of the boys who do exhibit CGN, about 75 percent of them - perhaps more - turn out to be gay or bisexual.
What makes the case of Patrick and Thomas so fascinating is that it calls into question both of the dominant theories in the long-running debate over what makes people gay: nature or nurture, genes or learned behavior. As identical twins, Patrick and Thomas began as genetic clones. From the moment they came out of their mother's womb, their environment was about as close to identical as possible - being fed, changed, and plopped into their car seats the same way, having similar relationships with the same nurturing father and mother. Yet before either boy could talk, one showed highly feminine traits while the other appeared to be "all boy," as the moms at the playgrounds say with apologetic shrugs.

"That my sons were different the second they were born, there is no question about it," says the twins' mother.
So what happened between their identical genetic starting point and their births? They spent nine months in utero. In the hunt for what causes people to be gay or straight, that's now the most interesting and potentially enlightening frontier.
WHAT DOES IT MATTER WHERE HOMOSEXUALITY COMES FROM? Proving people are born gay would give them wider social acceptance and better protection against discrimination, many gay rights advocates argue. In the last decade, as this "biological" argument has gained momentum, polls find Americans - especially young adults - increasingly tolerant of gays and lesbians. And that's exactly what has groups opposed to homosexuality so concerned. The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think tank in Washington, D.C., argues in its book Getting It Straight that finding people are born gay "would advance the idea that sexual orientation is an innate characteristic, like race; that homosexuals, like African-Americans, should be legally protected against 'discrimination;' and that disapproval of homosexuality should be as socially stigmatized as racism. However, it is not true."
Some advocates of gay marriage argue that proving sexual orientation is inborn would make it easier to frame the debate as simply a matter of civil rights. That could be true, but then again, freedom of religion enjoyed federal protection long before inborn traits like race and sex.
For much of the 20th century, the dominant thinking connected homosexuality to upbringing. Freud, for instance, speculated that overprotective mothers and distant fathers helped make boys gay. It took the American Psychiatric Association until 1973 to remove "homosexuality" from its manual of mental disorders.
Then, in 1991, a neuroscientist in San Diego named Simon LeVay told the world he had found a key difference between the brains of homosexual and heterosexual men he studied. LeVay showed that a tiny clump of neurons of the anterior hypothalamus - which is believed to control sexual behavior - was, on average, more than twice the size in heterosexual men as in homosexual men. LeVay's findings did not speak directly to the nature-vs.-nurture debate - the clumps could, theoretically, have changed size because of homosexual behavior. But that seemed unlikely, and the study ended up jump-starting the effort to prove a biological basis for homosexuality.
Later that same year, Boston University psychiatrist Richard Pillard and Northwestern University psychologist J. Michael Bailey announced the results of their study of male twins. They found that, in identical twins, if one twin was gay, the other had about a 50 percent chance of also being gay. For fraternal twins, the rate was about 20 percent. Because identical twins share their entire genetic makeup while fraternal twins share about half, genes were believed to explain the difference. Most reputable studies find the rate of homosexuality in the general population to be 2 to 4 percent, rather than the popular "1 in 10" estimate.

In 1993 came the biggest news: Dean Hamer's discovery of the "gay gene." In fact, Hamer, a Harvard-trained researcher at the National Cancer Institute, hadn't quite put it that boldly or imprecisely. He found that gay brothers shared a specific region of the X chromosome, called Xq28, at a higher rate than gay men shared with their straight brothers. Hamer and others suggested this finding would eventually transform our understanding of sexual orientation.
That hasn't happened yet. But the clear focus of sexual-orientation research has shifted to biological causes, and there hasn't been much science produced to support the old theories tying homosexuality to upbringing. Freud may have been seeing the effect rather than the cause, since a father faced with a very feminine son might well become more distant or hostile, leading the boy's mother to become more protective. In recent years, researchers who suspect that homosexuality is inborn - whether because of genetics or events happening in the womb - have looked everywhere for clues: Prenatal hormones. Birth order. Finger length. Fingerprints. Stress. Sweat. Eye blinks. Spatial relations. Hearing. Handedness. Even "gay" sheep.
LeVay, who is gay, says that when he published his study 14 years ago, some gays and lesbians criticized him for doing research that might lead to homosexuality once again being lumped in with diseases and disorders. "If anything, the reverse has happened," says LeVay, who is now 61 and no longer active in the lab. He says the hunt for a biological basis for homosexuality, which involves many researchers who are themselves gay or lesbian, "has contributed to the status of gay people in society."
These studies have been small and underfunded, and the results have often been modest. Still, because there's been so much of this disparate research, "all sort of pointing in the same direction, makes it pretty clear there are biological processes significantly influencing sexual orientation," says LeVay. "But it's also kind of frustrating that it's still a bunch of hints, that nothing is really as crystal clear as you would like."
Just in the last few months, though, the hints have grown stronger.
In May, Swedish researchers reported finding important differences in how the brains of straight men and gay men responded to two compounds suspected of being pheromones - those scent-related chemicals that are key to sexual arousal in animals. The first compound came from women's urine, the second from male sweat. Brain scans showed that when straight men smelled the female urine compound, their hypothalamus lit up. That didn't happen with gay men. Instead, their hypothalamus lit up when they smelled the male-sweat compound, which was the same way straight women had responded. This research once again connecting the hypothalamus to sexual orientation comes on the heels of work with sheep. About 8 percent of domestic rams are exclusively interested in sex with other rams. Researchers found that a clump of neurons similar to the one LeVay identified in human brains was also smaller in gay rams than straight ones. (Again, it's conceivable that these differences could be showing effect rather than cause.)

In June, scientists in Vienna announced that they had isolated a master genetic switch for sexual orientation in the fruit fly. Once they flicked the switch, the genetically altered female flies rebuffed overtures from males and instead attempted to mate with other females, adopting the elaborate courting dance and mating songs that males use.
And now, a large-scale, five-year genetic study of gay brothers is underway in North America. The study received $2.5 million from the National Institutes of Health, which is unusual. Government funders tend to steer clear of sexual orientation research, aware that even small grants are apt to be met with outrage from conservative congressmen looking to make the most of their C-Span face time. Relying on a robust sample of 1,000 gay-brother pairs and the latest advancements in genetic screening, this study promises to bring some clarity to the murky area of what role genes may play in homosexuality.
This accumulating biological evidence, combined with the prospect of more on the horizon, is having an effect. Last month, the Rev. Rob Schenck, a prominent Washington, D.C., evangelical leader, told a large gathering of young evangelicals that he believes homosexuality is not a choice but rather a predisposition, something "deeply rooted" in people. Schenck told me that his conversion came about after he'd spoken extensively with genetic researchers and psychologists. He argues that evangelicals should continue to oppose homosexual behavior, but that "many evangelicals are living in a sort of state of denial about the advance of this conversation." His message: "If it's inevitable that this scientific evidence is coming, we have to be prepared with a loving response. If we don't have one, we won't have any credibility."
AS THE 21-YEAR-OLD COLLEGE JUNIOR IN A HOSPITAL JOHNNY slides into the MRI, she is handed controls with buttons for "strongly like" and "strongly dislike." Hundreds of pornographic images - in male-male and female-female pairings - flash before her eyes. Eroticism eventually gives way to monotony, and it's hard to avoid looking for details to distinguish one image from the rest of the panting pack. So it goes from "Look at the size of those breasts!" to "That can't be comfortable, given the length of her fingernails!" to "Why is that guy wearing nothing but work boots on the beach?"
Regardless of which buttons the student presses, the MRI scans show her arousal level to each image, at its starting point in the brain.

