Posts Tagged ‘neuroscience’

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.

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.

People Want Ed and Jessica!

Ed and Jessica before they broke up.

People want Ed and Jessica!

Well, actually, I only want Ed. Mostly. Though I admit Jessica is very attractive and I’m not narrow-minded about those things. After all, I go to a women’s college. If Rachel Maddow or Camille Paglia wanted to buy me a drink, I’d be absolutely thrilled. 🙂

But that’s not the point I wanted to make. Ed and Jessica are Ed Westwick and Jessica Szohr, who star on the hit TV drama “Gossip Girl.”

They were a couple for several months. Then Jessica cheated on Ed while he was in England making a movie. When he found out, he broke up with her in spite of her pleas for a second chance.

I don’t want to pass judgment on either of them. We’ve all been in relationships, and breakups, and it usually hurts everyone involved.

What I have learned from their experience is what most people want to read.

Two or three months ago, I wrote a short blog about Ed and Jessica’s breakup. It took about 10 minutes to write. I gave the basic facts, and referred people to for more information.

I’ve written about lots of other things, such as college parties, politics, libertarianism, the Catholic Church’s child-abuse scandal, Gen Y, neuroscience, and the time I got hypnotized by videos on YouTube. I wrote about a calculus tip. I wrote about eating healthy at McDonalds. After a seminar at Smith, I wrote about ethnic groups in China. I wrote about why atheists love breasts. I even wrote some very, very bad poetry after final exams at the end of last semester.

Some of those blog articles took me several days to research and write. One blog article about human rights took a couple of months to finalize, though about half of that was for research. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of proud of some of those blog articles.

But today’s blog statistics tell the story. People read the “Jessica and Ed” article 56 times. One person read an article about women’s rights in the Sudan, one time. That’s it.

How many times people read which articles today on my blog.

The week’s statistics from yesterday say the same thing. Jessica and Ed, 251 hits. My analysis of libertarianism, 6 hits. A warning and first-person story about hypnosis on YouTube, 5 hits. Crazy health facts 4 hits, Gen Y 2 hits, then it’s 1, 1, 1. The last 1 doesn’t bother me so much, because the fewer people who read my really bad poetry, the less I’ll have to hope they forget it by the time I’m famous.

Which of my blog articles people read in the last week.

So what is the lesson from all this? I never wanted to focus just on how many readers I got. I wanted to write a blog about things that interested me, in the hope that they would interest other people as well.

That’s what I still want.

So when the spirit moves me to write about Ed and Jessica, I will. When I want to write about libertarianism, religion, politics, college, guys, or Chinese ethnic groups, that’s what I’ll write about.

I hope that you enjoy reading it, but if you don’t, then God bless you, and come back because next time the subject will be something different!

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

Smart Guys, Bad Girls, Atheists, and “Isms”

It’s not as exciting as graduating from college (which I won’t do until next year), but this is my 100th blog article!

To celebrate the occasion, I decided to revisit some old blog articles that I think are good.

When I first started writing my blog, I wasn’t sure what to put in it or what style to use. Did I want it to be chatty? Funny? Sexy? Informative? Thoughtful?

I decided to make it all of them. That’s why it’s never been as consistent as some other blogs that are always about the same thing, such as school, fashion, politics, news, TV, or religion. And I never wanted it to be just about my life, which is interesting to me but is probably not that interesting to anyone else.

Here are the Rinth Ramblings that I like best:

Are Men Smarter Than Women?

Partly humorous and partly serious, this talks about the differences between how women and men think. It also points out the flaw in believing that either sex is “superior” to the other.

Why Atheists Love Breasts

This was my first blog article that got a lot of attention. Like the one about women and men, it was funny but it also talks about some serious issues. And yes, I picked the title to see if it would get a lot of people to read the article. It did.

Bad Girls Go Everywhere

This talks about the challenges of growing up with the stereotype of the “good girl,” who is pretty, obedient, and at least pretends to be stupid. It was inspired by an interview with Rachel Simmons, director of the Girls Leadership Institute and author of The Curse of the Good Girl.

The Mother of All Isms: “Label-Ism”

This talks about how labeling people can blind us to who they really are and what they’re really like. It was inspired by a speech at our school’s convocation about inequality and the importance of accepting others.

Don’t Outlaw Diet Coke

This article won an award as one of the “Top 100 Neuroscience Blogs.” I wrote it after midnight on a Friday night when I drank too much Diet Coke. It explains why Diet Coke is so yummy.

