The relationship between women's hormonal state and their neural and behavioral responses to natural rewards Open Access

Renfro, Kaytlin J. (Summer 2018)

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Women’s interest in and behavioral responses to food and sex change across their menstrual cycle. Food intake is lowest around the time of ovulation and highest in the post-ovulatory luteal phase of the cycle, whereas sexual behavior and desire follow the opposite pattern, peaking near ovulation and reaching a nadir in the luteal phase. The mechanisms by which women’s hormonal state modulates their food intake and sexual behavior remain largely unknown. The goal of this dissertation was to inform our understanding of the relationship between women’s hormonal state and their responses to food and sexual stimuli. In the first manuscript, we review the literature to show that there is striking consistency across species in cyclic patterns of food intake and sexual behavior, and we detail the evidence that cyclic shifts in motivation for food and sex are mediated by the ovarian steroids estradiol (E2) and progesterone (P4). In the following two empirical manuscripts, we ask the questions of whether women’s hormonal state modulates: a) how much they desire food and sexual stimuli and/or b) how much they like them. We addressed these questions in a sample of 59 women: 30 naturally cycling (NC) women and 29 women regularly taking a monophasic oral contraceptive (OC), who participated in two test sessions at distinct hormonal times. At test session one, half of the NC women (n = 15) were near ovulation and half (n = 15) were in the luteal phase. Half of the OC women (n = 15) were in the pill-free week of their pill cycles and the other half (n = 14) were in the third week of their pill-cycles. We found that women’s hormonal state was related to how motivated they were to view sexual stimuli, how much they liked sexual stimuli, and their neural response to sexual stimuli. Conversely, we did not find evidence for a relationship between women’s hormonal state and their motivation for, liking of, or neural response to food stimuli. Together, these data shed light on the biological and psychological factors that contribute to women’s motivated behaviors. 

Table of Contents

Manuscript 1 / General Introduction: Hormonal modulation of motivation for natural rewards in women and nonhuman females

Title 1

Abstract 2

Review 3

Current Dissertation     22

References 23

Figure 1 37

Figure 2 38

Manuscript 2: The relationship between women’s hormonal state and their motivation to view images of food or sex 

Title 39

Abstract 40

Introduction 41

Method 44

Results 51

Discussion 54

References 62

Table 1 68

Figure 1 69

Figure 2 70

Figure 3 71

Figure 4 72

Figure 5 73

Manuscript 3: Women’s subjective and neural responses to food or sex: Relationship to menstrual cycle phase and oral contraceptive use

Title 74

Abstract 75

Introduction 76

Method 80

Results 88

Discussion 92

References 101

Table 1 108

Figure 1 109

Figure 2 110

Figure 3 111

Figure 4 112

Figure 5 113

Figure 6 114

Figure 7 115

Figure 8 116

Figure 9 117

Figure 10 118

Figure 11 119

General Discussion   120

References 126

Figure 1 128

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