Sex Education: Dealing with the Adolescent Brain in Love

Adolescents often fall in love and that affects their studies. Understanding the working of the adolescent brain will help design sex education programs.
Adolescent girl student in school with books

An adolescent, when in love, loses interest in the school studies. The adolescent brain, which is not fully developed, processes information differently. The emotions and thoughts of love and sex force the love-soaked adolescent brain to filter out any other information from reaching the Prefrontal Cortex, the rational brain. However, understanding how the adolescent brain works can help in educating adolescents to train their brains to control their libido and learn to delay gratification. Here’s a sneak peak into the sex-brain connection and how sex education can help the adolescents. ~ Ed.

Sex education for adolescent boy and girl in love

Sex is a problem.

Yes, sex is a problem rather than pleasure when it hijacks the brain and sways it violently.

When the storm lashes against the walls of the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC – the rational brain) and enters into it, there is love and sex only. Nothing else. Any information outside love and passion is filtered out. Love and love only the brain says, while body murmurs “sex and sex only”. This is problematic.

Nature’s procreational agenda is relentless and no species is spared. Sex hormones confiscate the brain functions by taking charge of brain filters.

There are three regions of the brain which act as filters and decide which information from sense organs–eyes, nose, ears, skin, and tongue– should reach PFC for meaningful logical processing.

3 Filters That Impact the Adolescent Brain

Any information that enters our brain is first filtered by the Reticular Activating System, then by the Amygdala-Hippocampus, and finally by Dopamine.

RAS: The First Filter

The brain of an adolescent who is passionately in love with the opposite sex filters out what he or she studies in school such as math, physics, and chemistry lessons entering through his or her eyes and ears. But do not blame the adolescent student; it is the way a brain soaked in love functions.

What the math/physics teacher says enters through the sense organs and first knocks at the doors of RAS (Reticular Activating System) of the adolescent student. RAS is situated at the lower back of his brain. This filter will let in only those messages which the individual has paid enough attention to, or have some relation to his past experiences or memories.

A new piece of information that fails to catch the learner’s attention will be relentlessly filtered out by RAS. Doped with oxytocin-the love hormone, the brain-body mechanism of the lover is obsessively engrossed in his or her object of love and little energy is left to focus on the teacher’s zero-passionate math and physics.

Nature has pre-ordained to be so. Craving for love from the opposite sex should be that much intense—nature has decreed. So, never blame the student when he or she is daydreaming.

Amygdala-Hippocampus: The Second Filter

Yet, if the adolescent tries hard to focus on what the teacher says, with much effort, some information may cross RAS and settle in the sensory cortex where all information from senses stay for a while. From there it is transferred to the second brain filter—the emotional palace of the brain.

Two sergeants of this palace are amygdala and hippocampus. These two sergeants weigh the incoming information according to their pre-established standards and decide whether the information has to be given a ticket for entry into PFC.

When the individual is in a heightened emotional state or a survival flight/fight mode, the amygdala does not want the PFC to spend energy unnecessarily as it has to deal with urgent, emotional issues that have to say in the survival and procreation of the species. It just blocks the not so urgent, not so useful math, physics chemistry. The amygdala allows the student to wallow in passionate emotional surges arising from the real or imaginary rendezvous with his/her lover. It encourages the student to replay emotionally charged memories and images of the lover.

And dopamine assists the emotional brain regions by spreading itself profusely in the nucleus accumbens—the brain’s reward center– ensuring that craving is increased exponentially. Thus, the brain does justice to the diktat of creation. It has to prepare the mind and body of the teenager for procreation.

The other sergeant hippocampus too joins the bandwagon. It resonates with the agenda of the limbic system, yet in a slightly different manner. It closes the doors and windows of long-term memory storage so that any new incoming information will not get the opportunity to connect with any familiar information stored in long-term memory.

Processing of any new information will not occur meaningfully if it can not pair (connect) with some information already registered in the vaults of long term memory. In scientific terms, this is known as the encoding-decoding process. If this connection does not happen the new information will vane and disappears from working memory (unless the learner makes a hard-deliberate attempt).

