Archive for the ‘Neuroscience and Psychology’ Category

Sex on the Brain

Sex is more about the brain than about anything else. Photo: Glamour.

Warning: This blog post talks about sex. It’s no more explicit than you would see in a magazine like Glamour, but if you think it would offend you, please don’t read it.

In various blog posts (and in a few drunken monologues on weekends), I’ve already admitted that:

And possibly most embarrassing of all:

  • I read Glamour, Vogue, Teen Vogue, and other magazines that are bad for my self-esteem.

But those magazines aren’t always right. Glamour has an article titled “Six Secrets About His Man Parts” that is completely misleading about what turns guys on.

I can’t read guys’ minds and I’m not the world’s foremost expert, but I think that I understand them pretty well.

The mistake that guys make about themselves — but which is more surprising in a magazine for women — is to think that sex is mainly just physical. It’s not. (The article was written by a guy, so no surprise there.)

Even for guys, sex is mostly mental. It’s his brain that you need to target, not his penis. I’m not saying “hands off,” of course: at the right time, that closes the deal. But there’s much more to it than simply making a grab for his joystick, at least if you want the situation to go well.

A lot goes in in a guy’s brain* when it comes to sex. His “old brain” (the primitive parts of the brain) just wants to find a fertile female, impregnate her, and then go find another one to do it again. But his “old brain” is pretty stupid and doesn’t know or care if you’re using contraception. It just pushes him to engage in biologically programmed behaviors that, in pre-technological settings, maximize the number of his children in the next generation.

Speaking of which, here’s a theological view of the subject. God makes Adam and then says, “I’ve got good news and bad news.” Adam says, “Give me the good news first.” God says, “I gave you a brain and a penis.” Adam says, “What’s the bad news?” And God says, “I didn’t give you enough blood to run both of them at the same time.”

However, a human male is much more than just programmed behaviors. He’s aware of himself as a person. He needs to feel powerful: it’s one of those guy things. He needs to respect himself and feel that he is important in his social hierarchy. He needs to feel that he is desired and desirable. He’s an intelligent being and he thinks (who knew? 🙂 ).

He has also had unique experiences in his life that he associates with sexual excitement. Those sometimes have nothing to do with sex itself, but they excite him just as if they had everything to do with it. They can be objects, words, ideas, or situations that are like “on buttons” in his brain. Guys are often very shy about revealing those things, but if you can guess what the buttons are, go ahead and push them.

So the real way to interest and excite a guy is to remember that sex takes place on many levels: mental, emotional, instinctive, and physical — but mostly it takes place in his brain.

Excite his emotions, make him feel powerful, push his mental “on buttons” if you know what they are. And of course don’t forget to flip the switch on his old brain: Show him something sexy or new to stimulate him visually. Hit him with a fragrance. Do all the other stuff that everyone knows about. If a guy is repressed, even biting him (not there, and not hard enough to draw blood) can help. It stimulates him physically by causing pain, but it also surprises him and breaks up his conscious control. That frees his ability to act on his desires.

I didn’t intend to get quite so explicit, but all of that is true. It won’t be a big surprise to some people, but maybe it will be helpful to others.

(Blog post #194!)


* Of course, here I’m talking about straight guys.

Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.


We Can’t Read Minds

I had a thought.

No, it’s not the first time that has happened. Shut up. 🙂

I was angry at someone this morning because she said something that I thought “was meant to hurt me.”

But then I realized: Apart from what she actually said, I don’t know what she meant. It might have been just a careless remark. I have no way of knowing what was in her mind.

A lot of times we get upset because of what we assume about what other people are thinking, what they intend, or how they feel about us. But we have no first-hand way to know any of that.

Here’s what I think. When someone says or does something that we could interpret in a bad way — but which we could also interpret in a good way — then we should interpret it in the good way until and unless that’s proven wrong.

We will be happier and have more peace of mind. It’s also fairer to the other people.

And one other note: This is my 193rd blog post. I’d like to make it to 200 posts by graduation. If I can, I’ll post some graduation photos and thoughts for my 200th blog post.

Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.

Putting My Diagnosis Where My Mouth Is

That isn’t me treating the patient, but in a few years? Photo: “House, M.D.” / Fox.

Okay, so the title doesn’t make much sense.

I wanted to say something like “putting my money where my mouth is,” but that doesn’t connect with the topic of this post. Anyway, money is crawling with microbes and all kinds of awful stuff. You don’t want it anywhere near your mouth.

The Well blog on The New York Times today had a diagnosis contest under the title “Think Like a Doctor.” Since I’m going to be a doctor in a few years, I gave it a try.

The blog article was written by Lisa Sanders, M.D., who is a clinical professor of medicine at Yale University. She’s also technical advisor to the TV series “House, M.D.” and author of the book Every Patient Tells a Story.

