Does God want us to have kinky sex?

One of the oldest theological disputes revolves around the role of sexual activity in religious practice. It is said that the story of Adam and Eve represents the an ontogenetic metaphor: the ultimate sin being the act of engaging in sexual activity during the symbolic pubescent stage. This makes sense, given that after Even offered Adam the forbidden fruit, they birthed children in addition to recognizing the sexualization and vulnerability of their naked bodies. Now, the goal of this writing is NOT to get into a metaphysical debate about the role of premarital sexual activity in religiosity – that’s a whole other can of worms.

But let’s entertain some simple, maybe somewhat tangential logic.

Evolutionary religious practitioners advocate that God, as an omnipotent being capable of predicting challenges to humanity, would imbue our bodies with all mechanisms required to flourish as a species. Often times, our ability to create technology and conquer other species is offered as an example of this sentiment.  So, if there was some part of our bodies that innately and physiologically developed through the enactment of certain behaviors, those behaviors would therefore be considered advantageous and by extension desirable. Elizabeth Gould and additional researchers have found experimental results that applies to this inference. Gould has discovered that sex may perhaps be good for the brain.

Sex Brain. Linocut Vector Illustration

Through an experiment involving male and female rat colonies, Gould discovered that short-term sexual experience enhanced performance on tasks requiring an intact medial prefrontal cortex. But what does this mean? The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), like many other parts of the brain, is responsible for a whole bunch of functions. The mPFC covers the front part of the frontal lobe, which is the largest lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe is aptly nicknamed the action cortex, as it devotes itself to skeletal movement, ocular movement, speech control, and the expression of emotions.

Experience furthermore increased the spine density of dendrites of neurons on the motor prefrontal cortex. The dendritic spine is the part of the neuron that, in short, serves to aid memory storage and transmit messages between neurons. There also appears to be a relationship between dendritic spine density and depressive or hyper-stressful effects in the brain. So good news! Having sex may also potentially reduce depressive or stress-causing mechanisms in the brain!

Brief or moderate stressors, however, have actually been shown to enhance neural function in most cases, particularly in regards to dendritic density. So let’s further expand this into the radical realm of sexual acceptance;

let’s talk about getting kinky!undefined

The dominant discourse surrounding sexual activity, particularly with younger, inexperienced people, is that risk is a negative force and therefore leads to unpleasant outcomes or experiences. Dutch gender studies researcher Marijke Naezer, however, finds that the conflation of risk and pleasure does not adequately represent the fluid dynamic of the sexual experience. She argues that risk and pleasure each exist on separate “axes” of the sexual experience and that each individual possesses their own unique intersection between the two (see figure). Someone who finds the concept of risk extremely unpleasant, for example, would contain an axis shape akin to a capital “L”, as the safer the experience is, the more pleasurable the person finds it to be.

Naezer’s model then poses a conceptualization of risk that is neither positive nor negative: it simply exists as a neutral, potential addendum to the sexual experience. In a sexual context, however, fear and by extension risk can provide an individual with a brief and moderate stress response. Sound familiar? Moderate stressors, as previously mentioned, can increase dendritic density and general neural function, determined by which part of the brain the dendrite is in.

So ultimately, the intertwining of findings by Gould and Naezer indicates that having sex makes our frontal lobes dendritically denser, which in turn can produce an increase in mood, emotional expression, and speech control. Adding a risky, perhaps stressful component to that sexual experience may also promote higher and more efficient neuronal function. This then poses the question: if God didn’t want us to have kinky sex, would he have wired our brains to flourish under mildly distressing sexual activity?

References

Glasper, E. R., LaMarca, E. A., Bocarsly, M. E., Fasolino, M., Opendak, M., & Gould, E. (2015). Sexual experience enhances cognitive flexibility and dendritic spine density in the medial prefrontal cortex. Neurobiology of learning and memory125, 73-79.

Jean, A., Bonnet, P., Liere, P., Mhaouty-Kodja, S., & Hardin-Pouzet, H. (2017). Revisiting medial preoptic area plasticity induced in male mice by sexual experience. Scientific reports7(1), 1-13.

Naezer, M. (2018). From risky behavior to sexy adventures: reconceptualizing young people’s online sexual activities. Culture, health & sexuality , 20 (6), 715-729.

Opendak, M., Briones, B. A., & Gould, E. (2016). Social behavior, hormones and adult neurogenesis. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology41, 71-86.

Piergies, A. M., Hicks Jr, M. E., Schwartz, J. P., & Meerts, S. H. (2019). Sexually experienced, but not naive, female rats show a conditioned object preference (COP) for mating after a single training trial. Physiology & behavior198, 42-47.

Qiao, H., Li, M. X., Xu, C., Chen, H. B., An, S. C., & Ma, X. M. (2016). Dendritic spines in depression: what we learned from animal models. Neural plasticity2016.

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