Libertarianism Isn’t Free

This explains what I think is wrong with the political viewpoint of libertarianism. This article also got a lot of attention, but more important, I’m very proud of it. People don’t have to agree with it, of course, but it makes some serious arguments.

Seven Questions for Anne Fadiman

I wrote several articles about Anne Fadiman and her wonderful book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. This article gives seven questions that I wanted to ask her when she spoke on campus.

Five Things That I’ve Learned

This explains some of the most important things I’ve learned about life. I can’t say that I always follow my own advice, but I try.

How to Help Haitian Earthquake Victims

I wrote two blogs about how to help survivors the the terrible earthquake in Haiti. There’s nothing special about these articles except that they might have helped encourage people to donate. But that’s pretty important.

Danger Ahead on “Gossip Girl”?

This one is about my favorite TV show, so it’s not profound or important. But in this article I had a chance to tell people about, a Web site that my friend Shari Weiss uses to provide news about the best TV dramas, including of course “Gossip Girl.”

My Secret for Good Grades

None of what I say in this article is very surprising, but some people told me it helped them. So that’s a big plus!

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

Scientific American Confirms My Study Tips!

I swear that I didn’t know about this before writing my recent blog on how to get good grades. 🙂

One of the tips I gave in that blog was this: After I study something for a class, I always test myself on it to see how much I understood and remembered.

When I do these self-tests, I often get the answers wrong. But I don’t worry about it because my mistakes help me learn the right answers. When the real test comes in the class, I’ve already practiced answering questions about the material. And I know the right answers.

When I wrote that blog, all I could really say was, “It works for me. It might work for you.”

Apparently, it works for most people. The new issue of Scientific American Mind has an article that says

Pupils actually learn better if conditions are arranged so that they have to make errors.

It’s not quite that simple, of course, but it’s a great article. An excerpt is on the Scientific American Web site. The complete article is in the magazine, which I like a lot.

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

What I’ve Learned About Guys

Now that I’ve fully recovered from my Saturday night of excess and debauchery at UMass, I was thinking about what I learned from it.

Don’t get the wrong idea, by the way. It wasn’t that excessive or debauched. Several of us went to the party together so we could look out for each other. We did drink a little, there were lots of guys to dance with, and there was some fairly good music. But that’s about it. On a debauchery scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a primary-school production of “The Sound of Music” and 10 being a typical day in Congress, the party was about a 6.

I didn’t really learn much from the party except that I should avoid having more than two drinks. Or maybe it was five: the exact number is a little hazy. But it did remind me of some things that I already knew about guys. Some of the things are occasionally annoying, but most of the time, they’re funny and kind of sweet:

If a guy at a party can get you drunk, he will.

Or at least he’ll try. Especially a college guy. It’s not even just about sex: it’s about male dominance. When you’re drunk, he’s more in control of things. Being in control is very important to guys. In the right situation, I’m not even against it, but getting trashed probably isn’t the best method.

Most guys think if you’re nice to them, it means you want to have sex with them.

Or even if you just smile at them on the street, they think that.

Their minds naturally go there. Parts of a guy’s brain that process sexual impulses (the interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus, or INAH) are twice as large in men as in women. Guys have a lot more wiring devoted to thinking about sex, so they think about it a lot. You knew I was studying neuroscience, right?

A guy is like a two-way light switch.

If a guy’s sex drive gets turned on, his thinking gets suppressed. If his thinking gets turned on, his sex drive gets suppressed. It’s called lateral inhibition. It’s why if you have an itch, you can make it better by scratching next to it. The same thing sometimes happens with brain systems: when one goes on, the other goes off. It also happens with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, but that subject is too nerdy for a blog.

A guy’s intelligence can think of you as a person and treat you with respect. A guy’s sex drive doesn’t think of you as a person, but only as a place to put it. So if you want to have a normal conversation with a guy, you’ve got to avoid activating his sex drive.

Of course, because guys naturally think about sex, it’s very hard to avoid activating their sex drive. Heavy overcoats and ankle-length skirts can help, but very few of us want to wear those, so we don’t have a good solution to the problem.

Guys like to pursue even more than they like to capture.

Guys are all about the chase. They think that they like sex the most. But what they really seem to like, even more than sex, is trying to get sex.

The chase gives their lives meaning. The capture makes them fear that they’re going to be domesticated and forced to change diapers. Which they are, sometimes. They don’t like that idea even though studies show they will be happier, healthier, and live longer than otherwise. But nobody ever accused guys of making sense. 🙂

And now, I have homework. Ttys!