Dr. Sanders described a patient’s history and symptoms, then challenged her readers to make the correct diagnosis. Hundreds of readers replied, including practicing physicians, nurses, and medical students. And me.

Since I’m not even in medical school yet, I don’t expect my diagnosis to be right. But it makes sense to me, and a lot of the other diagnoses that people wrote about don’t make sense to me.

The Patient’s History and Symptoms

Here’s the short version of the patient’s situation, obviously focusing on what I think is important. I encourage you to read the whole article on The New York Times site.

The patient was a 76-year-old woman previously in good health except for a few minor complaints (high blood pressure and low thyroid) that were well controlled with medication. Her mother, 99, had died a few weeks earlier.

The patient initially had intestinal bleeding for which she was hospitalized. A colonoscopy found that she had blood vessel abnormalities. She was treated without surgery and recovered, but she still complained about feeling very tired.

More tests revealed a heart valve abnormality that the patient had probably had for a long time. She had an elevated white blood cell count. Although white blood cells are involved in fighting infections, an elevated white blood cell count shows only that the patient’s immune system is “on red alert,” possibly due to an infection. There can be other causes.

The patient started having mood swings and behaving bizarrely. She was alternately manic and depressed. She still complained of extreme fatigue. An MRI of the patient’s central nervous system (including the brain) was normal. She developed dark spots and infected-looking lesions on the skin of her hands and arms. She gained weight.

That’s the essence of it. And people came up with a lot of diagnoses.

Proposed Diagnoses

Many of the people who replied came up with diagnoses that I considered and then rejected.

Lyme disease was one: it’s a bacterial infection spread mostly by tick bites. It causes seemingly unrelated symptoms like the woman had. The microbe is similar to that for syphillis, a sexually-transmitted disease that several people also suggested as the cause. People who have had those infections for years can develop dementia. However, there was no indication that the woman was at risk for Lyme disease or had syphillis, so I rejected those possibilities.

Other suggestions were Cushing’s disease (caused by too much stress hormone) and Lupus Erythematosus, an “autoimmune” disease in which the patient’s immune system attacks the patient’s own body. But neither of those would have developed over a period of a few weeks. The patient had a family doctor who had treated her for years, and who would have known if she had either of those conditions. I rejected those possibilities.

Some people suggested Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, better known as “mad cow disease” that people can contract by eating infected beef. It’s a horrible disease, but it wouldn’t have developed over a period of a few weeks. Rejected.

Some people suggested that her medications had made her sick. That’s certainly possible, since “iatrogenic illness” (illness caused by medical treatment) is the third leading cause of death in the United States, right after heart disease and cancer. But I think that her first symptom was intestinal bleeding, and that occurred before she started treatment with all the new drugs. So although iatrogenic illness is a good guess, I rejected it.

A lot of people suggested vasculitis, which is kind of a non-specific disease of blood vessel inflammation. However, from the doctors in my family, I know that vasculitis is a “diagnosis of exclusion.” That means you diagnose someone with vasculitis when there’s obviously something wrong with them, but you’ve eliminated all the other possibilities and you can’t figure out what the problem actually is. Dr. Sanders wouldn’t have used that as a diagnostic challenge. Rejected.

My Diagnosis

I won’t find out if my diagnosis is correct until The Well blog is updated on Thursday, when Dr. Sanders has promised to reveal the answer. As I said, I don’t expect to get it right but will be thrilled if I do.

Here’s what I think. You can throw out most of the patient’s previous medical history because the onset was relatively sudden. Also, the intestinal bleeding strikes me as a symptom rather than a cause. The patient probably had the blood vessel malformations in her intestines for years. Something caused them to start bleeding.

Two facts are key:

  • The symptoms appeared within a few weeks after she had been caring for her mother, who died. We can assume that she cleaned out her mother’s house, and that the house contained items that had been there for many years undisturbed.
  • We want a diagnosis that explains fatigue, intestinal bleeding, dementia, elevated white count, and skin lesions.

My diagnosis: While cleaning out her mother’s house, the patient was exposed to black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum) and infected. Most of her symptoms resulted from the infection and from attendant mycotoxicosis from Tricothecene.

We’ll see on Thursday, April 21 if I was right.

And the Results Are In

Looks like I still have to go to medical school! 🙂

The correct diagnosis was Cushing’s syndrome, which I rejected because I thought that the patient’s symptoms developed too quickly and it wouldn’t explain the intestinal bleeding.

Apparently, however, the bleeding was unconnected. The Cushing’s syndrome was confirmed by a test that in a normal person should suppress blood levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. However, the test did not suppress the patient’s cortisol levels, which remained very high.

