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Functional and Dysfunctional Sexual Behavior: A Synthesis of Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology

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For a long time I was fascinated by trying to understand the behavioral, endocrine and neural mechanisms controlling rat sexual behavior, independently of whether such an understanding was of any use or not. My favorite afternoon distraction was to walk over to the lab and see how the experiments were going, and if possible I made some observations of a couple of copulating rats. Although I have had this habit for many years, I have never got bored of seeing the same motor patterns repeated over and over again. There is always something new to discover. There may be some unexpected effect of an experimental treatment, a rat that behaves in an unusual way, or just a funny conversation with a student observer, who I had judged as very boring until then. However, with the passage of time and the accumulation of knowledge and experience, it was impossible to avoid getting some thoughts concerning the meaning and even the real interest of experimental studies of rodent sexual behaviors. These thoughts partly originated in discussions with people outside the field of rat sex research, who candidly asked if the rat data had any relevance for humans. My standard answer was that I didn't care, since my interest was focused on scientific rather than utilitarian problems. If that answer were satisfactory or not was of no concern to me. At that time another issue appeared more disturbing than questions regarding applicability of rat research to humans. The discovery that once glorious notions slowly were forgotten and replaced by other ones, and that dominant research themes and strategies demised and were replaced by other ones troubled me a lot. Still worse, the replacements were not necessarily new, they were often only different. Like we can observe at the seasonal shows at Paris’ haute couture houses, fashions come and go, and some come back again in an eternal vicious circle. The ephemerality of many hypotheses and research questions as well as the reappearance of once rejected notions seemed to me far more appalling than potential applicability of the findings.
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