Sex and the teenage brain

Ohio State University has released research claiming that teenagers who have sex may be at a greater risk of depression and weaker brain development. Maybe.

The problem is the closest test subject researchers could find to a typical teen is a 40-day-old hamster, according to LiveScience.com.


When placed in water, the animals that had sex at 40 days were more likely to stop swimming vigorously, a symptom of depression, than the other three groups. All of the sexually active hamsters showed higher levels of anxiety, measured by willingness to explore a maze, than the virgin hamsters.

The group that had sex in adolescence also showed less complexity in the brain’s dendrites, the branching extensions of neurons that receive messages from other nerve cells.

“We used the opportunity to have sex, which naturally increases testosterone levels, to see whether these experiences during early life would have long-term consequence,” co-author Zachary Weil, a research assistant professor of neuroscience at Ohio State, told LiveScience.

“There is previous evidence that the age of first sexual experiences correlates with mental health issues in humans,” Weil said. “But with all human research, there are a number of other variables involved, such as parental supervision and socioeconomic status, that may be involved with both the age of first experience and depression.”

Study researcher Randy Nelson, neuroscience professor and chair at Ohio State, cautioned people not to use the study to promote teen abstinence, because the test subjects were hamsters.

  • JackU

    I’m confused by your last paragraph. The paragraph in the LiveScience article reads:

    Morris and his colleagues cautioned, however, that the study should not be used to promote teenage abstinence, as they noted the research was carried out on hamsters and it isn’t certain the same conclusion will hold for humans.

    In the above Morris is: study co-author John Morris, a doctoral student in psychology at Ohio State. He is identified in the paragraph prior to the one quoted above. I wouldn’t be surprised if LiveScience corrected a mistake on their end with out indicated there was an error.

    I like the comment because you know some group will be using this study to prove that abstinence only education is what should be funded.

  • joetron

    Is it safe to use this study to promote abstinence among hamsters?

    I agree with JackU, too, that some group will try and use the study to promote abstinence.

  • Jim Shapiro

    “… the animals that had sex at 40 days were more likely to stop swimming vigorously, a symptom of depression, than the other three groups. All of the sexually active hamsters showed higher levels of anxiety, measured by willingness to explore a maze, than the virgin hamsters.”

    The slow swimming can be explained by the fact that the sexually active hamsters were pooped out after all that sex. And just how motivating is a maze, anyway, when compared to the thrill of furry carnal interaction?

    “The group that had sex in adolescence also showed less complexity in the brain’s dendrites, the branching extensions of neurons that receive messages from other nerve cells.”

    This finding too is easily explained: more time engaged in oxytocin-producing rolls in the hay = less dendrite- producing time on the little hamster-sized computer.

    Duh.

  • Jim!!!

    Wouldn’t having sex alone have the same effect as sex with a partner?

  • bsimon

    “Wouldn’t having sex alone have the same effect as sex with a partner?”

    Can hamsters be studied to determine the answer?

  • BenCh

    I am curious why hamsters made better subjects than say, rabbits.

  • The Big Dog

    When discussing this with my 17-18 year old students, their immediate response was, “Maybe they were just tired.”

  • Jim Shapiro

    The Big Dog –

    For better and/or worse, it’s illuminating to know that I reason like a 17 year old ( see my previous explanation).

  • Joanna

    I’ll tell my teenager to wait at least an hour after sex before she goes swimming.