Researchers at Northwestern University, outside Chicago, are doing this work as a follow-up to their studies of arousal using genital measurement tools. They found that while straight men were aroused by film clips of two women having sex, and gay men were aroused by clips of two men having sex, most of the men who identified themselves as bisexual showed gay arousal patterns. More surprising was just how different the story with women turned out to be. Most women, whether they identified as straight, lesbian, or bisexual, were significantly aroused by straight, gay, and lesbian sex. "I'm not suggesting that most women are bisexual," says Michael Bailey, the psychology professor whose lab conducted the studies. "I'm suggesting that whatever a woman's sexual arousal pattern is, it has little to do with her sexual orientation." That's fundamentally different from men. "In men, arousal is orientation. It's as simple as that. That's how gay men learn they are gay."
These studies mark a return to basics for the 47-year-old Bailey. He says researchers need a far deeper understanding of what sexual orientation is before they can determine where it comes from.
Female sexual orientation is particularly foggy, he says, because there's been so little research done. As for male sexual orientation, he argues that there's now enough evidence to suggest it is "entirely in-born," though not nearly enough to establish how that happens.
Bailey's 1991 twin study is still cited by other researchers as one of the pillars in the genetic argument for homosexuality. But his follow-up study using a comprehensive registry of twins in Australia found a much lower rate of similarity in sexual orientation between identical twins, about 20 percent, down from 50 percent. Bailey still believes that genes make important contributions to sexual orientation. But, he says, "that's not where I'd bet the real breakthroughs will come."
His hunch is that further study of childhood gender nonconformity will pay big. Because it's unclear what percentage of homosexuals and lesbians showed CGN as children, Bailey and his colleagues are now running a study that uses adult participants' home movies from childhood to look for signs of gender-bending behavior.
Cornell psychologist Daryl Bem has proposed an intriguing theory for how CGN might lead to homosexuality. According to this pathway, which he calls "the exotic becomes erotic," children are born with traits for temperament, such as aggression and activity level, that predispose them to male-typical or female-typical activities. They seek out playmates with the same interests. So a boy whose traits lead him to hopscotch and away from rough play will feel different from, and ostracized by, other boys. This leads to physiological arousal of fear and anger in their presence, arousal that eventually is transformed from exotic to erotic.

Critics of homosexuality have used Bem's theory, which stresses environment over biology, to argue that sexual orientation is not inborn and not fixed. But Bem says this pathway is triggered by biological traits, and he doesn't really see how the outcome of homosexuality can be changed.

Bailey says whether or not Bem's theory holds up, the environment most worth focusing in on is the one a child experiences when he's in his mother's womb.
LET'S GET BACK TO THOMAS AND PATRICK. BECAUSE IT'S UNCLEAR why twin brothers with identical genetic starting points and similar post-birth environments would take such divergent paths, it's helpful to return to the beginning.
Males and females have a fundamental genetic difference - females have two X chromosomes, and males have an X and a Y. Still, right after conception, it's hard to tell male and female zygotes apart, except for that tucked-away chromosomal difference. Normally, the changes take shape at a key point of fetal development, when the male brain is masculinized by sex hormones. The female brain is the default. The brain will stay on the female path as long as it is protected from exposure to hormones. The hormonal theory of homosexuality holds that, just as exposure to circulating sex hormones determines whether a fetus will be male or female, such exposure must also influence sexual orientation.
The cases of children born with disorders of "sexual differentiation" offer insight. William Reiner, a psychiatrist and urologist with the University of Oklahoma, has evaluated more than a hundred of these cases. For decades, the standard medical response to boys born with severely inadequate penises (or none at all) was to castrate the boy and have his parents raise him as a girl. But Reiner has found that nurture - even when it involves surgery soon after birth - cannot trump nature. Of the boys with inadequate penises who were raised as girls, he says, "I haven't found one who is sexually attracted to males." The majority of them have transitioned back to being males and report being attracted to females.
During fetal development, sexual identity is set before the sexual organs are formed, Reiner says. Perhaps it's the same for sexual orientation. In his research, of all the babies with X and Y chromosomes who were raised as girls, the only ones he has found who report having female identities and being attracted to males are those who did not have "receptors" to let the male sex hormones do their masculinizing in the womb.
What does this all mean? "Exposure to male hormones in utero dramatically raises the chances of being sexually attracted to females," Reiner says. "We can infer that the absence of male hormone exposure may have something to do with attraction to males."
Michael Bailey says Reiner's findings represent a major breakthrough, showing that "whatever causes sexual orientation is strongly influenced by prenatal biology." Bailey and Reiner say the answer is probably not as simple as just exposure to sex hormones. After all, the exposure levels in some of the people Reiner studies are abnormal enough to produce huge differences in sexual organs. Yet, sexual organs in straight and gay people are, on average, the same. More likely, hormones are interacting with other factors.