But the really exciting thing is …

Even though my diagnosis was wrong, Dr. Sanders commented on it in her blog. She said that my diagnosis was “very House-ian.” To me, that seems like a huge compliment, since she’s the medical advisor for “House, M.D.” and House is supposed to be a genius. I was excited about it, anyway. 🙂

Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.

Praying to be Straight? Why?

Dr. Drew discusses a religious program to "cure" gays with the program director and a gay couple.

I was walking past a TV this afternoon when a talk show topic caught my attention: “Gay to Straight with Prayer?”

The show was “Dr. Drew” on the HLN news channel. I’ve never watched the show beyond the few seconds I saw today, but I know who Dr. Drew is. He’s a psychiatrist who graduated from medical school at the University of Southern California. Before that, he graduated from Amherst College, so he’s local to Shadley and he’s smart enough to get into Amherst. In other words, he’s no random homophobic nut.

From what I could tell, his guests included a fundamentalist Christian minister who wants to “cure” gays, a gay man who he supposedly cured, and a gay minister. I didn’t watch long enough to follow the discussion, but the viewpoints are easy to predict.

The fundamentalist minister probably cited the Bible’s Book of Leviticus to say that gays will burn in Hell. The ex-gay(?) man probably told about how he’s now married to a wonderful woman. And the gay minister pointed out that Leviticus prohibited many other things besides homosexuality, such as shaving and wearing clothes made from two kinds of cloth.

I Wasn’t Quite Right

I just watched some of the show on the Web so that I could grab the picture for this blog. My earlier guess about the fundamentalist minister wasn’t quite fair. He seemed much nicer than I expected, though he’s obviously still wrong about gays needing to be “cured.” The two men on the right side of the picture are a gay couple who met at the minister’s cure-the-gays program. They’re both still gay and are very happy.

People Should Be Happy

Now, I’m probably going to get in trouble with friends for saying this, but I think people can sometimes change their sexual orientation. Not always, but sometimes. Gays can become straight. Straights can also become gay, though I’ve never heard anyone bring up that option.

What makes it so radioactive to discuss changing sexual orientation is that it gets mixed up with a lot of other issues that really have nothing to do with it. It amounts to guilt by association.

Most people who talk about gays changing their sexual orientation are either nutty homophobes or self-hating gays. They believe that gay relationships are wrong, disgusting, an abomination, and all that hateful bigotry. So people think that it’s the only context in which gays might ever want to be straight or vice-versa.

As a future physician, I have what I consider a common-sense attitude: People should be happy. Helping them be happy and healthy will be my goal.

Two Options

If a patient of mine was gay and unhappy about it, we would have two options.

The first option is better. We would try to correct any mistaken beliefs or emotional biases that cause the unhappiness. Since being gay is a perfectly healthy form of human sexual expression, it’s better not to try to change that unless absolutely necessary. I would very strongly advocate the first option.

The second option is more difficult and risks reinforcing negative beliefs. If we’ve tried the first option but the patient just can’t be happy and gay, we could try to change that. Sexual orientation (gay or straight) has multiple causes, both biological and psychological. Some people’s sexual orientation is pretty much set in stone, and the second option won’t work for them. Other people’s orientation is more flexible. If they really want to change, and are absolutely determined to do it, then they can. I’m not saying it’s right or that I’d recommend it, but it’s an option. It shouldn’t be dismissed just because some of the people who push it are hateful homophobes.

Happiness is More Important Than Stereotypes

I reiterate: People should be happy — preferably by accepting and loving themselves as they are.

But if for some reason they can’t do it, we shouldn’t let ideology or stereotypes stand in the way of helping them be the people they want to be and having the lives they want to have.

Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.

What to Do If You’re Drugged

Juliet kidnaps Serena from a costume party on “Gossip Girl.” Photo: The CW.

I’ve received several emails asking how Juliet drugged Serena on “Gossip Girl.” The latest came last week, even though that “Gossip Girl” episode was over two months ago.

Some were from GG fans who were just curious. Others made me a little uneasy. As a neuroscience student, I will say that the way Juliet did it on “Gossip Girl” was pretty much impossible. It was pure television make-believe.*

Especially in view of some of the emails, however, I think you should know what to do if you suspect you’ve been given a date rape drug.

By the way, even guys can be victims. Predators sometimes use “date rape” drugs to rob people or harm them in other ways besides rape.

You Can Do Things

You might believe that if you’ve been drugged, there’s nothing you can do to protect yourself. That’s not necessarily true. If you’re still aware and in control of yourself, you can increase your chances of escaping safely.

And let’s keep things in perspective. It probably will never happen to you. You shouldn’t be afraid to go out and have fun. But it’s also good to be careful and be prepared.

