Brain on Orgasm

Anatomy of a Climax
By Laura Berman, 2014

Have you ever wondered about the science of orgasms? Find out exactly what happens to your mind and body when you climax.

Understanding what happens to your body (and your partner’s body) during the peak of sexual satisfaction can help you to reach new levels of fulfillment and intimacy. After all, there is so much more to orgasm than meets the eye!

During orgasms, our brains are flooded with information, both from our psyches and from the nerves in our genital region. There are millions of nerve endings [in the root region], all of which feel highly pleasurable when stimulated and aroused.

When stimulated successfully, these nerves send messages to the pleasure center of the brain, the same part of the brain that lights up when we eat something delicious like chocolate; it’s also the area of the brain that is activated by more illicit activities such as drug use. Hence, when people say they are “addicted” to love, it’s actually quite accurate!

Not only does orgasm activate the pleasure center, it also causes our minds to temporarily “lose control.” A recent study from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands found that when men and women reach orgasm, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex temporarily shuts down. This is the region of the brain that is responsible for behavior control. No wonder people enjoy orgasm so much — not only does it feel wonderful, it also gives our minds a chance to simply “let go.”

During orgasm, our brains are also flooded with oxytocin, which is the powerful brain chemical that inspires feelings of intimacy. Known as the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin makes you feel connected to your partner. Men, though, have higher levels of testosterone in their brains, which might combat some of the effects of oxytocin. This might explain why men are able to have casual sex without feelings of intimacy, while women often feel connected after one-night stands. These differing hormones might also explain why women want to cuddle after sex, while men just want to grab a glass of water or go to sleep.

Nor is this the only difference between the male brain and the female brain after an orgasm. When women experience orgasm, the periaqueductal gray (PAG) — the part of the brain that controls the fight-or-flight response — is activated. The PAG is not activated in men when they reach orgasm. Studies have also found that women experience decreased activity in the amygdala and hippocampus when they reach orgasm, both of which help to monitor fear and anxiety. What does all this mean? Researchers theorize that these parts of the brain are activated because women need to feel safe and relaxed in order to reach orgasm, something which might not be as important for men.

Of course, your brain isn’t the only part of your body that responds to orgasm! Your genitals also respond, contracting and releasing powerful sexual energy that causes you to feel almost weightless with pleasure. The buildup of sexual energy and the muscular contractions that release this energy are the simple yet powerful physiological response behind the orgasm.



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