Canadian researchers have consistently documented a "big-brother effect," finding that the chances of a boy being gay increase with each additional older brother he has. (Birth order does not appear to play a role with lesbians.) So, a male with three older brothers is three times more likely to be gay than one with no older brothers, though there's still a better than 90 percent chance he will be straight. They argue that this results from a complex interaction involving hormones, antigens, and the mother's immune system.
By now, there is substantial evidence showing correlation - though not causation - between sexual orientation and traits that are set when a baby is in the womb. Take finger length. In general, men have shorter index fingers in relation to their ring fingers; in women, the lengths are generally about the same. Researchers have found that lesbians generally have ratios closer to males. Other studies have shown masculinized results for lesbians in inner-ear functions and eye-blink reactions to sudden loud noises, and feminized patterns for gay men on certain cognitive tasks like spatial perception and remembering the placement of objects.
New York University researcher Lynn S. Hall, who has studied traits determined in the womb, speculates that Patrick was somehow prenatally stressed, probably during the first trimester, when the brain is really developing, particularly the structures like the hypothalamus that influence sexual behavior. This stress might have been based on his position in the womb or the blood flow to him or any of a number of other factors not in his mother's control. Yet more evidence that identical twins have womb experiences far from identical can be found in their often differing birth weights. Patrick was born a pound lighter than Thomas.
Taken together, the research suggests that early on in the womb, as the fetus's brain develops in either the male or female direction, something fundamental to sexual orientation is happening. Nobody's sure what's causing it. But here's where genes may be involved, perhaps by regulating hormone exposure or by dictating the size of that key clump of neurons in the hypothalamus. Before researchers can sort that out, they'll need to return to the question of whether, in fact, there is a "gay gene."
THE CROWD ON BOSTON COMMON IS THICK ON THIS SCORCHER of a Saturday afternoon in June, as the throngs make their way around the 35th annual Boston Pride festival, past booths peddling everything from "Gayopoly" board games to Braveheartian garments called Utilikilts. Sitting quietly in his booth is Alan Sanders, a soft-spoken 41-year-old with a sandy beard and thinning hair. He's placed a mound of rainbow-colored Starbursts on the table in front of him and hung a banner that reads: "WANTED: Gay Men with Gay Brothers for Molecular Genetic Study of Sexual Orientation."

Sanders is a psychiatrist with the Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Research Institute who is leading the NIH-funded search for the genetic basis of male homosexuality (www.gaybros.com). He is spending the summer crisscrossing the country, going to gay pride festivals, hoping to recruit 1,000 pairs of gay brothers to participate. (His wife, who just delivered their third son, wasn't crazy about the timing.) When people in Boston ask him how much genes may contribute to homosexuality, he says the best estimate is about 40 percent.
Homosexuality runs in families - studies show that 8 to 12 percent of brothers of gay men are also gay, compared with the 2 to 4 percent of the general population.
Sanders spends much of the afternoon handing out Starbursts to people who clearly don't qualify for a gay brothers study - preteen girls, adult lesbians wearing T-shirts that read "I Like Girls Who Like Girls," and elderly women in straw hats who speak only Chinese. But many of the gay men who stop by are interested in more than free candy. Among the people signing up is James Daly, a 31-year-old from Salem. "I think it's important for the public - especially the religious right - to know it's not a choice for some people," Daly says. "I feel I was born this way."
(In fairness, there aren't many leaders of groups representing social and religious conservatives who still argue that homosexual orientation - as opposed to behavior - is a matter of choice. Even as he insists that no one is born gay, Peter Sprigg, the point person on homosexuality for the Family Research Council, says, "I don't think that people choose their sexual attraction.")
In the decade since Dean Hamer made headlines, the gay gene theory has taken some hits. A Canadian team was unable to replicate his findings. Earlier this year, a team from Hamer's own lab reported only mixed results after having done the first scan of the entire human genome in the search for genes influencing sexual orientation.
But all of the gene studies so far have been based on small samples and lacked the funding to do things right. Sanders's study should be big enough to provide some real answers on linkage as well as shed light on gender nonconformity and the big-brother effect.
There is, however, a towering question that Sanders's study will probably not be able to answer. That has to do with evolution. If a prime motivation of all species is to pass genes on to future generations, and gay men are estimated to produce 80 percent fewer offspring than straight men, why would a gay gene not have been wiped out by the forces of natural selection? This evolutionary disadvantage is what led former Amherst College biologist Paul Ewald to argue that homosexuality might be caused by a virus - a pathogen most likely working in utero. That argument caused a stir when he and a colleague proposed it six years ago, but with no research done to test it, it remains just another theory. Other scientists have offered fascinating but unpersuasive explanations, most of them focusing on some kind of compensatory benefit, in the same way that the gene responsible for sickle cell anemia also protects against malaria. A study last year by researchers in Italy showed that female relatives of gay men tended to be more fertile, though, as critics point out, not nearly fertile enough to make up for the gay man's lack of offspring.

But there will be plenty of time for sorting out the evolutionary paradox once - and if - researchers are able to identify actual genes involved in sexual orientation. Getting to that point will likely require integrating multiple lines of promising research. That is exactly what's happening in Eric Vilain's lab at the University of California, Los Angeles. Vilain, an associate professor of human genetics, and his colleague, Sven Bocklandt, are using gay sheep, transgenic mice, identical twin humans, and novel approaches to human genetics to try to unlock the mystery of sexual orientation.
Instead of looking for a gay gene, they stress that they are looking for several genes that cause either attraction to men or attraction to women. Those same genes would work one way in heterosexual women and another way in homosexual men. The UCLA lab is examining how these genes might be turned "up" or "down." It's not a question of what genes you have, but rather which ones you use, says Bocklandt. "I have the genes in my body to make a vagina and carry a baby, but I don't use them, because I am a man." In studying the genes of gay sheep, for example, he's found some that are turned "way up" compared with the straight rams.
The lab is also testing an intriguing theory involving imprinted genes. Normally, we have two copies of every gene, one from each parent, and both copies work. They're identical, so it doesn't matter which copy comes from which parent. But with imprinted genes, that does matter. Although both copies are physically there, one copy - either from the mom or the dad - is blocked from working. Think of an airplane with an engine on each wing, except one of the engines is shut down. A recent Duke University study suggests humans have hundreds of imprinted genes, including one on the X chromosome that previous research has tied to sexual orientation.
With imprinted genes, there is no backup engine. So if there's something atypical in the copy from mom, the copy from dad cannot be turned on. The UCLA lab is now collecting DNA from identical twins in which one twin is straight and the other is gay. Because the twins begin as genetic clones, if a gene is imprinted in one twin, it will be in the other twin as well. Normally, as the fetuses are developing, each time a cell divides, the DNA separates and makes a copy of itself, replicating all kinds of genetic information. It's a complicated but incredibly accurate process. But the coding to keep the backup engine shut down on an imprinted gene is less accurate.

