Lady Friday On What Happens To Your Brain In The Bedroom
14th OF June 2012
The Neuroscience Of Orgasms
The brain is the sexiest organ we have - and that's not just a pick-up line, it's the truth of the matter.
After all, the brain is the centre of desire, emotion, muscle response and orgasm. It really is all in your head - and now scientists have mapped out exactly what happens to your nervous system when you get into the mood and reach the big O.
Various areas of the brain kick into action when you first start feeling hot and bothered. Most are pretty expected - your muscle control functions, emotional centre (the amygdala) and anterior insula, which is what makes us conscious of our bodies. However, others are causing scientists to scratch their heads.
The hippocampus, which controls both fear and memory, lights up in the bedroom - but is this because we recall memories of other similar experiences, or perhaps because we're recalling touches or tastes that arouse us? The science isn't quite clear yet - but that's probably why you can have occasionally annoying flashbacks to exes.
The real work, however, is done by the release of hormones and dopamine. Dopamine is the feel-good chemical - you get 'highs' from it, and it's been associated with everything from sex to chocolate.
Dopamine starts being produced overtime, and the pituary gland - which produces hormones that make you feel affectionate and bonded - is also hard at work. If you've ever wondered why getting intimate feels so copiously different to a normal state of being, quite a lot of it is dopamine.
When it comes to orgasm itself, all this groundwork culminates in a particular shutdown - the area of the brain just behind the left eye. It's called the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. Nobody's quite sure what this segment of the brain does, but during orgasm it shuts itself off entirely, so scientists suggest it might involve some kind of neuron which isn't needed or might interfere.
Other things shut down or calm as well - particularly the areas of the brain which cause anxiety, such as the prefrontal cortex. They cease to function, leaving hormones to wash across your brain and allowing you to feel safe, hyped-up and pleasurable.
Men and women's brains aren't actually all that different during orgasms. They both, to researchers, look almost exactly like brains on heroin - flooded with a wash of pleasurable sensations. However, women have two notable differences.
One is that the fight-or-flight response is activated. The other is that the section of the brain which deals with pain suddenly lights up like a firework. It's possible this is to do with our pain-pleasure responses, which is something RESCU has discussed before, but nobody's quite sure.
So there you have it - what happens in your brain during the big O. Just don't try to explain it as it happens...
Lady Friday xx
Taking the pillow talk out of the bedroom, every Friday...
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