Sex in the Brain

Janice Hiller is a consultant clinical psychologist who worked in the NHS in adult mental health initially, before specialising in sexology. She set up and ran the Relationship and Psychosexual Service in North-East London, and then joined Tavistock Relationships as senior academic tutor in psychosexual studies until 2017. Janice has taught on doctoral degree and training courses, presented at many conferences in the UK and abroad, and has published on a range of topics. These include sexual arousal and desire, pain disorders, biopsychosocial factors in sexual development, and neurobiological aspects of sexual responding. She was joint editor and contributor to Sex, Mind, and Emotion (Hiller, Wood, &; Bolton, 2006), and co-wrote a chapter for the European-wide Syllabus of Clinical Sexology. Janice has a private practice in North London and is especially interested in the relevance of neuroscience in understanding sexual behaviour.

Janice’s latest book, Sex in the Brain: A Neuropsychosexual Approach to Love and Intimacy offers an overview of what happens in the brain during the development of romantic and sexual relationships.

Why do we feel so euphoric about a new partner, but this exhilaration ebbs away over time?
Why is it so difficult to feel positive towards a partner when we are in an unhappy relationship?
Why does heartbreak feel like an actual physical ache?
Do the genders typically respond differently to sexual stimuli?
And why can you feel more attracted to somebody after a kiss – or completely go off them?

For hundreds of years, humans have attempted to answer these questions. And now we are able to, thanks to neuropyschosexual (NPS) therapy, which I introduce in my new book Sex in the Brain: A Neuropsychosexual Approach to Love and Intimacy.

As a clinical psychologist, psychosexual therapist, and trainer, with many years of experience in treating individuals and couples with relationship and sexual problems, I have long been fascinated by how the connections between the mind and the body influence our behaviour. For so many of us, the issues of romantic attraction and sex are paramount to our life, but, of course, they are far from straightforward. Couples can want different things from each other, struggle with incompatible needs, or shifting feelings as a relationship progresses. Infidelity and painful endings are another source of great distress for so many of us.

Excitingly, we now live in a time where neuroscientific research can offer us insights into sexual expression that it could not have done before. Due to advanced technology, investigations into the brain responses, involving hormones, neurotransmitters and brain regions, can now shed light on what is happening to us when we experience these romantic and sexual feelings.

I felt it was time to put these findings together; to examine intimate relationships through the lens of neurobiology. Through the in-depth work involved in writing my book, Sex in the Brain, I developed a new term to describe this integrated approach: neuropsychosexual.

Neuropsychosexual therapy means using current knowledge from the neuroscientific research to enhance our understanding of how we react in relationships. Our behaviours and emotions, including sexual responses, are underpinned by specific brain activations. For example, I was fascinated to discover that kissing is not just a pleasurable thing to do – it actually performs important functions in the immune and endocrine system. When we kiss, the salivary exchange conveys information to the brain via our neural pathways that signals whether we are genetically compatible with this person – or not. This is why we may ‘go off’ someone after a kiss – our brain has signalled to us we are not compatible.

In my book, I explore how a neuropsychosexual approach can shed scientific insight on so many aspects of our romantic and sexual lives: from falling in love, to sexual arousal and orgasm, to bonding with partners and children, to long-term relationships and infidelity. I also explain how increased insight and practice can enable us to alter neural pathways, which can actually resculpt the brain. This means that lasting change is possible, offering encouragement for psychosexual therapists and anyone concerned with their relationship dynamics.

There is much to gain from considering what happens on the level of brain activity and bodily responses, whether we are trying to manage our own relationships or work with others. Sex in the Brain describes the neural underpinnings of love and sex, explains the research, and provides case studies to show how the approach can be used therapeutically. Because the more we understand our own behaviour, the greater our ability to change, and manage our relationship dynamics for the better.

Janice Hiller

Buy your copy of Sex in the Brain: A Neuropsychosexual Approach to Love and Intimacy now!