A recent study by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) has revealed that condom use in South Africa has declined since 2012. Condom use is essential for reducing the risk of sexually-transmitted diseases, such as HIV, and preventing unwanted pregnancy. But in that crucial moment, how can the brain be better employed to remember to use a condom?
As the French would say, life is not worth living without joie de vivre – which in English means, exuberant enjoyment of life! If we are lucky, according to some religious texts, we may live for “three score years and ten” – a score being 20 years. And so, to really enjoy those precious seventy years (or more!), we must try to strike a happy balance between exuberance and sensible behaviour. Living only for pleasure without checks and balances can lead us down the opposite path of disease, with the risk of encountering maladies such as obesity from over-eating and HIV from risky sexual behaviour. Both over-eating and risky sexual behaviour are impulse control problems. Remembering to say no to the third helping of food, or thinking about buying – and using – a condom, are decisions rooted in our brain’s ability to regulate immediate, tantalising distractions. With the brain processes of impulse control in mind, what can we learn from neuroscience about how to go on enjoying life while avoiding risky behaviours and remember to use a condom?
How then, do we lock the anterior cingulate cortex gate so that the wild horses don’t barge in? For some it is temporarily more difficult, especially if the party is in full swing, because the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until about age twenty, and declines as we get older. However, the lock on the gate gets stronger with practice as our brains never stop evolving, they are malleable and neuroplastic until we have spent our three score years and ten. Practice involves regularly keeping in mind thoughts about future – instead of immediate – goals. And while it might sound boring, it’s better to keep the party in the basal ganglia under lock and key! So, keep practising thinking about where to buy your next packet of condoms and keep your prefrontal cortex busy!
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