When it comes to sex, there is a lot of speculation about
how an orgasm affects the brain. For example, the French call an orgasm, " la petite mort" (the little death) because it's often thought that your brain shuts off during an orgasm — meaning that you "die" a little bit in that moment. However, as a French-American woman, I can attest to the fact that there's actually no death involved at all.
But while that may be the case, that doesn't mean that the brain, in addition to the body, isn't
affected by an orgasm. In fact, the brain is even more affected by an orgasm than the body and in far more complicated ways.
"Though it being a complex organ, there are many behaviors and reactions that experts and researchers understand about the brain, but much of the science of sex and sexuality still has yet to be explored," neuropsychologist, relationship coach, and bestselling author
Dr. Cynthia L. Dougherty PhD tells Bustle. "Credible research has been conducted through MRI and PET scans that measure blood flow and neuronal activity in the brain to give us an idea of what happens to our brains during an orgasm."
So does your
brain change during an orgasm? Absolutely. Here are 11 ways how.
with genital stimulation," Dr. Dougherty says. When your genitals are stimulated, they'll "send a signal to your brain’s limbic system waking your emotional centers of the brain. The limbic is a network of nerves and systems in the brain, controlling instinct and mood, basic emotions (fear, pleasure, anger) and drives (hunger, sex, dominance, care of offspring)."
So, all you need is a little touching and feeling to get things in your brain moving.
The Hippocampus And Amygdala Light Up
"The amygdala is a highly emotional area," Dr. Dougherty says. "It’s responsible for sexual
functioning, fear, and aggression. The hippocampus, which is responsible for long-term memory making, starts bringing forward our fantasies and desires, activated by the surrounding sensations, candle light, smell of perfume, etc."
If you want to truly heighten the experience and take it to a new level, you want to really
set the mood. Whatever the mood means to you and your partner.
It Relaxes Our Decision-Making And Problem-Solving
While this is going on, we start to feel bolder and more confident; insecurities start to slip away thanks to our lateral orbitofrontal cortex. The orbitofrontal cortex controls our decision-making, so it's because of the effect that the orgasm has on this part of our brain that our decision-making drops from our priority list. Being late to work because of an orgasm? Pfft.
With this lowered decision-making comes lessened fear and anxiety about, well, everything. If you're really in the moment, as many are
during an orgasm, most other concerns go out the window. It's about feeling good, or rather great, and nothing more.
"It’s normal to become more primal during intimacy," Dr. Dougherty says, "only worrying about pleasure and reward."
Pain Tolerance Is Increased
"The anterior cingulate cortex and insular cortex light up during a sexual experience," Dr. Dougherty says. "These areas of the brain, during sex, inhibit pain sensations."
What this means is that tolerance for pain is increased, hence the reason
those engaged in BDSM sex can withstand more in the moment than they might otherwise.
"For example, an individual will be less sensitive to pain from spanking or biting during sex when their pleasure is heightened," Dr. Dougherty says. "When our bodies are overcome with pleasure, it dulls the pain sensations. This is why when you’re in clothing, and not expecting it and someone slaps your butt, it can really hurt even if you enjoy impact toys intimately."
Muscle Tension Is Increased
Yes, there is a reason things tense up and your face contorts like a performer from Cirque du Soleil. "The cerebellum increases, which increases your muscle tension and adds a grimace to our face when we orgasm," Dr. Dougherty says. "The cerebellum is in charge of motor functioning which are connected to large nerves that run up your body to the spinal cord, so this causes neuromuscular tensions, which is emotional, physical, or mental stress that affects the nerves and muscles."
Your Brain, Like Your Body, Feels A Build Up Of Sensations
You may think your flushed face and heavy breathing is from all the work you're doing, but it's actually a physical response to your
body reaching climax.
"There is a buildup in your brain and body until we reach climax," Dr. Dougherty says. "After, our hypothalamus and nucleus step up and are activated. You feel your heart rate increase and start to breathe heavier, your face gets flushed."
While you may not have a "little death," your brain
will slow down.
"Once you orgasm, there is a slowdown in the brain," Dr. Dougherty says. "The hypothalamus, which controls motor functioning which is connected to large nerves that run up and down your body to the spinal cord, releases hormones two hormones, oxytocin and serotonin which can cause, contractions in our uterus, the after-feeling of orgasm. Post orgasm, we might feel happy, relaxed and even sleepy."
Oh, yes! The
cuddle/love hormone! After an orgasm, you brain releases a whole boatload of hormones. One of which is oxytocin that creates the need to cuddle and feel close to your partner.
"The cuddling effect kicks in during this time when our brains release oxytocin," Dr. Dougherty says, "Increasing the physical desire for closeness and bonding."
An orgasm will have your brain wanting more, thanks to all those mood boosting endorphins that you make you like you've been rewarded.
"During sex, the nucleus releases a hormone, dopamine," Dr. Dougherty says. "Dopamine is associated with feelings of euphoria, bliss, and motivation. It’s like a drug: You want more, like chocolate, it increases your desire for more!!"
Your Brain Is Ready For A Siesta
"After sex, as the brain cools down, your genital stimulation decreases, and sexual interest levels off as an after-effect of the rush of hormones," Dr. Dougherty says.
By this point, not only is your body done and ready to nap it off, but so is your brain.
"Scientists are still not 100 percent sure why we have orgasms," Dr. Dougherty says. "There are many hypotheses on the biological purpose for orgasms including curating strong bonds or being the reward center for the act of creating offspring. Regardless of the reason for our ability to orgasm, the act itself is known for its wellness benefits. Research suggestions euphoria and dopamine rush rewards associated with sex is known provide wellness to our brains by increasing blood flow across the brain."
Takeaway? Orgasms are good for you mind and body, so you should be having as many as possible. Whether that means with a partner or by yourself.