Sex and the Brain
Dr. Jess     
The science of sexuality can answer important questions about the complexity of our sexual attitudes, thoughts and behaviors.

Sex and The Brain is an area of active scientific investigation. Studying the brain helps us understand the big Why? questions in the science of sexuality.

Sex is so much more complicated then just the act itself; it encompasses all of the attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors that revolve around it. Our sexual experiences aren’t only about having an intense orgasm, but everything that comes before that.

So, you can imagine that there is an infinite number of Why? questions that have been asked about sexuality and are still being asking today. The answers can help us not only better understand typical human sexuality, but also its variations.


Sex and Your Stressed Brain


There really isn’t a right or wrong when it comes to sexual experiences grounded in consent. One thing is certain though, having a healthy sex life starts with your psychological well-being. Poorly-managed stress has consistently been linked to lower levels of sexual desire, contributes to a negative body image and often has an impact on our relationships.

One of the things that neuroscience has taught us is that our brain is equipped with a social bonding hormone known as oxytocin. Historically, we’ve often talked about oxytocin as being the cuddle, trust and bonding hormone. More recently, experimental psychologists have found that oxytocin is actually incredibly important for stress reduction.

What does all of this translate to? When you’re stressed, your brain releases oxytocin as a way to get you to interact with your partner and use social bonding as a stress reduction tool. What that means is that partners who openly communicate with one another can actually use stress as an opportunity to bond and further develop their relationship. A recent study found that couples given a dose of intranasal oxytocin prior to sex had more intense orgasms.

So, the next time your partner needs some tender loving care, remember how important it is for your relationship, and that it may even come with some unexpected rewards.


Orgasms and Endorphins


Speaking of which, did you know that orgasms are incredibly beneficial for our physical and mental well-being? The last time you had a headache, how did you deal with it? Next time you’re in pain, try throwing away the pills and activating your brain’s innate ability to produce natural pain-fighting chemicals.

Yes, that’s right, orgasms cause our brain to produce and release loads of pain-fighting endorphins. Research has shown that these brain hormones not only work on pain associated with headaches, but other types of body pain as well. Endorphins, along with circulating adrenaline and other hormones, also explain why our pain tolerance is higher during sex.


What else happens in our brain during sex?


Sex leads to changes in parts of our brain (the hippocampus) responsible for memory consolidation. Sex better equips our brain to cope and respond to stressful situations. It can help induce sleep, especially in men, due mostly to spikes in oxytocin levels, and a tuning down of activity in the front of our brain.


Sex feels really good. But why?


It all has to do with a part of our brain known as the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which sends signals carried by the neurochemical dopamine to various regions of our brain during orgasm. It’s this beautiful circuit that leads to the euphoria and pleasure associated with orgasm.

Reality check… humans don’t have sex because we want to flood the earth with our genetic material; we have sex because it feels good. It’s also the same case for many other animals in our kingdom.


Then why does sex sometimes get dull and feel less pleasurable?


Honestly, it’s all about predictability. The human brain is hardwired to enjoy novel experiences, exemplified in a recent brain imaging study, participants’ VTA was activated while presented with “new” as opposed to “older” images.

Let me end off by leaving you with some words of neuroscience-guided wisdom. How can you ensure you don’t dampen your sex-related pleasure?

Make sure to try new things such as kink, using sex toys, role-playing, trying new positions and locations, and bringing spontaneity into the mix when you have sex. You could also try exploring some of your partner’s deepest fantasies and zones of intense stimulation. Stop thinking genitals and start thinking full-body pleasure. I promise you, you’ll thank me.




Daniel Michaels holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology and is currently a PhD candidate in Neuropsychiatry. His expertise as a scientist includes not only his work on sexual trauma, but also all things to do with sex and the brain. He has collaborated and trained with some of the leading scientists in the field of Sex Neuroscience. Daniel is also a regular contributor to PornHub’s Sexual Health and Wellness website. He is passionate about Psychoeducation and has spoken at various academic and public events.

Dr. Jess

"An award-winning speaker, Jess has worked with thousands of couples from all corners of the globe to transform their relationships via her wildly successful Marriage As A Business program. From Prague and Istanbul to Albuquerque and New York City, her relationship retreats receive rave reviews from some of the most powerful couples in the world who are drawn to her enthusiastic, practical and no-nonsense approach to happily ever after. Jess's doctoral research focused on sexual health and relationship education and she is passionate about accessible, classroom-based education. When she isn't globetrotting for speaking engagements, she volunteers with students, teachers and social service organizations to empower young people to embrace healthy, happy relationships. As a global ambassador for several brands, Jess contributes regularly to the biggest names in international media. You'll find her advice weekly in the likes of Women's Health, Men's Fitness, Cosmopolitan, SELF, Showtime and The Movie Network. Her insights into couple' issues reaches millions of homes across America as the host of the hit reality series Swing, which just capped its fifth season on PlayboyTV. Canadian-born and Chinese-Jamaican and Irish by descent, Dr. Jess loves ultimate frisbee, crab, airplane turbulence, cheese and red wine. Makes perfect sense, right?"
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