Rechanneling sexual arousal?
Scientists know exactly how to mediate sexual attraction between mice. Introduce males to females, and the brain region known as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is activated. A new study has found that he neurons in the ACC are “fed” by a fusion of glutamate when a mouse is sexually aroused. Shut down the ACC with a sly drug and the result is a sudden loss of sexual interest. The drug used in the study was muscimol, the major psychoactive ingredient in some mushrooms such as Altamaria, and in mice it reduced sexual attraction within ten minutes of injection and lasted for about a half hour.
This is interesting because human attraction is also mediated by the ACC (as I describe in a previous post and in BLONDES). Researchers speculate the the ACC is involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and the evaluation of risk and reward. ACC activation affects our emotional state, leading to sexual behavior.
Is it possible to shut down our ACC with a drug such as muscimol (or a different drug without psychoactive side effects), and would it also temporarily make us asexual?
Bear in mind that what works in mice might backfire in humans. We may find that desire can overpower an addled ACC — there’s more than way to turn us on. For instance, sexual arousal of sorts is known to occur in a muscimol-induced dream state — although it often translates into a sort of cosmic awe. Some people apparently can have sex on psychedelics (although most popular ones are psylocybin-based, not muscimol); many can not. (Annie Sprinkle says that when she takes mushrooms (psylocybin) she doesn’t want to make love in a traditional sense, but found they can “deepen a relationship/”). It’s out-of-body sex. It transcends sexual arousal.
To get a real sense of the complexity of human sexual arousal we’d need human subjects — but even if volunteers are willing, certain experiments are unlikely to fly with ethics boards. Which brings us back to muscimolized mice, who, unbeknownst to us, may also be experiencing a sort of transcendental erotic phantasmagoria.
But a mouse couldn’t describe it as Annie Sprinkle does:
[Sex on psychedelics] was not about bodies coming together for physical sex, but about circulating sexual energy, which was everywhere and available just for the asking. I could tap into it just by tuning in and saying “yes.” I realized that everything was sexual/ sensual–that even all my little cells were all having sex. Sex was both microscopic and enormous.