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Lower sexual interest in postpartum women: relationship to amygdala activation and intranasal oxytocin


Rupp, Heather A; James, Thomas W; Ketterson, Ellen D; Sengelaub, Dale R; Ditzen, Beate; Heiman, Julia R (2013). Lower sexual interest in postpartum women: relationship to amygdala activation and intranasal oxytocin. Hormones and Behavior, 63(1):114-121.

Abstract

During the postpartum period, women experience significant changes in their neuroendocrine profiles and social behavior compared to before pregnancy. A common experience with motherhood is a decrease in sexual desire. Although the lifestyle and peripheral physiological changes associated with parturition might decrease a woman's sexual interest, we hypothesized that there are also hormone-mediated changes in women's neural response to sexual and infant stimuli with altered reproductive priorities. We predicted that amygdala activation to sexually arousing stimuli would be suppressed in postpartum versus nulliparous women, and altered with intranasal oxytocin administration. To test this, we measured amygdala activation using fMRI in response to sexually arousing pictures, infant pictures, and neutral pictures in 29 postpartum and 30 nulliparous women. Half of the women received a dose of exogenous oxytocin before scanning. As predicted, nulliparous women subjectively rated sexual pictures to be more arousing, and infant pictures to be less arousing, than did postpartum women. However, nulliparous women receiving the nasal oxytocin spray rated the infant photos as arousing as did postpartum women. Right amygdala activation was lower in postpartum versus nulliparous women in response to sexual, infant, and neutral images, suggesting a generalized decrease in right amygdala responsiveness to arousing images with parturition. There was no difference in right amygdala activation with nasal spray application. Postpartum women therefore appear to experience a decrease in sexual interest possibly as a feature of a more generalized decrease in amygdala responsiveness to arousing stimuli.

Abstract

During the postpartum period, women experience significant changes in their neuroendocrine profiles and social behavior compared to before pregnancy. A common experience with motherhood is a decrease in sexual desire. Although the lifestyle and peripheral physiological changes associated with parturition might decrease a woman's sexual interest, we hypothesized that there are also hormone-mediated changes in women's neural response to sexual and infant stimuli with altered reproductive priorities. We predicted that amygdala activation to sexually arousing stimuli would be suppressed in postpartum versus nulliparous women, and altered with intranasal oxytocin administration. To test this, we measured amygdala activation using fMRI in response to sexually arousing pictures, infant pictures, and neutral pictures in 29 postpartum and 30 nulliparous women. Half of the women received a dose of exogenous oxytocin before scanning. As predicted, nulliparous women subjectively rated sexual pictures to be more arousing, and infant pictures to be less arousing, than did postpartum women. However, nulliparous women receiving the nasal oxytocin spray rated the infant photos as arousing as did postpartum women. Right amygdala activation was lower in postpartum versus nulliparous women in response to sexual, infant, and neutral images, suggesting a generalized decrease in right amygdala responsiveness to arousing images with parturition. There was no difference in right amygdala activation with nasal spray application. Postpartum women therefore appear to experience a decrease in sexual interest possibly as a feature of a more generalized decrease in amygdala responsiveness to arousing stimuli.

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14 citations in Web of Science®
12 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Date:2013
Deposited On:14 Nov 2012 14:57
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 16:05
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0018-506X
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2012.10.007

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