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Into Leather? So Are Rats

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How can we develop a better understanding of human behavior? Look at rats! New research again confirms that rats and humans are more alike than you might think. Like humans, rats are prosocial and able to show empathy. Neurobiologist Jim Pfaus found yet another ‘human’ trait in rats: the sexual fetish.

In the Dutch scientific television program “Labyrint”, Jim Faust states that we can learn a lot by looking at the sex life of rats. Although humans and rats have sex in very different ways, the underlying brain systems during sex are exactly the same. By studying male rats, Pfaus tried to explain why and how humans develop a sexual fetish. In order to do so, he had a bunch of male rats wear a “jacket” during their first sexual experience. As a result, the rats linked sex and the neurological reward it gives to wearing the outfit. This became clear when the same rats were confronted with females for the second time – this time butt naked. Without their jacket, most of the rats either did not mate at all, or it took them a long time to finish. Extraordinary, because they never seemed to need it before.

Jim Faust explains that the same applies for humans: “It’s not that people who develop a fetish are crazy, or somehow prone to crazy fetish behavior. Probably their first sexual experience is somehow associated with the fetish object, which results in the fetish later on.”

Follow this link to watch the show.

Source: Labyrint, Sciencemag

Pfaus JG, Kippin TE, & Coria-Avila G (2003). What can animal models tell us about human sexual response? Annual review of sex research, 14, 1-63 PMID: 15287157

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