So how might imprinted genes help explain why one identical twin would be straight and the other gay? Say there's an imprinted gene for attraction to females, and there's something atypical in the copy the twin brothers get from mom. As all that replicating is going on, the imprinting (to keep the copy from dad shut down) proceeds as expected in one twin, and he ends up gay. But somehow with his brother, the coding for the imprinting is lost, and rather than remain shut down, the fuel flows to fire up the backup engine from dad. And that twin turns out to be straight.
IN THE COURSE OF REPORTING THIS STORY, I EXPERIENCED A good deal of whiplash. Just when I would become swayed by the evidence supporting one discreet theory, I would stumble onto new evidence casting some doubt on it. Ultimately, I accepted this as unavoidable terrain in the hunt for the basis of sexual orientation. This is, after all, a research field built on underfunded, idiosyncratic studies that are met with full-barreled responses from opposing and well-funded advocacy groups determined to make the results from the lab hew to the scripts they've honed for the talk-show circuit.
You can't really blame the advocacy groups. The stakes are high. In the end, homosexuality remains such a divisive issue that only thoroughly tested research will get society to accept what science has to say about its origin. Critics of funding for sexual orientation research say that it isn't curing cancer, and they're right. But we devote a lot more dollars to studying other issues that aren't curing cancer and have less resonance in society.
Still, no matter how imperfect these studies are, when you put them all together and examine them closely, the message is clear: While post-birth development may well play a supporting role, the roots of homosexuality, at least in men, appear to be in place by the time a child is born. After spending years sifting through all the available data, British researchers Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman come to an even bolder conclusion in their forthcoming book Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation, in which they write: "Sexual orientation is something we are born with and not `acquired' from our social environment."
Meanwhile, the mother of twins Patrick and Thomas has done her own sifting and come to her own conclusions. She says her son's feminine behavior suggests he will grow up to be gay, and she has no problem with that. She just worries about what happens to him between now and then.

After that fateful call from Patrick's school, she says, "I knew I had to talk to my son, and I had no clue what to say." Ultimately, she told him that although he could play however he wanted at home, he couldn't tell his classmates he was a girl, because they'd think he was lying. And she told him that some older boys might be mean to him and even hit him if he continued to claim he was a girl.
Then she asked him, "Do you think that you can convince yourself that you are a boy?"
"Yes, Mom," he said. "It's going to be like when I was trying to learn to read, and then one day I opened the book and I could read."
His mother's heart sank. She could tell that he wanted more than anything to please her. "Basically, he was saying there must be a miracle - that one day I wake up and I'm a boy. That's the only way he could imagine it could happen."
In the year since that conversation, Patrick's behavior has become somewhat less feminine. His mother hopes it's just because his interests are evolving and not because he's suppressing them.
"I can now imagine him being completely straight, which I couldn't a year ago," she says. "I can imagine him being gay, which seems to be statistically most likely."
She says she's fine with either outcome, just as long as he's happy and free from harm. She takes heart in how much more accepting today's society is. "By the time my boys are 20, the world will have changed even more."
By then, there might even be enough consensus for researchers to forget about finger lengths and fruit flies and gay sheep, and move on to a new mystery.

Straight Men, Gay Porn, and Other Brain Map Mysteries

Straight Men, Gay Porn’ and Other Brain Map Mysteries

What’s the role of orgasm in wiring artificial sexual tastes?

Porn addiction can change sexual tastesFor most of the last century, neuroscientists were convinced that adult brains were pretty much set. Now, recent neuroscience reveals that our brains are suprisingly plastic throughout our lives. By learning techniques that help us sidestep unwanted wiring, we can even direct the re-wiring process—with seemingly miraculous results.
A key principle in understanding how we wire, or re-wire, our brains is "neurons that fire together wire together." That is, if two things happen at the same time, our brains often associate them by means of actual neural connections. The more intense the associated events, or the more they are repeated, the stronger the wiring. Groups of nerve cells devoted to a behavior or function are sometimes called "brain maps."
Orgasm is a neurochemical blast so delicious that our brains readily wire it (and arousal) to associated events and circumstances. For example, as Norman Doidge explains in The Brain That Changes Itself,
The men at their computers looking at porn were uncannily like the rats in the cages of the NIH, pressing the bar to get a shot of dopamine or its equivalent. Though they didn't know it, they had been seduced into pornographic training sessions that met all the conditions required for plastic change of brain maps. ... Each time they felt sexual excitement and had an orgasm when they masturbated, a "spritz of dopamine," the reward neurotransmitter, consolidated the connections made in the brain during the sessions. [From the chapter "Acquiring Tastes and Loves."]
Clearly, orgasm is such a powerful reinforcer that it can shape brain maps, with implications for where our future attention is directed without our conscious awareness. This suggests that we might want to think ahead before diving into a particular means of sexual arousal.
Aversion can also alter brain maps. Doidge records that the sexual tastes of one of his patients went through phases. (p.95) He was only attracted to Asian sex partners in one phase, and only to African partners in another. In each case, he was sure his happiness depended upon sex with that racial group. Yet eventually he couldn't stomach sex with either. (One wonders where the poor guy's tastes shifted once he exhausted his sexual desire for all five races.)
Paradoxically, too much orgasm may have been behind his aversion. Sexual satiety seems to fuel the Coolidge Effect, that is, the tendency of mammals to tire of mates with which they have exhausted their sexual desire, so they find novel mates alluring.
Along the same lines, heavy porn users sometimes notice that as tolerance builds for their earlier tastes, they move in new directions in their search for intense arousal. Instead of seeking porn that accords with their former brain maps, many seek out what shocks them—perhaps because "forbidden" and "fear-producing," when combined with sexual arousal, offer a bigger brain chemical kick...at least for a time. Each shift wires the new tastes into the brain.Porn addiction rewires the brain in surprising ways
Doidge also points out that some users' porn choices, such as spanking or domination scenarios, may be related to subconscious, that is, implicit, childhood memories of which they are unaware. Once activated by the "right" porn, and reinforced with orgasm, such scenarios can more swiftly become compulsions.
Completely unanticipated sexual tastes can arise. More than one poor guy who has been straight all his life, and who honestly believes he is still straight, has arrived at my website shaken by the fact that gay porn is suddenly compelling. Is this just latent homosexuality? Maybe not, because the dial doesn't necessarily stop at gay porn. One man went from straight porn, to gay porn, to porn themes of heterosexual domination and sexual hypnosis. Others are traumatized to find themselves moving from fantasizing to acting out porn scenarios, as the buzz from mere video flags.
Does hypersexuality play a role in these changes? Consider the various instances of alterations in sexual tastes  (from heterosexual to homosexual) in patients given dopamine agonist drugs  for Parkinson's and restless legs. In some, the high-dopamine drugs, or perhaps the drug-induced hypersexuality, caused uncharacteristic sexual tastes—until their meds were adjusted.
Pursuit of frequent orgasm with the help of today's extreme Internet porn may produce a similar effect (surges of dopamine that drive fetish formation). When questioned about the alleged permanence of childhood sexual brain maps, one twenty-year porn veteran said candidly:
I just do not think any tastes are permanent—or that what I would desire would stay the same. I mean with the different phases I went through in the porn addiction, things changed a lot. What are my core attractions? I do not even know anymore. I think I will discover them after I have been out of the porn part of this addiction for a long time.
He may be right. A period of abstinence from orgasm seems to be yet another technique that alters people's sexual brain maps (or reveals more deep-seated maps). Said a straight guy who was exclusively watching gay porn and confused about it:
I made it just 10 days this time without masturbating, but I'm confident my tastes are shifting back. My attraction to women was amped up a lot. I actually got butterflies and spontaneous arousal while looking at a woman for the first time in 2 years! I also had a kind of revelation. Have my tastes have been manipulated by constant reinforcement and conditioning via masturbating to particular sexual fantasies?
His experience paralleled this woman's, which she recounted after she began to experiment with karezza lovemaking. As an adult, she discovered that the torture fantasies that ran in her head whenever she was trying to climax were the product of some insignificant (but apparently both painful and arousing) genital snipping her pediatrician did when she was a baby. Discovering the source of this brain map did not un-wire the association. In fact, she said she never became aroused or climaxed without heart-closing, torture movies running in her head. To her amazement, when she began experimenting with making love without orgasm as the goal the fantasies swiftly receded, never to return.
After reading Doidge's book, I suspect that these individuals saw changes because they reversed the "neurons that fire together wire together" rule. That is, they removed pusuit of orgasm for a time—with its unwanted, but tightly wired, associations. This somehow allowed their brains to shed, or begin to shed, artifically acquired associations.
Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz uses a version of this technique with great success to help OCD (obsessive-compulsive) patients modify the brain wiring that causes unwanted associations to trigger "required" actions. Each time an unwanted impulse arises, the patient turns his attention to some other, pre-chosen, constructive activity. Gradually, "neurons that fire apart, wire apart." That is, nerve cell connections weaken as activity in the key synapses declines.
Porn addiction changes brainsWhat all this means, and for whom, remains to be seen. For example, would it be possible to use this technique to re-wire sexual maps acquired in childhood through misfortune? Doidge describes a study done on a BDSM community (bondage and sadomasochism). It revealed that all the masochists had undergone painful medical procedures during childhood. Could these adults find out what their sexual tastes would have been in the absence of such experiences? And what of unwanted associations acquired due to child sexual abuse? Would a period of sex without orgasm (to the unwanted stimuli) allow a brain to reboot and then align with its earlier wiring?
Orgasm is so enticing that our brains automatically take the fastest path to it, just like taking the most direct route across a field of grass. If we never allow the grass to grow back, we keep walking the path of least resistance even if it formed purely as a quirk of fate.
The possibility that humans may be able to free their sexual brain maps from unwanted debris is fascinating. At the same time, it's sobering to consider how many people may inadvertently be altering their plastic brains with semi-permanent junk they really don't want—with the help of today's cornucopia of intensely arousing Internet porn.

