Sex *could* kill you. Do you know what the human body goes through when you have sex? Pupils dilate, arteries constrict, core temperature rises, heart races, blood pressure skyrockets, respiration becomes rapid and shallow, the brain fires bursts of electrical impulses from nowhere to nowhere, and secretions spit out of every gland, and the muscles tense and spasm like you’re lifting three times your body weight. It’s violent. It’s ugly. And it’s messy. And if God hadn’t made it *unbelievably* fun, the human race would have died out eons ago. Men are lucky they can only have one orgasm. You know that women can have an hour-long orgasm?Dr. Alison Cameron // House M.D.
You probably haven’t been thinking this anytime before, during or after sex (hopefully) — what happens in your brain and body while you’re making love, science wise? Here comes some amazing brain sex stuff!
THE BRAIN IS ON FIRE
Neuroscience has shown that the limbic system — which controls your physical urges — lights up during the act. So, the genital sensory cortex, motor areas, hypothalamus, thalamus, amygdala, and substantia nigra are LIT.
The amygdala is involved in evaluating the emotional content of a sexual situation, which helps control sensory processing and attention. This emotional processing of the amygdala is well connected to motivational areas of the brain, therefore amygdala is practically guiding your sexual behavior.
The thalamus helps integrate information about touch, movement, and any sexual memories or fantasies that someone might call upon to help them reach orgasm. Meanwhile, someone is getting quite busy — I’m watching you, the hypothalamus. It is responsible for stimulating the pituitary gland to release and mix the sex hormones & neurochemicals cocktail.
As a consequence, the sex itself is driven more by instinct and emotion than rational thought.
Motor areas of the brain are also on fire, because of all the body movements, and the genital sensory cortex is registering touches to the body’s nether regions.
While some parts go haywire during sex, two specific areas of the brain cool down completely.
One, which involves social and value judgments, ethic standards, and awareness shuts off.
Love Sex is blind, they say.
The other area of the brain — linked to self-awareness and self-inhibition — deactivates in lovemaking.
Technically, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (frontal lobe) goes off during sex. This is the part of the brain responsible for reason, decision making, judgments and complex thinking in general. The deactivation of this part of the brain is also associated with fear and anxiety decrease.
Our bodies need us relaxed and with zero worrying minds during sex, hence above mentioned neural inhibition. It helps us focus on pleasure, humankind extension and continuity, lol.
This shutdown of the lateral orbitofrontal cortex makes sense, as fear and anxiety can interrupt arousal and lead to problems like performance anxiety.
Neurochemical sex brain cocktail
Sex causes the brain to release enormous levels of some neurochemicals. These chemical changes help regulate and pace sexual activities.
Ingredient 1: DOPAMINE
One of the main neurotransmitters here is dopamine. This guy is utterly important because it promotes feelings of desire, euphoria, and satisfaction.
Here’s the catch, dopamine — as a key part of the brain’s reward motivating system — is being released from the same part of the brain, hypothalamus, that activates when people consume nice foods or, less nice, drugs.
Dopamine is formed in the ventral segmental area and released into other parts of the brain (through multiple dopamine pathways) such as the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex.
Some refer to dopamine as a pleasure chemical – though research has shown it offers us much more than just a good time. It’s more of a learning chemical, helping to take notice of rewards like food and sex, and figure out how to get more of them, ergo it motivates us to be more into rewarding behavior.
Ingredient 2: OXYTOCIN
Here comes the looove hormone. Oxytocin acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, which is crucial for social bonding, sexual reproduction, childbirth and even breastfeeding.
It surges in those lovable, pun intended, intimate situations — hugging, kissing, hand-holding.
One misconception, however, is that oxytocin encourages bonding between partners post-orgasm. Kinda wrong.
But, let’s stick with the facts and say that there’s only some speculative research that women might be more emotionally connected after orgasm thanks to oxytocin and vasopressin.
What researchers do know is that oxytocin released during sex could have pain-relieving effects. This could be a possible clue for the infamous link between sexual pleasure and pain.
Ingredient 3: VASOPRESSIN
Changes in vasopressin post-orgasm might make women experience sexual activity as an emotional connection, vasopressin changes are much larger in men. Given that vasopressin promotes sleepiness, this may reflect the gender differences as, jokingly, men are more prone to doze off immediately after sex.
Ingredient 4: SEROTONIN
Attraction seems to lead to a reduction in serotonin, a hormone that’s known to be involved in appetite and mood. Serotonin impacts every part of your body, from your emotions to your motor skills. Serotonin is considered a natural mood stabilizer. It’s the chemical that helps with sleeping, eating, and digesting.
What does it do in the brain? Well, serotonin in the brain is thought to regulate anxiety, happiness, and mood. But with the catch. Low levels of the chemical have been associated with depression, and increased serotonin levels brought on by medication are thought to decrease arousal.
So, low levels of serotonin are associated with increased libido, while increased serotonin levels are associated with reduced libido.
The only time serotonin is at its peak is during and after the climax.
Ingredient 5: NOREPINEPHRINE
Norepinephrine increases arousal, attention, and energy by activating the sympathetic nervous system in the brain. The norepinephrine releases to increase our heartbeat and arouse us. Many stereotypes of being in love or lust, like a loss of appetite, excess energy, and trouble sleeping, are associated with high concentrations of norepinephrine, too.
We can say that the general function of norepinephrine is to mobilize the brain and body for action.
It is lowest during sleep, rises during wakefulness, and reaches much higher levels during situations of stress or danger, in the so-called fight-or-flight response.
In the brain, norepinephrine increases arousal and alertness, promotes vigilance, enhances formation and retrieval of memory, and focuses attention. In the rest of the body, norepinephrine increases heart rate and blood pressure, triggers the release of glucose from energy stores, increases blood flow to skeletal muscle, reduces blood flow to the gastrointestinal system, and inhibits voiding of the bladder and gastrointestinal motility.
Captain Obvious speaking, but with sex as a vital to our survival as a species, it makes sense that it should be pleasurable, rewarding and make us less vulnerable to physical discomfort that might interrupt the act.
It may also be that, evolutionarily speaking, since this activity increases blood flow across the brain so dramatically, it may have developed in part to help keep the brain healthy, too.
Research has also suggested that female orgasm may have once played a role in stimulating ovulation, like in cats for instance, even though for a long time for us females, ovulation occurs spontaneously every month (aside from anovulatory cycles) and it doesn’t depend on sexual activity.