for National Geographic News
Israeli scientists have developed a test that can objectively determine the level of a person's sexual desire.
In the past, sex researchers have relied mostly on questionnaires and interviews to find out the extent of a person's sexual interest and attraction. The new test, on the other hand, records people's brain waves as the subjects are exposed to erotic video clips, with brain wave response indicating level of sexual interest.
The results may be useful to diagnose and treat sexual dysfunction or to measure the sexual side effects of drugs and injuries.
"The past work has been mostly devoted to looking at the physical correlates of sexual arousal and interest, such as changes in [genital] blood flow and effects on the heart rate and blood pressure," said Yoram Vardi, the head of the neuro-urology unit at the Rambam Medical Center and the Technion faculty of medicine in Haifa, Israel.
"It may now be a cliché, but it is no less truethe most important sexual organ is the brain," he said.
Vardi hopes the test will enable medical professionals to determine the root cause of diminished sexual desire, and whether medication or treatment is most effective to treat a problem. The test may also be useful in determining the effects of drugs that raise or lower libido.
The research team has informally called their test the "libido meter." So far, only people without sexual dysfunctions have been tested. Tests still need to be made with people suffering from dysfunctions.
A Measure of Health
Keeping track of sexual desire may be a more serious health issue than many people realize. Sex contributes to the overall physical and mental health of a person, researchers say.
"I think having frequent, satisfying sex keeps the hormone levels up and keeps us young, both physically and mentally," said Barbara Bartlik, a psychiatry professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York State.
In describing how sex helps, scientists are looking at three neurotransmitters released in the brain during sex:
Oxytocin promotes emotional bonding. "It is probably oxytocin that helps to explain the benefits of sexual experience," said Sue Carter, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "This hormone influences the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates and can reduce heart rate and blood pressure."
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