Love, Sex, and Pleasure ...explained in a neuro chemical way!

Ever wonder why sex feels so good?  Why we fall in love?  What makes you feel attracted to the other person?  Why does love fade after a while?  What happens when you have an orgasm?  Its all chemical my friends....

 Thips article does a GREAT job of explaining all of these processes from a biological and psychological point of view.  I guess its the former psych major and bio geek coming out in me......have a read...its a bit heavy on the technical terms but it really does do a great job of explaining how we are hard wired from an evolutionary point of view. 

Let’s look at what goes on in the brain during sex and orgasm. Although you may think everything happens between your legs, the experience of orgasm actually occurs between your ears. All thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations you have correlate to specific nerve cells being activated. Orgasm, like all experiences, is brought about by electric impulses flowing along paths of connected nerve cells. Orgasm happens when specific pleasure pathways are turned on, while your defense pathways are turned off. All this happens by means of chemical messengers and the nerve cell receptors they bind to.
These neurochemical changes take place primarily in the limbic system, a very old part of the brain with circuitry that is common to all mammals. These ancient limbic circuits control almost all bodily functions. Its job is to keep you alive and reproducing. It does this by avoiding pain and repeating what is pleasurable. The limbic system is the seat of emotions, drives, impulses and desires – including sexual. It’s where you fall in and out of love…or lust. Due to the nature of the limbic system, you cannot will your feelings, emotions, falling in love, or staying in love, anymore than you can will your heart to beat, or yourself to digest a meal or sleep.
The limbic system has been around for well over 100,000,000 years, lurking right beneath your large, rational neo-cortex. Rats, apes and humans use the same neurochemicals to operate the same functions in this part of the brain. Keep in mind that scientists aren't studying rodent brains to help them with their addictions and erections!
Studying animals and humans, scientists have begun to unravel the neurochemistry of lust, attachment and falling in love. Falling in love involves simultaneous activation and deactivation of discrete parts of the limbic system. For every biological event in your body, there is a biological cause. In this case, the cause is neurochemicals—and the pathways they turn on and off.

Neurochemical Commands: Your World Revolves Around Dopamine

brain's reward circuitryThe central neurochemical player behind falling in—and out—of love is dopamine. Dopamine is the principal neurochemical that activates your reward circuitry, the centerpiece of the limbic system. Your reward circuitry drives nearly all of your behaviors. In other words, most all roads lead to Rome, or to the reward circuitry, so you can assess things as "good, bad, or indifferent."
At its most basic, this circuit is activated when you engage in activities that further your survival, or the continuation of your genes. Whether it’s sex, eating, taking risks, achieving goals, or drinking water, all increase dopamine, and dopamine turns on your reward circuitry. You can think of dopamine as the "Gotta have it!" neurochemical, whatever "it" is. It’s the "craving" signal.
The more dopamine you release and the more your reward circuit is activated, the more you want or crave something. A good example is food. We get a much bigger blast of dopamine eating high-calorie foods than we do low-calorie foods. It’s why we choose chocolate cake over Brussels sprouts. Our reward circuit is programmed so that "calories equal survival." cake slice You’re not actually craving ice cream, or a winning lotto ticket, or even a romp in the sack. You’re craving the dopamine that is released with these activities. Dopamine is your major motivation, not the item or activity.
Dopamine is not the only neurochemical involved with reward, but it’s the one that motivates you to go after the reward. Dopamine governs the feelings of wanting, yet the experience of liking or enjoying something is probably due to opioids. Opioids are your brains own morphine and endorphins. Dopamine drives us toward eating or orgasm, but the experience of the actual orgasm or eating chocolate arises from opioids goosing the reward circuit. In essence, dopamine is never satisfied.
Addiction mechanisms are extraordinarily complex, and not fully understood. Yet the one aspect they share is dopamine dysregulation. All addictive substances and activities share one thing – the ability to strongly elevate dopamine levels. Watching porn, accumulating money, gaining power over others, gambling, compulsive shopping, video games…if something really boosts your dopamine, then it’s potentially addictive for you. Why did Martha Stewart risk everything for more money? She got a thrill from a stock market gamble. She didn’t need the money; she (thought she) needed the dopamine.
Addictive highs mimic the good feelings of the basic activities for which we're actually wired...by hijacking our reward circuitry. Only a few substances (alcohol, cocaine, etc.) have the ability jack up dopamine – that’s why they are addictive. We can also hijack it with extremely stimulating versions of natural behaviors: casinos with hot hostesses, novel porn at every click, tasty junk food filled with fat and sugar, and so forth.
Dopamine loves novelty and the unexpected above all other natural stimuli.
Don't fall into labeling dopamine as bad. There's no such thing as a bad neurochemical or hormone, although either can become a problem when out of balance. Dopamine is absolutely necessary for your decision-making, happiness, and survival. Yet when it’s too low or too high (or when changes in its receptors alter your sensitivity), it can cause real problems.
If you look at this chart you can see some behaviors and conditions associated with dopamine levels or with sensitivity to dopamine. Sensitivity equates with how many receptors a nerve cell has for dopamine. It's true that some of the conditions listed are at extreme ends of the dopamine spectrum, nonetheless, dopamine is involved with many aspects of mood, behavior, and perception. Even small shifts in dopamine sensitivity or levels can have profound effects on how you see the world, or your partner.
The key word on the list below is bonding. Bonding is more than a behavior. It is a mammalian program, the program that permits parenting and living in groups. When dopamine drops, you are likely to find your partner less rewarding—and your bond unravels.

