Orgasms: This is What They Do to Your Brain

If you think that the ability to achieve orgasm depends solely on genital stimulation, you may be surprised. “Orgasm doesn’t really happen in the genitals. “It happens in the brain,” he says. Carol Queen, Ph.D., Good Vibes staff sexologist, sex-positive educator and activist. Or, at the very least, it takes a team effort. The physical component can be seen as a kind of launching pad or supporting act for a variety of responses (many of which occur in the brain) that culminate in the big O.

Read on to learn more about all the exciting activity that goes on in your head while playing solo or with a partner. And later: how to activate your hedonic points to achieve greater presence and pleasure.

Orgasm and the brain-body connection

“The brain is the most important sexual organ,” he points out Nan Wise, PhDbehavioral neuroscience researcher, certified sex therapist, and author of Why Good Sex Matters: Understanding the Neuroscience of Pleasure for a Smarter, Happier, More Purpose-Filled Life. In fact, through his research, he discovered that simply imagining sexual stimulation mirrors the brain activity that occurs with the actual act. (ICYMI in our guide to the female orgasm, you can literally think about arousal *and* sweet release.)

“During the course of stimulation, there are increases in blood pressure and heart rate, increased blood flow and muscle tension, activation of the sympathetic nervous system, engorgement of the genitals… Orgasm is a great physiological event, peripherally and in the brain. ,” she explains. Since it activates and brings oxygen to so many regions of the brain, having an orgasm might be the best mind game ever.

Up next: more details on what happens to your brain when you have an orgasm.

Orgasms and the brain

Natural opioids relieve pain

The act of orgasm not only has the ability to produce incredible pleasure. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it can even help relieve the sensation of pain as different opioids (i.e. the body’s endogenous pain relievers) are released. “They are designed to be activated naturally by orgasm,” says Dr. Wise. “These not only block pain, but also promote feelings of well-being.” Endorphins, the same ones that make you happy when you exercise, are one of those natural opioids that come into the equation.

Dopamine makes you want to chase the high

The orgasm initiates the activity in the mesolimbic pathway, which transports dopamine from the ventral tegmental area to the nucleus accumbens and amygdala. Dopamine, or what Dr. Wise calls “the slut neurotransmitter,” is often associated with reward, although it is actually more accurately associated with reinforcement. He offers the concept of sex, drugs and rock and roll: “It has people wanting, but not satisfied,” he explains.

Testosterone stimulates desire

More on boosting desire: During orgasm, testosterone levels also increase. While this sex hormone is most often discussed in the context of masculinity, women have it too, and supporting its production can be beneficial if you’re trying to start a smooth sex life. “It’s common for women to lose active sexual desire in long-term relationships due to children, work, stress, or any other reason,” shares Dr. Wise. But when you actually have sex, the resulting increase in testosterone can help make your activity in the bedroom more regular.

Serotonin calms

Serotonin is perhaps best known for its antidepressant effects, although it is more related to mood regulation. Dr. Wise says serotonin is released during orgasm, offering a feeling of calm.

Oxytocin promotes connection

Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is released in response to sensory nerve activation during activities as diverse as receiving a massage, breastfeeding, and having an orgasm. Not only does it have the ability to help you feel the sensation of sexual pleasure; It can also help reduce stress, increase overall well-being, and facilitate deeper connections. “Orgasm is often a bonding experience between partners,” says Dr. Queen, thanks in large part to pleasure hormones like oxytocin. She says it can even lead some people to think they’ve found “the one.”

Dr. Wise emphasizes the importance of connection in fostering orgasm, whether you’re with your partner, a casual partner, or even alone. “If you are alone, your relationship with yourself becomes stronger,” he shares. “With a partner, the act of orgasm becomes biopsychosocial. Looking at them and connecting with them can amplify the orgasm experience.”

How to overcome obstacles to orgasm

As we can see, there are many activities, hormones and neurotransmitters at play when you experience an orgasm. Some aspects of the body and brain’s involvement in orgasm may be automatic, but your mental state (including how you feel about sex and yourself) also plays a huge role in your ability to orgasm to begin with. . “The brain is really the seat of sensation, mindset, and personality,” explains Dr. Queen. “A person who is in touch with their body and its sensations, able to communicate about them, and who is not subject to negative messages of ‘slut shaming’ or fear of sex, is much more likely to have body and brain alignment than allows you to reach orgasm. easier for them.”

On the other hand, there is no shortage of fears or complexes that can make the orgasm seem intangible, especially for women (but certainly not limited to them). “Believing that you can’t reach orgasm, that something is wrong with you or that you don’t deserve it and that sex is not really beneficial for you: all of this closes the door on what you need to be able to reach orgasm. ”continues Dr. Queen.

To help you keep that door wide open, heed the expert advice below.

Silence stress to tune in to sensations

Rumination during sexual activity can impede your ability to experience even mild pleasure, let alone orgasm. Dr. Queen says your monkey mind can go into overdrive before and during sex. (Think: anxieties on autopilot about getting turned on, being able to cum, cumming too soon, etc.). “Meditation and mindfulness can be corrective, as chatter is completely problematic for arousal, pleasure, and orgasm,” she shares.

Dr. Wise adds that staying present and focusing on the sensations is crucial if you want to. Ahem, Enjoy the trip. “When I coach people who have difficulty with sexual pleasure, I help them get out of their thinking minds by focusing their attention on sensations.” (P.S This exercise to be able to help.)


If you can’t experience orgasm with your partner, try working on becoming more comfortable and confident with your body and/or sexuality alone. “Being comfortable enough to masturbate can make a big difference, especially for women and AFAB people,” shares Dr. Queen. “If you can live a sex-positive life, where you’re not constantly grappling with whether what you enjoy is okay (and you’re able to explore enough to recognize what that is), you may have a much easier life.” . [time].”

“We have no reason to believe that the processes between masturbation and partnered sex are different,” Dr. Wise reiterates. As long as he feels safe, comfortable, and connected, he will prepare your brain and his body for success, becoming a gift he will keep on giving.

Practice makes perfect

“The more we establish the pleasure pathways and the more we stimulate the ‘brain crotch’ of the genital regions, the stronger the connection between the genitals and the sensory brain will be,” explains Dr. Wise. “The more neurons and the stronger their connections, the more easily accessible the orgasm will be.” In short, she says it’s all a kind of learning… and comes with some pretty fun tasks that you’ll actually want to finish.


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