It may not seem like the sexiest of organs, but from the very first hint that things are about to get a little frisky, your bawdy brain starts a’spinning. The most important sexual organ in the body, your brain acts as mission control, creating the perfect atmosphere for sexy time and governing all the feels that go along with it.
From the first caresses to the final slump on your pillow, your brain is the director of everything going on in the big show. Although there’s a lot that still remains a mystery, there are some connections between upstairs and downstairs that we do know, and they’re pretty darn interesting…
Researchers at Rutger’s University recently summoned a group of women to masturbate inside an fMRI machine – lucky gals – in order to see how the brain functions leading up to and after orgasm. They found that during this racy sequence of events, over thirty – yes, THIRTY – areas of the brain were activated, from pleasure centers to regions responsible for pain, memory and touch. And they say we think too much!
It’s hard to say what the best part of sex is, but for many of us, those first slightly awkward moments when you realize you both have the same thing in mind are definitely up there. During these humble beginnings of arousal, the brain’s limbic system is fired up, setting in motion a series of physiological changes that increase blood flow to your heart and genitals.
Sensory and emotional stimuli are also more acutely perceived, setting all sights on the sexy horizon ahead. Thanks brain!
3. Fuzzy feelings
During orgasm, the brain releases an overload of pleasurable hormones which are then transported around the body. Dopamine, our feel-good pleasure hormone (which can be addictive) is released with oxytocin, or as it’s otherwise known, ‘the cuddle hormone’, which facilitates bonding and those first feelings of falling in love.
Mood-boosting serotonin is the maraschino cherry to top off this delightful cocktail, leaving you in a euphoric haze with a big ol’ smile on your face.
With more dopamine released in guys and more oxytocin in gals, our different sexual behaviors can be explained by the difference in our brain’s chemical concoctions. In particular, many suggest the prevalence of oxytocin in women explains their stronger emotional connection with sexual partners.
4. Lights out
During orgasm, you aren’t thinking about taking the trash out, doing your laundry or feeding your cat (or at least we hope not). In fact, when reaching ‘climax’ as it’s aptly known, several areas of the brain shut down entirely, allowing you to luxuriate in your own, spasmy feels.
These areas include the amygdala which is associated with feelings of fear and anxiety, the hippocampus which controls memory and spatial awareness and other areas of the cerebellum which are responsible for movement control. This, my friend, you cannot fake.
5. What’s your name again?
Before we freak you out, this is super duper rare, but… sex can wipe your memory – at least for a while. Transient global amnesia is a rare and thankfully, temporary condition where recent memory is lost and strangely, sexual intercourse is a trigger. More common in people aged over 50, transient global amnesia only affects around 3 to 5 people in 100,000 per year. Talk about mind-blowing sex eh?
6. Those facial expressions…
Ever wondered why during the big ‘O’ many people look like they’re actually in pain? Well, those same researchers at Rutger’s University found that at least two brain regions, the insular cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex are active during both experiences. They suggest that, as sensations send messages streaming along overlapping pleasure and pain pathways, similar facial expressions are sparked before being distinguished in the brain.
That’s why your sexy face… yeah, not so sexy.
7. La Petite Mort
Ever felt sad after sex? La petite mort or “the little death” refers to the post-sex blues and although it’s more commonly associated with men, it’s certainly not unheard of in women. The technical term for this is postcoital dysphoria and refers to feelings of regret, sadness and anxiety post-orgasm. Researchers are still trying to get to the bottom of why this happens, but with so many areas of the brain activated during sex, including regions to do with memory and pain, returning to normal can be complex for some.
Plus, with those feel-good hormones dropping drastically after orgasm, many are left in a state of withdrawal with a wave of melancholy washing over them.
8. Sex can make you smarter?
According to a recent animal study, regular sex can actually improve cognitive function, hurray! Researchers at the University of Maryland found that when young adult rats (who have a similar physiology to us humans) are stimulated sexually continually over time, this reward experience actually stimulated neuron growth.
Rats who were denied getting jiggy with it had higher levels of stress hormones which actually impaired brain growth and lowered cell functioning in the hippocampus. So there you have it, the perfect excuse!
9. Female VS Male
The male and female brain may not look all that different but there’s a lot going on that determines their distinct sexual behaviors.
For starters, an area of the hypothalamus reserved for mating behavior is over TWICE as big in males than females, with twice as many cells. I guess they really do think about it more! Another big difference is the activation of an area called the periaqueductal gray (PAG) in women, but not men.
This region is responsible for suppressing pain, and combined with the shutdown of other areas of the female brain, explain that wonderful numbness we experience during orgasm.
So next time you fall back on your pillow after a sexy sesh, give your brain a resounding round of applause. The Beethoven of the bedroom has just conducted quite the overture, managing everything from your heart rate to your blood pressure, processing all your emotions, sensations and registering every spark of chemical electricity. Bravo!