Dopamine Levels (or altered sensitivity to dopamine)

Excess Deficient "Normal"
Addictions Addictions Healthy bonding
Anxiety Depression Feelings of well-being, satisfaction
Compulsions Anhedonia—no pleasure, world looks colorless Pleasure, reward in accomplishing tasks
Sexual fetishes Lack of ambition and drive Healthy libido
Sexual addiction Inability to "love" Good feelings toward others
Unhealthy risk-taking Low libido Motivated
Gambling Erectile dysfunction Healthy risk taking
Compulsive activities No remorse about personal behavior Sound choices
Aggression ADHD or ADD Realistic expectations
Psychosis Social anxiety disorder Parent/child bonding
Schizophrenia Sleep disturbances, "restless legs" Contentment with "little" things
The power of dopamine and our reward circuitry is seen in classic experiments done of rats. Researchers placed electrodes in rats’ reward circuits in a way that allowed the rats to stimulate them, much as dopamine does. The rats then stimulates this reward center as much as they wanted by pressing a lever.
That’s all those rats did thousands of times an hour. rat pushing leverThey ignored food, receptive females and their own pups, if female. They just sat there pressing the lever over and over, wasting away…not unlike crack addicts.
(For more on how this "binge trigger" works, see this more recent article: Has Evolution Trained Our Brains to Gorge on Food and Sex? )
In other experiments, scientists blocked dopamine so the reward center could not be activated by normal everday stimuli. What happened? The rats just sat there, again—ignoring food, receptive mates, and the opportunity to explore their environment.

Dopamine and Orgasm

Orgasm is the biggest non-chemical blast of dopamine available to us. A Dutch scientist scanned the brains of people having orgasm. He said they resembled scans of heroin rushes. He saw visions of an "orgasm pill" and lots of money. We saw visions of one of the most addictive substance ever produced.
Orgasms and addictive substances or behaviors have two things in common. They both produce an initial pleasurable experience, and both are followed by a "hangover." This is a program of neurochemical fluctuations, triggered by orgasm, which appears to continue for a week or two. The sexual satiation (post-orgasm) hangover is innate, or what we have always experienced. That's one reason many never notice its effects - they have always been there. It can be such a subtle part of you that you do not connect the dots, unless you switch to making love without it for several weeks, and then go back to sex with orgasm.
"What goes up must come down." It’s simple biology; body systems must return to balance, or homeostasis. In this case it's your dopamine (or sensitivity to dopamine) rising and falling. That can play around with your mood and, most importantly for your love life, the way in which you perceive, and treat, your partner. Perception is the key word, and it may change days after the event.
Jekyll & Hyde With conventional sex and orgasms you’re probably going in and out of these dopamine extremes. So are we saying that orgasm makes you schizophrenic and then depressed, as in the chart above? No, but it definitely can affect your behavior and mood. Reflection upon the behaviors associated with high and low dopamine may help explain how one’s lover can do the "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" thing. (Or the Aphrodite-Medusa thing.)
Consider this: A menstrual cycle is generally 28 days of hormonal dominoes, but some women suffer from PMS often, others now and then, others don't notice it. Same thing with the orgasm cycle. It's there...and we know for sure that it lasts for at least 7 days in men, and for 15 days in both males and females of at least one other mammal. Yet the experience of those going through it can differ widely.
All of the following factors (and more, no doubt) can shape lovers' experience: How new is their romance? How much daily affection do they engage in to soothe their nervous systems? What kind of sex do they have? (Intercourse has been shown to be more relaxing over the days following than oral sex or masturbation.) How sensitive are they to particular neurochemicals? Probably no two recovery periods are identical.
Subtle or not, these changes in our feelings can lead to many of the judgments that couples routinely make: "He's not doing enough." "She's nagging me," and so forth. Your genes want enough disharmony so that both of you will welcome new mating opportunities, whether or not you actually indulge in them. Why? Increased genetic variety in your offspring. There are no sexually-exclusive monogamous mammals (or birds), even among pair-bonders. True monogamy is a ticket to extinction as far as your genes are concerned.
The mechanism that nudges mates apart is very old, because evolution keeps the traits that work in our genes' favor. This does not mean these urges work in your favor, however. Close, trusted companionship and warm affection are some of the best health insurance there is. Relationship turnover can be stressful.