It can happen at a club or a party. You leave your drink for a minute and then come back. Or someone brings you a drink. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, you start to feel weird. Some of the warning signs are:

  • You feel really tired or dizzy.
  • Your body feels numb, like it’s not there.
  • You feel emotionally detached like everything is a dream.
  • You feel very drunk, a lot more than you’d expect from the amount you drank.
  • You hear things with an echo like they’re far away.
  • You have trouble talking, standing, or walking.
  • You have trouble remembering things.

Someone put a date rape drug in your drink. It might be a guy you’re with, but often, it’s someone else. He’ll be watching you to see when the drug takes effect. When he thinks you’re disoriented and vulnerable, he’ll move in on you. He wants it to look like you just had too much to drink.

Prevention is Best

Of course, the safest thing is not to get drugged in the first place. To prevent it:

  • It’s common sense to use the buddy system when you go to a party or club. Go with friends so you can look out for each other.
  • Don’t leave your drink unwatched on the table or bar. It only takes a second for someone to drop something into it.
  • If a guy you’ve just met wants to get you a drink, go with him and watch while he gets it and gives it to you. Obviously, keep it casual. I admit that I’ve never done this, and it was stupid of me not to do it. From now on, I will.
  • Drink from bottles or cans when it’s an option. If you open them yourself, it’s even better.
  • If a drink tastes funny, don’t drink it. But don’t depend on being able to taste a drug.

If You Think You’ve Been Drugged

If you think you’ve been drugged, don’t wait until you’re sure. Then it might be too late. Here are some things to do:

  • Get to your friends or someone you can trust. Ask them to call 911 and take you to the hospital. Even if you can’t talk, they will see that you’re sick and that something is wrong. This is your best option, because your friends can protect you and the hospital can test you for date-rape drugs.
  • Call 911.
  • Scream “Did you put something in my drink?” Cry, vomit, make as much of a scene as you can. The guy who drugged you wants to get you out quietly. If you attract attention, he’s more likely to stay away from you.

If You Are a Victim

If you wake up in the morning feeling groggy, sick, and you can’t remember what you did, you might have been a victim. Date rape drugs interfere with your memory** of what happened and they disappear from your body within 24 hours. Don’t wait until you feel better. Go straight to the Health Center or the hospital to get tested.

And don’t spend a single second blaming yourself for what happened. You were the victim of a crime, just like a robbery or a shooting. Some lowlife used the most despicable and cowardly way there is to hurt you. Get help and, if possible, make sure that the lowlife goes to prison.

And remember: Prevention is best! Don’t be brave. Be careful.

* It also makes me uneasy that people think TV dramas are a source of valid medical information. But that’s a whole different blog post.

** More accurately, they block the formation of long-term memories.

Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.

Slightly Sad in Shadley

I was feeling happy earlier this evening, but now I’m a little depressed.

Maybe it’s hitting me that this is my last semester in Shadley. I’ve got exciting classes this spring, and one of them looks difficult. Those are the ones that make you stretch, grow, learn, and achieve things that you never thought you could do.

But I’m thinking, after May, that’s it. No more coffee at the Dirty. No more Skinner Green. No more Blanchard. Most of all, no more seeing my friends and teachers every day. I’ll miss that. They’re part of who I am. So is Shadley. Always will be.

I’ll come back for reunions and events of course, but I’ll also be busy with graduate education and life. Shadley will have to fit into that schedule.

Wait a second. That was all true earlier this evening when I felt happy. And I know from some of my neuroscience and psychology classes that highs alternate with lows. The reason I feel low now is that I was emotionally high before. I mean, I’m still sad that I’ll be leaving Shadley after graduation, but that’s not the important thing right now. Even the Bible says it:

Don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)

The important thing right now is to enjoy this semester and make the most of it. To study. To spend time with my friends. To let my professors know how much I appreciate all the things they’ve taught me and how much they’ve encouraged me. To walk around campus and make a memory picture that I can take with me wherever I go.

I feel better now. This is going to be a great semester.

Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.

Can We Be Unselfish?

A column in The New York Times asks, “Is Pure Altruism Possible?”

Of course, a lot depends on how you define “pure” and “altruism.”

Altruism means acting unselfishly, for the benefit of others or for the good of society. But does that mean it can’t benefit you? Or does it just mean that your motivation must be unselfish?

And our motives are usually complicated. Does “pure” mean that no part of our motivation can be selfish? That almost never happens. I might do volunteer work and get a good feeling about helping others. But my main motivation was still just to help.

Actually, I like something my grandmother said:

A good deed only counts if nobody knows you did it.

If you do a good deed and keep it a secret, then you can be pretty sure you did it for the right reasons.

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.