Publication in Nature communications

Puberty, a crucial phase in the development of future female sexual behavior


Puberty is a crucial phase in the development of female sexual behavior. There is growing evidence that exposure to stress during this period can lead to long lasting sexual dysfunction.

Reduced sexual desire is a deleterious condition that causes marked distress and interpersonal difficulties. It has an overall negative impact on the quality of life. The prevalence of low sexual desire is high: up to 39.5% of women aged 18-44 reported a lack or absence of sexual fantasies, sexual arousal and orgasm.

“That's the reason why we were interested in analyzing the effects of chronic stress during puberty on the neural circuitry regulating female sexual behavior” (Julie Bakker). Pubertal stress was found to permanently impair sexual performance in female mice. This reduction in female sexual behavior was associated with a decrease in the expression and activation of a population of nitric oxide-producing neurons in the ventromedial hypothalamus, a brain region essential for the expression of female sexual behavior. This reduction in neuronal activation was particularly observed when females were exposed to male odors, suggesting that the integration of important sexual signals in the brain was affected by exposure to pubertal stress.

“In summary, our results demonstrate the importance of nitric oxide-producing neurons, which are crucial in processing the olfactory signals required for the expression of female sexual behavior and that puberty is indeed a critical period during which a series of biological events leads to the maturation of female reproductive behavior” (Julie Bakker). The development of the brain during this period makes certain neural circuits particularly sensitive to stress, which can lead to disruption of sexual behavior. Adverse events during this period could therefore have long lasting effects on the reproductive cycle and sexual performance.


Stress during pubertal development affects female sociosexual behavior in mice.
Bentefour Y, Bakker J. Nat Commun. 2024 Apr 30;15(1):3610. doi: 10.1038/s41467-024-47300-w.


Julie Bakker

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