So, there is a lesser chance for the new information to get entry into PFC and undergo serious processing. Even an experienced teacher with the best teaching strategies fails to pierce through the barriers posed by the brain filters.

Dopamine: The Third Filter

Dopamine is recognized as a brain filter in the sense that the passage of information from a neuron to a neighboring neuron across the synapse is made possible only if the dopamine molecules make the information “flow” across the synapse and lead it towards PFC. The gap between the neurons will never be resolved if there aren’t adequate dopamine pathways in the brain.

Teenage love and infatuation hurl the brain into doldrums of emotions. And the teacher toiling his or her best to arouse the rational brain regions of his or her student is often at loss. Being an experience immensely pleasure yielding, the adolescent in love will be overflowing with the neurotransmitter called dopamine.

When the brain is in love, the density of the dopamine around the reward center (nucleus accumbens) is so high that the brain starves for its object of love compulsively. It blocks out any information but lovers. Dopamine makes the possible passage of love-drenched impressions instead of math/physics/chemistry. Images of the lover, memories of their face, touch; kiss, etc fill-up the traffic of neurons.

PFC of the lover process love and love only and anything beyond it is unreal and un-necessary to the lover. Researchers like Burkett and Young regard romantic love as a type of addiction. They see a high similarity in the brain activation patterns of a passionate lover and that of an addict in his craving state.

The functions of the rational brain i.e. PFC remain largely inert in an adolescent who is inebriated with love. And the teaching community shudders when neuroscientific evidence declares that an adolescent’s PFC is unfinished business, it is yet to mature. It develops at snail’s pace and reaches its full capacity only when the individual reaches the age of 20 years. The available PFC in adolescence when it is drenched in passion, what a teacher can do is sit and watch for the heat of the passion to abate.

A mind drenched in passion has some side effects as price tags attached to it. According to Fischer and colleagues (2015), the noted side effects are mood swings, craving for the object of passion, various compulsions, distortion of reality, dependence, personality changes, appetite for risk-taking, and loss of control, etc. No wonder, the math teacher standing on the platform appear like a zombie blabbering around…and the physics teacher’s E=MC2 are just alphabets floating without any meaningful relationship for an adolescent in love.

Sexless Education Agenda

Sex is a survival instinct and living organisms have no choice but to succumb to the purpose of creation. However, certain things differentiate animals from humans.

Human species, the thinking animals, have the unique potential to know and explain the whys of the things happening within them. The 21st-century human being can seek explanation not only for what is sex and why there is sex but for how sex affects his or her thoughts, emotions, actions, behaviors, and choices.

Why can’t we explain this to adolescents? We expect the students to delay gratification and contain their sex-related impulses. We use the baton of morality and ethics for this purpose but in vain.

Without knowing answers to the questions arising in his or her mind, no student can be asked for delaying gratification. Why delaying gratification is needed and how his or her mind-brain-body mechanisms react to the delaying is a question that can be answered only by sciences like physiology, sociology, and psychology. The sad fact is, struggles of teachers go in vain when the education system overlooks the issue of students’ sex impulses and their influence on learning.

Summing Up

Let the students know the nuances of the psycho-social-emotional influence of sex on their learning brain. The students will be in a better position to regulate and control their libido.

Help the students to understand why they are likely to lose interest in their studies if they fall in love. Let them know the answer to this a little before they fall in love.

Let us teach the student about the sex-brain connection from the high school classes itself. If we want our education system not to be hijacked by the upsurge of unbridled libido, then let us design sex education programs that address the brain—genitals connection.

Sex begins first in the brain, in the thoughts, and then only it invites the body for involvement. Let us follow that order in our sex education. Then each adolescent will be equipped to use their brain to control sex instead of permitting sex to control their brain.

Over to you

Do you think sex education at the high school level could help the adolescents fare better in studies? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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