Department of Psychology
My research examines the interactions among sex and sexuality, mental health, and physical health in women. There is strong evidence that mental, physical and sexual health are linked and yet, because their interplay is complex, there are still many unknowns. Can inflammation be the common cause of sex differences in depression, heart disease and chronic pain? How does information about our social and sexual relationships change how our body interprets immune threats? How do psychological interventions change the fight-or-flight response to sexual behavior in women with a history of childhood sexual abuse? What causes antidepressant sexual side effects, and how does antidepressant use change neural activity during reproductive transitions (puberty, postpartum, or menopause)? To answer these and other questions, my work uses methods from multiple fields, including measures of hormones and immune markers, psychophysiological measures of sexual and autonomic arousal, neural imaging, clinical trials, surveys and interviews. One line of my research considers how the interaction of sexual behavior and immunity may influence women’s mental and physical health. Across these studies we are finding that women’s bodies respond differently to immune challenges if they are sexually abstinent vs. sexually active. We are now following up on that research, looking for the mechanisms by which sexual activity impacts immune function. Another line of this research is measuring the effects of childhood sexual abuse on interactions between the endocrine and autonomic nervous system response to stress in adult survivors, including how sexual abuse may influence women’s immune responses to sexual activity. In the other direction, I examine how physical and mental health conditions impact women’s sexual and relationship function. In this track, we are mapping out the etiology and treatment of antidepressant sexual side effects, and examining how treatment for gynecologic cancer influences women’s ongoing sexual wellbeing.
For more information: https://psych.uncc.edu/people/lorenz-tierney