The Passion Cycle: Dopamine, Prolactin, and Oxytocin

The highs and lows of dopamine are only part of the "post-sexual satiation hangover" story. At orgasm, dopamine drops like a lead balloon (at least if you're a typical male), and we lose interest, at least temporarily. Paradoxically, if you've been overstimulating yourself, you're likely be looking around for more stimulation very quickly. See Do You Need a Chaser after Sex?
A lot more happens after orgasm—although there is still much to learn. As explained, dopamine drops (and/or nerve cell receptors for dopamine decline, leaving your reward circuitry less sensitive to dopamine for some unknown period of time).dopamine drops, prolactin rises At the same time, the neurohormone prolactin shoots up. Like most hormones, prolactin has many jobs in the body. After orgasm it acts as a "sexual satiation" substance, suppressing dopamine. Dopamine is an accelerator; prolactin is a brake.
Other changes occur, too. First, enkephalins (endogenous opioids) are elevated for more than 24 hours in some brain areas, and more than two days in the hypothalamus. And this happens after one ejaculation, or after many. Opioids have been shown to inhibit oxytocin neuron activity, which may decrease feelings of satisfaction. Sexual impotence is associated with increased production of opioids and reduced production of oxytocin. Are opioids leaving lovers restless and dissatisfied over the days after orgasm?
It's understandable if you are confused about opioids, considering we said they contribute to the plesure of orgasm. In the brain it is always about specificity. So, opioids in one section of the brain may have the opposite effect in another section.
Oxytocin often surges briefly after climax (although prolactin is considered a more reliable marker of the Big O.) As oxytocin is known as the "bonding hormone," many people assume orgasm must be first-rate glue for lovers. However, like prolactin, oxytocin performs many different jobs in the body, and the orgasm surge may be related to the contractions of orgasm itself (oxytocin is also behind labor and lactation contractions). This surge also appears to trigger the rise of prolactin (a "sexual satiation" neurochemical) and penile flaccidity. Certainly, if orgasm tightly bonded lovers, we'd see very few one-night stands...and a lot more johns in love with their hookers.
Everyone's experience of this cycle is somewhat different. Numerous factors appear to affect how we experience it, such as degree of sexual surfeit, whether a partner and loving affection are present, the type of sex (intercourse or not), and, of course, individual sensitivity to pertinent neurochemicals.
Psychologists are uniquely suited to grasp the implications of this phenomenon. More than most neurobiologists, they are aware that subtle changes in feelings (even those brought on by perfectly normal neurochemical fluctuations) can be projected onto others. Projections then mold our experience of the world—and our perception of our mates—without our conscious awareness. No partner, however tolerant or attentive, can consistently soothe our discomfort, or fill a "hole" inside us, which we are experiencing because we have disrupted our neurochemical balance with too much of a good thing.
Orgasm’s fluctuating dopamine pattern, especially the lows, actually encourages addictions of many kinds because people attempt to use artificial means to manipulate ("medicate") their dopamine levels. Low dopamine (or reduced sensitivity to it) is at the heart of all cravings, whether one is addicted or not. We want our dopamine back up to normal, so we feel "right." Gary found that when he got off of the orgasm roller coaster, the results were amazing: He dropped a long-term addiction and eventually left behind prescription antidepressants, ending a lifetime of depression.
Evolutionarily, a mammal's prime choice for feeling good (without waiting out the cycle) was pursuing a novel sex partner.
Think about it. Most addictions, or use of mood-altering substances and activities, kick in during teen years, when we become sexually active. A Columbia University study found that sexually active teens use more drugs. One might think social factors alone lead to this correlation between drugs and sex, but when scientists studied hamsters, they found that sexually-active hamsters were much more susceptible to amphetamine addiction than their virgin counterparts. This research brings us to another observation. Children, or pre-teens have yet to activate this dopamine roller coaster, and they generally possess a cheerful, optimistic enthusiasm for the simplest activities. Perhaps this is due to balanced dopamine.

The Passion Cycle: Testosterone Receptors, Serotonin, and Opioids

neurochemicals fluctuate during the cycle after climaxHow long is the passion cycle on average? No one yet knows. We do know that in human males the neurochemical sequence after ejaculation is at least 7 days. (Testosterone predictably spikes briefly around day seven.) However, men and women who observe themselves carefully notice changes in mood that flicker on and off for about two weeks. Perhaps this cycle is an evolutionary remnant of an ancestor's mating season.
Among our fellow mammals, rats have been studied the most. Their limbic systems are so similar to ours that they have been called "guiding flashlights" for understanding the primitive mechanisms of our own brain. satiated rat Sexually-satiated male rats take up to fifteen days to recover their full desire for sex, although there is one way to jump-start them, which we’ll get to in a moment. (Female rats also show evidence of a 15-day cycle in the form of predictable surges of prolactin after vigorous copulation, whether or not they become pregnant.)
Research shows male rats experience a reduction in testosterone receptors for up to a week within their reward circuitry. Hormones and neurochemicals dock with receptors on the nerve cells. In this case, fewer receptors mean less sensitivity to circulating testosterone. The result is that the reward circuitry pumps out less dopamine. It's like the reward circuitry's batteries are low. If this happens in females, it would also reduce their sexual desire. Low testosterone (or decreased sensitivity to it) is associated with irritability and anger.
Serotonin and endorphin levels also rise in the reward circuitry of sexually-satiated rats. Most of us have heard that these are "happy neurochemicals," but in this part of the limbic system both function to put on the brakes instead of just producing warm, fuzzy feelings. image of nerve cell receptorsKeep in mind that sexual dysfunction is a major side effect of taking either antidepressants that raise serotonin or narcotics that mimic endorphins. When neurochemicals dampen your reward circuitry for a time, your relationship can suffer.

