What happens to the body during orgasm is a lot more famous than what happens afterwards. After all, we as a culture are almost entirely focused on getting to that point. Give Him A Big O He'll Never Forget, 204 Ways To Make Her Come: it's orgasm central and the train is going to one stop only (multiple times, if you're lucky). But what happens to the body after you orgasm — and why — is it often confusing, strange, slightly weird, and frankly a bit emotionally vulnerable. We all know the stereotype that men roll over and want to fall asleep — but do men and women really experience post-coital bliss in such different ways?
Post-orgasmic states are often dismissed as a haze of pleasure, desire, and gender-distinct post-sex experience (men sleep, women talk), but they're actually significantly more complicated. An orgasm is a major event for the body in either gender, involving huge coordination between the genitals, the organs, the hormones, and the brain; it stands to reason that the come-down, as it were, is also a very complex process. It may not be pretty — imagine the clean-up after a massive music festival — but it's crucial for understanding why, post-O, both genders may sometimes feel needy, angry, sullen, or even disoriented.
So here's the guide to what happens in your body, and in your partner's, once you're lying together breathing heavily in a pile of sweaty sheets. Here's a tip: it's not as simple as sitcoms may have led you to believe.
We're Both Blissfully Relaxed, But In Different Ways
The mechanism of female orgasm is actually a series of rapid, rhythmic contractions. And they're not just in the vagina: an orchestra of pulses go through your genitals, anus, uterus, and pelvic floor all at once, extremely rapidly. But it also makes the brain explode, flooding it with opoids from the limbic system, as a "reward" full of pleasure and happiness. This chemical flood isn't without its dangers: it's a key component in how we get addicted to things, like heroin.
Women Regain Their Emotional Awareness
A key part of orgasm is a kind of tunnel vision — and it's not only blocking out the doorbell and construction noise outside. Orgasm is actually built on complete focus, and we become effectively blind to any other stimulants, either physical or, it turns out, mental. And women in particular become very focused indeed.
A 2005 study from the Netherlands showed that the bits of the female brain regulating feelings, the amygdala and hippocampus, actually "turn off" in the build-up to orgasm. We become completely focussed on sensation and pleasure, rather than registering love, worry, or anything else. The part of the brain regulating behavior turns off, too, so we're not controlling ourselves out of fear of judgement, either. Once we've come, we return to our bodies, our consciousness re-calibrates, and our emotional intelligence returns — which leads to our next point.
Women Have A Greater Drive To Bond
The "cuddle chemical" oxytocin is a huge part of human bonding: mothers release it copiously while bonding with their newborns, for instance. So, unsurprisingly, people who've just had sex will find themselves awash with it. It's generally agreed among scientists that the pituitary gland releases it after orgasm, in both sexes.
An oxytocin hit leads to a corresponding feeling of trust, safety, and emotional openness. However, a 2013 study by the University of Connecticut theorized that warm, fuzzy oxytocin paradise isn't the post-orgasm experience for all of us. People with higher testosterone levels — men in general, and some women — may not experience the oxytocin cuddles, because testosterone is antagonistic to oxytocin and might blunt its effects. "Hit it and quit it" isn't just a male thing, it seems.
Men Might Have More Trouble Feeling Pleasure
Women Might Feel The Need For Another Orgasm
If you want to seriously understand your orgasms and sexual pleasure, go out and buy Ian Kerner's books immediately. The sexuality counsellor and author mentions an interesting side affect of female orgasms to Women's Health: the need for another. It's no mistake that orgasms are referred to as climaxes — they're the culmination, and hopefully release, of an intense series of built-up sensations in the body, particularly in the genitals. But for women, sometimes one's not enough.
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