Washington : Sexual aggression can alter a female’s brain by diminishing her learning and reducing her maternal behaviours, according to a new study.
Lead author Tracey Shors from the Rutgers University discovered that prepubescent female rodents paired with sexually experienced males had elevated levels of stress hormones, could not learn as well, and expressed reduced maternal behaviors needed to care for offspring.
Shors said that this study is important because people need to understand how sexual aggression affects all species, adding “We also need to know the consequences of this behavior in order for us to determine what we can do to help women learn to recover from sexual aggression and violence.”
Thirty percent of women worldwide experience some kind of physical or sexual assault in their lifetime and adolescent girls are much more likely than the general public to be victims of rape, attempted rape or assault, according to the World Health Organization. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five college women experience sexual violence while on campus.
Women who experience sexual violence are more likely to suffer with depression, PTSD and other mood disorders. Still, despite the undeniable connection between sexual trauma in women and mental health disorders, little is known about how aggression affects the female brain. That’s because there has been no established laboratory animal model for studying the consequences of sexual aggression and behavior on brain function in females, Shors said.
Shors and her colleagues developed the Sexual Conspecific Aggressive Response (SCAR) model to determine how stress associated with sexual aggression affected female rodents.
Even though it is normal for female rats to care for their offspring, as well as the offspring of other rodents, Shors said the females in this study that were exposed to the adult male throughout puberty did not exhibit as much maternal behavior as females that did not have the social interactions. Fewer newly generated brain cells were present in the females that had minimal maternal behavior when compared to females that did learn to care for offspring.
While scientists don’t know if this type of sexual aggression would have the same effects in humans, studies have shown that sexual aggression and violence is one of the most likely causes of PTSD in women, which is associated with decreased brain functions related to learning and memory. The children of women who experience sexual violence are also at greater risk for suffering traumatic experiences themselves as they grow up.
The study appears in Scientific Reports. (ANI)