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The sex hormone levels heavily influence the brain's reward circuit in a woman during the menstrual cycle, according to a new study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The reward circuitry is one of the most complex areas of the brain. It has receptors for both progesterone and estrogen. The circuit is made up of the prefrontal cortex, which is the seat of thinking and planning; the amygdala, which regulates fear; the hippocampus, which is the memory hub and the striatum, which relays signals from these areas to the brain's cortex.
While the receptors for the female sex hormones predominate the circuit, researchers have been unable to determine what role they play in the reward circuit.
The current study says that a woman's brain reward circuit was more active and receptive if they were in a menstrual phase dominated by estrogen, which is just before ovulation takes place. However when both estrogen and progesterone dominated, they appeared to be mood swings and the women was not receptive even when she was rewarded.
The study conducted at the NIMH Intramural Research Program, is reported online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research team led by Karen Berman, MD, chief of the NIMH Section on Integrative Neuroimaging, mainly used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in order to get images of the brain activity during menstrual phase.
In order to determine the activity of the brain during the menstrual cycle in a woman, the researchers scanned the brain activity of 13 women and 13 men when they were playing the slot machines. The women were scanned twice; before and after ovulation.
It was found that when women were anticipating a reward the amygdala was activated meaning that emotion and reward-related behavior was more pronounced during the pre-ovulation phase. Additionally the more pleasurable areas were activated during this phase rather than the post-ovulatory phase.
On the other hand, men showed a different response to the anticipation of the rewards. They had more activity in the signal relay area than the women.
"These first pictures of sex hormones influencing reward-evoked brain activity in humans may provide insights into menstrual-related mood disorders, women's higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders, and their later onset and less severe course in schizophrenia," said Berman. "The study may also shed light on why women are more vulnerable to addictive drugs during the pre-ovulation phase of the cycle."
Human sexuality is a complex and controversial issue that is often ignored during therapy and clinical training. Yet, it is a salient aspect of the human experience, which requires deep understanding by both client presenting for therapy and therapist facilitating treatment.
Sex, Sexuality, and Therapeutic Practice provides therapists with a critical framework for understanding our personal beliefs regarding sexuality and a guide for addressing sexuality in clinical practice. Written from systemic, cognitive behavioral, and social constructivist approaches, this book offers readers an opportunity to understand the impact of sex and sexuality on the individual as well as on the larger social and cultural contexts in which the person lives.
The book begins with a theoretical discussion regarding various conceptualizations of sex and sexuality. A straightforward description of sex, sexuality, and gender through biological, legal, moral, and spiritual lenses provide readers with a solid knowledge base on which to draw throughout the remaining chapters. The next chapter discusses how therapists may talk about sex with clients during therapy. A discussion regarding health and disability sheds lights on the sexual issues often experienced by this infrequently discussed population. The following chapter considers the experience of sexual and gender minorities during therapy, purporting how training programs may address these issues with aspiring therapists. The penultimate chapter evaluates sexuality across the lifespan; a developmental perspective toward the end of the book provides a context in which the previous chapters may be understood. This is a critical chapter as it describes the unfolding of sexuality across the developmental continuum. The book culminates with a chapter discussing the relationship among culture, sex, and sexuality.
This book is a practical guide for all therapists regardless of theoretical orientation. Practical exercises pepper each chapter to ensure that readers apply the information rather than simply think theoretically about sexuality. Quizzes ask readers to test their assumptions and knowledge about sex, sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation. Complex theories and concepts are boxed and bulleted to facilitate readers' understanding and application of those concepts to clinical care. Diagrams complement complex theories and provide readers with a visual image that illustrates the relationship among theory, concept, and human behavior. This is a definite read for students in graduate training programs and therapists currently in practice.