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Sex Takes Thought
New Study Suggests Lust Is Just a Part of It

February 13th, 2004

By Louis Wittig :eCureMe Staff Writer
February 12th, 2004 : Physician Reviewed

This Valentine’s Day, raw lust and animal attraction will make millions of couples around the world start to grope and grab. Or will it? New research has found that the decision to have sex, usually not thought to have much to do with the brain, takes a surprising amount of thought.

The revelation comes courtesy of four small Brazilian monkeys known as marmosets and a group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From a social and reproductive standpoint, the two groups aren’t that different. Both marmosets and humans live in family groupings and don’t mate freely.

Researchers exposed the marmosets, all male, to the scent of fertile female marmosets; the smell acted as a sort of animal kingdom aphrodisiac to get the males into mating mode. Once they were aroused, the marmosets’ brain functions were examined using functional magnetic resonance imaging. What they saw wasn’t quite what they expected.

"We were surprised to observe high levels of neural activity in areas of the brain important for decision-making, as well as in purely sexual arousal areas." Said Charles T. Snowdon, a University of Wisconsin psychologist and marmoset expert involved with the project said in a statement. "Lighting up far more brightly than we expected were areas associated with decision-making and memory, emotional processing and reward, and cognitive control."

In short, when the monkeys became aroused, they weren’t just running on hormones - but were, in a way, thinking it over. According to the researchers, this finding adds weight to the idea that when confronted with a "novel, sexually attractive and receptive female" males "exhibit highly organized, complex neural processes" instead of acting on primal urges.

The team also noted that the data gathered from the marmoset study was similar to data gathered in studies that looked at the brain functioning of humans.

Perhaps, then, as Valentine’s Day roles around - is that sex isn’t so much in the air (or even in the body), but in the mind.

Contact Louis Wittig at

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