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

Exercise Cures the Blues

I was feeling a little depressed earlier this evening, so I took my own advice and got some exercise. I just finished, and I feel a lot better.

It seems to me that sometimes, we feel depressed and it’s really not about anything. It’s just that we’re tired or our brain chemistry is a little “down.” That’s when exercise, or activity, or going out with friends can help.

Back when psychology was just getting started, as a science at least, most researchers believed that depression was always a symptom of some deep personal problem. Sometimes, the problem was obvious, such as losing your job or getting dumped. But when there was no obvious cause, psychologists thought that you must be depressed because of some traumatic past experience that you’d forgotten.

Of course, some scientists didn’t believe that theory. From the 21st century as far back as the ancient Greeks, some people thought that psychological problems were caused by physical problems. The ancient Greeks thought that depression was caused by an imbalance of “humors,” which were four fluids in the body: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. As long as the humors were properly balanced, everything was fine. But if you had too much black bile, you would feel depressed.

Now, of course, we have a theory slightly like that, but much more specific and supported by scientific evidence.

Yes, sometimes people really do get depressed because of things that happened to them. But other times, their brain chemistry is just out of balance. In particular, some depressed people are low on “neurotransmitter” molecules to carry messages from one brain cell to the next. A shortage of neurotransmitters means their brain is like a light bulb connected to a battery that’s low on power. The bulb shines dimly, and it flickers instead of giving a strong, steady light.

When that’s the problem, increasing the amount of neurotransmitters can help. Most antidepressant drugs try to do that in one way or another.

As for exercise — well, nobody is totally sure how exercise helps. But most people think that it causes endorphins to be released in the brain. Endorphins aren’t neurotransmitters, but they increase the amount of neurotransmitters (such as dopamine) in your brain. Exercise also gets more oxygen to your brain, which generally increases alertness and energy levels.

And speaking of that, my alertness tells me that I’ve got some studying to do. Ttfn!

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

Flirting with Facebook

I’m flirting with Facebook.

It’s true that I’d rather be flirting with Michael Cera from “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” or Penn Badgley from “Gossip Girl,” but they’re unavailable.

A lot of my friends spend hours on Facebook, writing status updates, playing games, taking quizzes, and “friending” people they’ve never met. A few family members are on. Even some departments at my school have Facebook pages. If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth-largest country in the world. So I decided to give it a try.

I put up a profile and played a few games, but that’s about all so far. Between school, studying, and having fun with real-life friends, I don’t see where some people get the time. Of course, if it makes them happy, then I guess it’s a good thing.

The current issue discusses how social networking sites affect us.

The current issue of Scientific American Mind questions how good or bad online social networking really is. As usual, some studies say it’s fine for some people, while other studies say it’s harmful to other people. But a few interesting facts came out:

  • Spending time online doesn’t make you lonely or depressed if you aren’t already. A 2008 study at California State University, Los Angeles found that “Neither total amount of time spent online nor time spent communicating online correlated with increased loneliness.” A 2006 study in Australia found that “the amount of time spent interacting online is unrelated to higher levels of anxiety or depression.”
  • But if you’re already lonely, going online might not help. Because there is no face-to-face contact, people tend to take online relationships less seriously. To someone who is already lonely, “Insults, snubs, alienation, and gossip all elicit much higher levels of stress. The effect is amplified online …” If you are insecure, it can hurt to have only a few people in your “friends list” while you see other people who have hundreds. It can also hurt if you say the wrong word to someone and get abruptly “de-friended.”
  • Social networking is best when it supports real-life friendships. “The social networkers who fare the best are the ones who use the technology to support their existing friendships.” An Australian study in 2007 found that “using social networks diminishes loneliness when online social contacts are also offline contacts.”

Rinth’s Rules for Social Networking

So here are my rules for social networking. I hope they make sense to you:

  • Don’t expect online friendships to substitute for real, face-to-face friendships. It rarely works. Online friendships work best when they supplement real-world relationships with the same people. We evolved to need face-to-face encounters with other people. Our biological and psychological needs for human contact are left unsatisfied by relationships that consist only of words flashing across a computer screen. If you’re lonely, go out and meet some people. If you’re shy, it will be harder but you can do it.
  • Don’t expect an “online life” to substitute for your real life. It won’t work. We aren’t built that way. You can spend 24 hours a day online, but it won’t make you happy. It will just make you empty and sleepy and in serious need of a shower.
  • Don’t expect to be a different person online. You are who you are. And that’s good enough.
  • Don’t base your self-respect on how many people are in your friends list. Those people who have 500 “online friends” barely know any of them. Are those real relationships? Remember the old saying: “Friends will help you move. Real friends will help you move bodies.”
  • Don’t spend so much time online that it takes you away from your real life. No matter how bad you think your real life is, it won’t get better if you run away and hide in Facebook. Live your life, make real-world friends, study for your classes, work, play, and have fun.

