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Sex & The Brain

Sex can be a fickle and confusing thing for those who are not versed in its art. It has a way of waking up the senses and creating other worldly energy in the brain that ranges from the loudest drums to the stillest equilibrium. This can be confusing, exciting, terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. But what is actually going on during all of this in that brain of yours? Why does one of the most natural human interactions have such a profound effect on one's mental state?

Well the brain is actually practicing a very delicate and intricate balancing act during sexual intercourse. Not only is it processing all of your emotions, however complex or single-minded they may be, it is also managing your heart rate, blood pressure and every physical sensation that your body may be experiencing.

Of course, sex is an intensely personal experience and it varies from person to person, so each reaction is going to be different therefore the brain is going to react in unique ways.

However, here are a few key stages that are mostly universal to the sexual experience and each one combines to create a different effect on your brain.

Excitement: This is the beginning: the pricking of hairs, the flushing of skin and the quickening of your heart rate.

Plateau: During the ‘plateau’ one may experience an escalation of the physical changes from stage one, increased sensitivity and potentially even muscle spasms in the feet, face and hands.

Orgasm: Aptly named, the ‘climax’ or ‘orgasm’ is the height of sexual pleasure. During this time one may experience a sudden and high-powered release of sexual tension, involuntary and potentially rhythmic muscle contractions and a flush over the entire body.

Afterglow: During this phase the body returns to its normal state.

All of this activity is a lot for the brain to process. These physical sensations which are felt by the body are sent up to the brain and react by releasing chemicals which then allow the body to experience more pleasure in tandem with the brain. Kind of like a constant loop of sexual satisfaction.

Unsurprisingly the state your brain falls into when you are having sex has been linked to the responses you have when you listen to rhythmic music or indulge in a little boogie time. The rhythmic nature of sex can put the brain into a trance-like state which is similar to what can be induced by dancing or listening to music. In 2016 study author Adam Safron, PhD of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, released a study entitled Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology, in which he sets out to examine how the orgasm affects the human brain. He writes: "[...] although obvious in retrospect, I wasn't expecting to find that sexual activity was so similar to music and dance, not just in the nature of the experiences, but also in that evolutionarily, rhythm-keeping ability may serve as a test of fitness for potential mates". The reasons that we enjoy sex, music or dancing generally overlap because of their emotional and hedonistic nature.

This sexual trance we fall into is concerned with the immediate sensation being felt. During climax parts of the brain actually shut off allowing you to full luxuriate in all of the amazing feelings orgasm brings. These areas include the hippocampus, which controls memory and spatial awareness; other areas of the cerebellum, which are responsible for movement control; and the amygdala, which is associated with feelings of fear and anxiety. This is not to say that having lots of sex is going to alleviate your anxiety entirely, however it can provide very temporary relief for some.

Doing the deed can even help you have a deeper sleep due to the oxytocin which is released during orgasm. Oxytocin is known as the ‘love’ or ‘intimacy’ hormone and when combined with the endorphins also released during orgasm, they can act as a sedative. Then, as we all know, proper sleep leads to all types of success in other areas of life. According to the trusty Healthline website, a good sleep can lead to “a stronger immune system, a longer lifespan, feeling more well-rested and having more energy during the day.” So really there are no losses with that one, being well rested is always a win.

The release of oxytocin can also help strengthen your relationships with your respective partner(s), as fulfilling each other’s sexual desires is a form of bonding. It has also been known to provide relief from pain, as it makes us calmer. The same goes for endorphins which have been known to help reduce headaches, specifically cluster headaches.

I have written the above in hope that every sexually active person reading this is experiencing these heights of sexual pleasure, however I know that is unlikely to be the case. So I think the real question is how can everyone share in this deliciousness that is the height of sexual pleasure? This is something that needs to be worked on by every party involved; you need to be honest with yourselves instead of potentially faking an orgasm so that your sexual partners can feel good about themselves. At the same time know your own body so that you can give your partner(s) tips; there's no shame in giving direction just the same as there’s no shame in asking for it.

The human brain is a miraculous thing, so let it work to its full ability and allow yourself the orgasms you deserve!

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