Dopamine and the Coolidge Effect

Humans, like virtually all mammals, are not naturally monogamous. This may not sound very romantic, but no mammals are sexually exclusive. (A few, such as humans, are socially monogamous. That is, they raise their offspring together.) It is therefore likely that our mating neurochemistry is set up to accomplish two goals. It encourages bonding so we co-parent. Yet there is also a conflicting program to push us out of those bonds—at least far enough to add a novel mate.
From chimps to rats, the same neurochemical events drive mammalian behaviors, and they are driving them to be promiscuous. Is it likely that Mr. and Mrs. Rodent are growing apart in their relationship? Could the excitement be gone from their marriage? Perhaps Mrs. Chimp spends too much money, or nags too much. Maybe Mr. Chimp watches too much football or doesn’t help much with housework. Not likely. Just like us, they have a subconscious program, triggered by mating, found in their limbic systems, which biology uses to urge them tire of their mates and move on to new mates.
regions of brain During the two weeks that the hangover from orgasm lingers, our large, rational brain proposes logical reasons to explain our relationship disharmony. Orgasm is natural…absolutely. But it may also be natural for both men and women to sour on a mate, to suddenly find a spouse unattractive, irritating, and wholly unreasonable. It may even be natural to become wholly unreasonable and thus hasten the departure of a mate.
Now we know that all of you are wondering about that sure-fire way to jump-start male rats' flagging libido. Perhaps you can already guess. All you have to do is introduce a new, receptive female. That may not be the answer you were hoping for…or perhaps it was!
Have you heard of the "Coolidge Effect?" Because that’s what we're addressing. Scientists have discovered that—after a frenzy of copulation—a male rat will lose interest in a female. BUT should a new female show up, he’ll perk up long enough to service her.1 This process can be continued until he practically dies of exhaustion—once again proving that biology doesn’t give a rat’s…hindquarters about anything but propelling genes into the future. The Coolidge Effect has been observed in every species tested, and not just in males. Lady rodents prefer to seduce new guys, too.
The Coolidge Effect just might play a role in human affairs as well. Marnia once talked with a man who had stopped counting at 350 lovers. He said, "I really don’t understand it. I lost interest in all of them sexually so quickly—and some of those women are really beautiful, too."
brussel sproutsThe Coolidge Effect is linked to your post-orgasm hangover. The reason the rat loses interest is that he’s getting a weaker and weaker dopamine surge from Partner No. 1. No dopamine surge, no interest. She is not perceived as "rewarding." The same thing happens to humans. The thrill is gone, and Partner No. 1 looks like Brussels sprouts. Now you’re primed for anything that will jack up your dopamine again. Partner No. 2 appears, and your dopamine soars. As if by magic, your blues are gone, and you have that heady feeling of anticipation, that sense of uninhibited aliveness. In short, No. 2 looks like chocolate cake.
Assuming we don't learn how to steer for lasting bonds by taming our limbic system, our reward circuitry will push us to do just what it evolved to do (once our temporary honeymoon neurochemistry wears off). We'll get less and less dopamine "reward" during sex with our current mate. Notice that this is similar to what occurs when people use drugs or gamble. They seek more and more stimulation to get the same high.
In short, feelings of sexual satiety do not promote romance—which calls into question a lot of today's relationship advice about producing bigger and better orgasms. The truth has been recognized for thousands of years. Here's a poem from the ancient Greek Anthology.
Once plighted, no men would go whoring.
They'd stay with the one they adore,
If women were half as alluring
After the act as before.
Back to our tale. What if No. 2 doesn’t show up for your tryst, and you’re left in the doldrums? Unlike rats, you have many dopamine-raising possibilities—from internet porn, gambling and alcohol, to the new dopamine agonists drug companies are producing to light a fire under slumbering libidos (not recommended, due to risky side effects).
These "fixes" make you feel better briefly, but as far as your well-being goes, they are like eating junk food—a net loss. As biologist Robert Sapolsky observed, there is a price for blasting our reward circuitry too enthusiastically in our efforts to counter the blues.
Unnaturally strong explosions of synthetic experience and sensation and pleasure evoke unnaturally strong degrees of habituation.... Our tragedy is that we just become hungrier." In short, there are advantages to steering for equilibrium initially, rather than always reaching for more stimulation to cope.
Your limbic system is not equipped to understand that there can be too much of a good thing. It just keeps rewarding you to do the same unrewarding things. A "fix" just positions you for a continuous addictive cycle of highs, more lows, and a search for more highs. Many of us spend much of our sex lives caught in this cycle—with no obvious way out.

The Power of Equilibrium

happy couple We have talked about how roller coaster levels of dopamine can break couples apart, but there’s also something holding couples together. The neurochemical that binds couples together is oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone" or "bonding hormone." Without it, we could not stay in love. Falling in love is associated with a soup of neurochemicals—like adrenaline, which makes your heart race, and, as we have mentioned, dopamine, which makes you crave your beloved, and low serotonin, which can make you obsessed with someone. But the heartwarming, loving, "gushy" aspects of love are due to oxytocin. It is the "unconditional love" hormone associated with nurturing and generous affection.
Oxytocin has various functions in the body, such as inducing labor contractions and milk ejection, but from evolutionary biology’s perspective, its main evolutionary function is to bond us to our children for life. It also serves to bond us to our mate…at least long enough to fall in love with our child so that it has two caregivers for its long childhood and adolescence.
Friendships are also built on oxytocin, and can be quite deep bonds. Yet, what happens to friendships that turn into sexual relationships? Often things change for the worse. When Harry Met Sally This change is an excellent example of the post-sexual satiation neurochemical shift or hangover kicking in.
Oxytocin and dopamine are the yin and yang of bonding and love. Dopamine furnishes the kick, oxytocin makes a particular mate appealing, in part by triggering feelings of comfort. You need both acting on the reward circuitry at ideal levels to stay in love. In experiments, if scientists block either oxytocin or dopamine, mothers will ignore their pups.
There's evidence that these two neurochemicals stimulate each other's release, so if one is low, it affects levels of the other. As sexual satiation plays havoc with dopamine, lovers can end up with a double-whammy effect on their precious emotional bonds. Low dopamine alone interferes with feelings of love, and it may reduce oxytocin levels or the brain's sensitivity to oxytocin. As things go sour, something interferes with oxytocin's bonding effects. It's likely that it's low dopamine.
The good news is that making love while avoiding sexual satiation is the loophole in biology’s plan for our love lives. This is the secret that the ancient sacred-sexuality sages stumbled upon. Making love with lots of affection, without the dopamine-driven highs and lows of conventional sex, seems to keep neurochemical levels balanced.
There's some evidence that the more oxytocin you produce, the more receptive to it key nerve cells become. This is the opposite of dopamine. In addicts, dopamine receptors start to decrease as the nerve cells protect themselves from overstimulation. Addicts then need more and more of a drug (more and more dopamine). Luckily you don’t need an ever-increasing "fix" of oxytocin to maintain the sparkle in your romance. Daily bonding behaviors can make your partner look better and better—at least to you. This is why daily affection, with less orgasm can strengthen your bond with your mate.
Oxytocin is associated with significant benefits, both emotionally and physically. In fact, oxytocin may be the answer to the question, "What is the mechanism by which love and affection positively affect our health?"
Consider the following research:
  • Oxytocin reduces cravings. When scientists administered it to rodents who were addicted to cocaine, morphine, or heroin, the rats opted for less drugs, or showed fewer symptoms of withdrawal. (Kovacs, 1998)
  • Oxytocin calms. A single rat injected with oxytocin has a calming effect on a cage full of anxious rats. (Agren, 2002)
  • This quality of oxytocin explains why companionship can increase longevity—even among those who are HIV positive (Young, 2004). dopamine high, followed by hangoverOr speed recovery: wounded hamsters heal twice as fast when they are paired with a sibling, rather than left in isolation (DeVries, 2004).
  • It may also explain why, among various species of primates, care-giving parents (whether male or female) live significantly longer. (Cal Tech, 1998)
  • Oxytocin appears be a major reason that SSRI’s [Prozac-type drugs] ease depression, perhaps because high levels of cortisol are the chief culprits in depression and anxiety disorders. (Oxytocin counteracts cortisol's effects.) (Uvnas-Moberg, 1999)
  • Oxytocin increases sexual receptivity and counteracts impotence, which may be one reason why this other way of making love remains pleasurable. (Pedersen, C.A., 2002), (Arletti, 1997)
Again, notice that oxytocin reduces cravings and increases sexual receptivity. This allows making love without orgasm to be surprisingly satisfying. The affection is always there, flowing between you and your partner.
When we tiptoe around dopamine’s highs and lows, we encourage balance and clear perception of each other. We see each other as sources of safety and pleasure, not as sources of recurring stress with brief moments of sexual pleasure. The real magic of love happens at a neurochemical level—and we can choose balance in order to foil the extremes of our genes' plans for us.

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