Oh, and one more thing:

  • Nobody cares that you just brushed your teeth. Give it a rest with the minute-by-minute status updates. Nobody’s life is that interesting. Mine sure isn’t. 🙂

Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.

Beat the Holiday Blues

December 25, 2009 1 comment

Are you depressed?

It seems like a strange thing to ask at Christmas time, when we see our families, exchange presents, and eat too much. But some people do get depressed. Contrary to popular myth, the suicide rate doesn’t go up at Christmas, but there’s no doubt that it can be stressful.

Depression doesn’t have to mean crying all the time or jumping off a bridge. Some of the other symptoms are fatigue, sadness, hopelessness, or an inability to find pleasure in normally enjoyable activities (called “anhedonia“). And that’s no way to spend your holidays.

Here are some things you can do to beat the blues:

Get enough sleep

Yes, I know it’s difficult. But inadequate sleep is one thing that can cause depression. Avoid bright light in the evening hours, especially blue light, because it can interfere with your sleep. Avoid caffeine or chocolate after 6pm (unless you’re a college student like me 🙂 ). Don’t exercise too late in the evening, because it speeds up your metabolism and makes it hard to wind down for sleep. Go to bed at about the same time every night. Keep your bedroom just a little cool. All those things will help you get more sleep and better sleep.


Exercise releases endorphins in your brain, which promote feelings of happiness and well-being. Try to do it for at least 20 minutes. Just don’t do it late in the evening, which can make it hard to sleep. (The usual warnings about checking with your doctor if you have a medical condition that affects your ability to exercise, blah blah blah.)

Get Busy

Activity is another natural antidote for depression. The paradox is that when you’re depressed, you don’t feel like doing anything. But if you can use sheer will power to overcome that inertia, you might find yourself feeling better. It almost doesn’t matter what the activity is: taking a brisk walk in the park, playing cards with friends, going to the gym, or going to the mall and window-shopping.


When you’re depressed, you don’t feel like smiling. That’s the basis of the trick. Grandmothers (and psychologists, if there’s a difference) have known for centuries that if you smile and act happy, you can often fool your brain into thinking that you are happy. It’s the psychological version of “fake it till you make it.” So don’t hang your head, slouch, or walk slowly. Raise your head high, straighten your shoulders, stride energetically, and smile!


Forgive yourself and others. Nobody (around here) is perfect. We all mess up sometimes. We all do and say things we regret. Failing to forgive means you are holding onto past hurts so that they keep hurting you. Let them go. Turn away from the hurt and turn toward happiness.

If none of that works …

Those are all remedies that you can try without drugs or psychotherapy. Everyone feels sad or stressed at times, and that’s normal. If you have a more severe problem that keeps you from enjoying life or even makes you think of hurting yourself, then you should talk to your doctor, religious leader, or to a psychotherapist.

But for now, smile and enjoy Christmas! You are special, you are loved, and you are important. Merry Christmas!

Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.

Neuroscience, Hinduism, and “Avatar”

Scene from Avatar

I really enjoyed the movie “Avatar,” which I saw on Sunday. News stories say that it cost $310 million to produce, and it’s easy to see where the money went. It’s right there on the screen.

As spectacular as the movie was, the story seemed to borrow ideas from a lot of places. I noticed two cases of that: one from neuroscience and one from comparative religion.

At one point in the movie, the chief scientist (played by Sigourney Weaver) says that each tree in the planet’s forest connects via its roots to 10,000 other trees in the forest. As it happens, each neuron (nerve cell) in the human brain connects to between 5,000 and 10,000 other neurons, although the number of connections can go even higher. So it seemed to me that by referring to 10,000 connections, the movie suggested that the forest was a giant brain and was conscious.

The indigenous people on the planet were called the Navi. Their most intimate greeting to each other is “I see you.” That seemed to have been suggested by Hindu religious beliefs. In Hinduism, darshan is a spiritual experience in which a person sees and is seen by God. To see or be seen is very significant.

Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.