Anton Zabielskyi , Shutterstock The uproar that followed a November episode of Fox's "Glee" in which two teen couples had sex for the first time may have some scientific legs. New research shows sex during the adolescent years could affect mood and brain development into adulthood.
The study, which was carried out on hamsters, reveals how social experiences during adolescence when the brain is still developing can have broad consequences, say the researchers from Ohio State University College of Medicine. Specifically, the animals that mated earlier in life had higher levels of depressive behaviors, changes to the brain and smaller reproductive tissues compared to those that had intercourse later or not at all.
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. As such, more research is needed understand the effects of sex during puberty.
The study, which was presented on Nov. Testing the effects of sex The researchers had a group of day-old male hamsters the equivalent of human teens mate with adult females in heat. A second group of males mated in adulthood 80 days into life , while a control group was not exposed to females. Hamsters reach puberty at 21 days, and by 40 days have reached late- to post-adolescence, roughly equivalent to ages 16 to 20 in humans, said study researcher Randy Nelson, neuroscience professor and chair at Ohio State.
Researchers did various tests on the hamsters at days. 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, thebranching extensions of neurons that receive messages from other nerve cells, and higher expression of a gene associated with inflammation. Certain reproductive tissues, including the seminal vesicles glands in males that secrete ejaculate and vas deferens tube that carries sperm out of the testes , were also smaller in these animals.
Hormones plus experience "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. In Sisk's study, castrated hamsters were less likely to mate with receptive females and were more submissive toward male intruders compared with males that had natural levels of testosterone.
Replacing the hormone in adulthood did not restore normal levels of these social behaviors. She added that testosterone may be linked to structural changes in the brain, including how the dendrites are organized or connected to one another.
Weil's team is now researching whether testosterone is the sole mechanism. In a new study, the animals will be given the hormone rather than allowed to mate. Sisk said she believes that a combination of hormones and experiences affect brain development during puberty and adolescence.
Implications for teen sex In response to the "virgin sex" on "Glee," the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group, denounced the episode in a statement before it aired, saying,"The fact that 'Glee' intends to Thirteen percent of year-olds in the U. He cautioned against direct correlations with humans.