Washington (AFP) – A new scientific study released Monday identified the region of the brain linked to genital touching in women, and found it to be more developed in volunteers who reported having more sex.
The research involved stimulating the clitoris of 20 adult women while their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The researchers say that the article, published in the journal JNeurosci, does not answer questions such as whether having more surface area devoted to genital stimulation makes women more sensitive to touch.
It also doesn’t tell us whether having a more developed brain region devoted to genital touching prompts more sex, or whether more intercourse widens the region, like exercising a muscle.
But the findings could be used in the future to target treatments for people who have, for example, been affected by sexual violence, or who have sexual dysfunction.
“It’s completely under-studied, how the female genitals are represented in the somatosensory cortex in men, and whether it has the capacity to change at all from experience or use,” co -author Christine Heim, professor of medical psychology at Charite University Hospital Berlin, told AFP.
The somatosensory cortex receives and processes sensory information from all over the body. Each part of the body corresponds to a different area of ââthe cortex, forming a representative map.
But until now, the part of the map that corresponds to the female genitals has been the subject of debate.
Previous studies had sometimes placed it under the representation of the foot, others near that of the hip.
The reason was imprecise stimulation techniques – for example, during manual stimulation delivered by oneself or a partner, other parts of the body were affected at the same time, or the process triggered arousal, which confused the results.
In 2005, other researchers were able to develop a technique that caused very localized tactile stimulation of the penises, allowing them to find the precise region devoted to this area in males. But there hasn’t been a similar breakthrough for women.
For the new study, 20 healthy women between the ages of 18 and 45 were selected.
For stimulation, a small round object specially designed for the task was applied above the undergarment at the level of the clitoris. The air jets slightly vibrated the membrane of the device.
The approach was designed to be “as comfortable as possible” for the volunteers, said co-author John-Dylan Haynes of the Berlin Center for Advanced Neuroimaging at Charite.
They were stimulated eight times, for 10 seconds each time, interspersed with 10 seconds of rest. The same device was used on the back of the right hand as a witness.
Brain imaging results confirmed that the somatosensory cortex represented the female genitalia next to the hips – as it does in men – but the precise location varied for each woman tested.
– Plasticity –
The researchers then investigated whether this area had different characteristics depending on sexual activity.
The 20 women were asked how often they had sex in the past year, as well as since they started sex.
Then, for each of them, the researchers determined the ten points of the brain most activated during stimulation and measured the thickness of these areas.
âWe found an association between the frequency of intercourse and the thickness of the genital field individually mapped,â Heim said. The more sex, the larger the region.
The authors are reluctant to say that more sex leads to this expansion, until a future study confirms it.
But there are clues from previous research. First, it is well established that the more certain parts of the brain are used, the more they grow: this is called brain plasticity. The hippocampal brain region in London taxi drivers grows with the experience of navigation.
Second, previous animal studies have shown that stimulation of the genitals of rats and mice actually causes the area of ââthe brain corresponding to those organs to expand.
This research also did not determine whether a larger area resulted in better perception.
But Heim herself had already shown in a 2013 study that people who had suffered traumatic sexual violence had thinning of the areas of the brain devoted to the genitals.
âWe speculated at the time, that this might be the brain’s response to limit the detrimental perception of abuse,â she said.
She hopes her research will help inform future therapies aimed at rehabilitating this region among abuse survivors.
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