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Ear to the Ground

Can Sex Make You Smarter?

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Posted on Jan 13, 2014
anddoesitexplode (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Having trouble remembering key things due to the stress of the everyday grind? Forget your ginkgo biloba tablets, have some sex instead.

Scientists have discovered that sex can counteract the negative effects stress has on the memory by stimulating neuron production in the hippocampus. In other words, intercourse can enhance long term memory retention and make you smarter.

But engaging in excessive so-called fake sex (otherwise known as pornography) may actually make you permanently dumber. The Atlantic discusses the science and theories behind these seductive suggestions:

In April, a team from the University of Maryland reported that middle-aged rats permitted to engage in sex showed signs of improved cognitive function and hippocampal function. In November, a group from Konkuk University in Seoul concluded that sexual activity counteracts the memory-robbing effects of chronic stress in mice. “Sexual interaction could be helpful,” they wrote, “for buffering adult hippocampal neurogenesis and recognition memory function against the suppressive actions of chronic stress.”

So growing brain cells through sex does appear to have some basis in scientific fact. But there’s some debate over whether fake sex—pornography—could be harmful. Neuroscientists from the University of Texas recently argued that excessive porn viewing, like other addictions, can result in permanent “anatomical and pathological” changes to the brain. That view, however, was quickly challenged in a rebuttal from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, who said that the Texans “offered little, if any, convincing evidence to support their perspectives. Instead, excessive liberties and misleading interpretations of neuroscience research are used to assert that excessive pornography consumption causes brain damage.”

Whether or not porn “addiction” literally damages the brain, even brief viewing of pornographic images does interfere with people’s “working memory”—the ability to mentally juggle and pay attention to multiple items. A study published last October in the Journal of Sex Research tested the working memory of 28 healthy individuals when they were asked to keep track of neutral, negative, positive, or pornographic stimuli. “Results revealed worse working memory performance in the pornographic picture condition,” concluded Matthias Brand, head of the cognitive psychology department at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.

The Atlantic article adds an interesting side note: “If having sex can make people smarter, the converse is not true: being smarter does not mean you’ll have more sex.” More intelligent teens apparently put off sexual initiation longer than others. In the end, it may all just be wishful thinking, according to some critics who believe the only thing that will stimulate brain development is active learning. But given all the other recorded health benefits of sexual activity, it seems worth a try anyways.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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