Your Body Is Not A Disneyland (Part 3) Sex On The Brain
Posted on 21, April 2010
…And We’re back with The Ultimate High
Both sex and that eros type love discussed in Part 2 have very strong effects on the brain that can feel intoxicating in different ways. There are various ways that researchers can measure the concept of love and sex, but as one can imagine, with the lightning speed that things can happen when it comes to sex, recording and understanding that process can be a little more difficult.
The experience of sex begins long before we may end up in the throes of passion. When sexual desire is activated, the amygdala (where powerful emotions are evoked), hippocampus (where memories are managed) and areas that evoke body-awareness and understanding the motives of others are stimulated. Also stimulated are areas of the Limbic System, which is one of the most primal, emotional parts of our brain. At the same time there can also be stimulation of visual centers (more common in men), self-awareness centers and other areas of the brain that may be stimulated rapidly and then become inactive.
The neurochemical involved in this euphoric process is dopamine. Researchers have stated that the rush of dopamine that occurs at orgasm is similar to the same rush that occurs when people shoot Heroin. That’s a pretty powerful punch. So what keeps us from pursuing the next fix again and again? Well, after we have reached our physical nirvana, the body secretes a chemical called prolactin. This chemical helps us to turn off our desire for sex. The effects of prolactin can influence desire and behavior for days after sex, which can explain some of the “on and off switching” that people experience in sexual relationships.
The perception of being “in love” also effects the Limbic System and dopamine is also a key neurotransmitter. When someone experiences the more primal, lusty side of the eros attraction, all rationality goes out the window, due to the stimulation of the brain and the role that dopamine plays. To our brain this feels like a huge reward. So what that really means is that we will do anything for dopamine (but I won’t do that… Sorry for the Meatloaf reference).
So just what am I saying here? Well, without going into too much detail in this installment, I wanted to make the point that our life experiences are connected to neurochemistry and the influence of our neurochemistry on our behaviors. The experiences of love and sex are strongly influenced by chemical processes in the brain, and those influences are as strong as or stronger than many illegal drugs. The question is how much influence do we have with self-awareness and education over our chemistry? Many researchers would argue that this is the way we were designed and/or evolved? I believe that we have more influence than we would like to think. There is an interaction between our thoughts, emotions and intents and our neurochemistry. If this wasn’t the case, therapy wouldn’t work. So, if people are blaming their neurochemistry or the devil for their actions in the bedroom, I would ask them to think again.
As I have said before, we are highly evolved and have the ability to use our frontal lobe for reasoning and problem solving, while we are prone to make mistakes. Sometimes reasoning is a difficult undertaking, especially when we feel intoxicated by desire or love. But we have choices. Think about tomorrow when you are acting today, and always be willing to talk with someone you trust when seeking advice before you make a mistake that may last a lifetime.
If you are interested in reading more on this topic, I would encourage you to read works by Pat Love, Helen Fisher, Serge Stoleru, whose work was referenced in this installment.
Next installment… Vanessa’s Guest Post