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What really happens in your body and brain when you orgasm?
You may be surprised at how your body and brain react to this type of pleasure.
- An orgasm is described as a feeling of intense pleasure that happens during sexual activity.
- By studying the brain activity of people experiencing orgasms, researchers have been able to pinpoint some of the key changes that occur.
- These changes include heightened sensitivity to areas of the brain that control how we feel pain, making us less sensitive to it.
An orgasm is described as a feeling of intense pleasure that happens during sexual activity. While some people experience orgasms differently than others, there are some key changes that occur in the mind and body.
By studying the brain activity of people experiencing orgasms, researchers have been able to pinpoint some of these key changes that occur. Using fMRI machines (functional magnetic resonance imaging) or PET scans (positron emission tomography), they were able to measure blood flow and neuron activity inside the brain during climax.
What really happens in the brain during orgasm?
The hypothalamus, which plays a key role in releasing hormones like dopamine and oxytocin, is one of the regions of the brain that lights up during orgasm.
Image by SciePro on Shutterstock
Does the "logical" part of your brain shut down? That's hotly debated.
There may be a reason why you feel bold and uninhibited during your climax.
"The lateral orbitofrontal cortex becomes less active during sex. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for reason, decision making, and value judgments. The deactivation of this part of the brain is also associated with decreases in fear and anxiety," explains clinical psychologist Daniel Sher.
However, not all experts in the field agree with this widely publicized study's findings. Recent (2017) research suggests otherwise, with results that show that these areas of the brain did not deactivate within the 10 female participants of this study.
Parts of your brain associated with memories, touch, and movement may light up.
Research has found that the hypothalamus, thalamus, and substantia nigra may light up during orgasm. "Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships" author Kayt Sukel was interviewed for her work alongside researchers who studied the effect of an orgasm on the brain while she was in an MRI machine.
The thalamus helps integrate information about touch, movement, and sexual memories/fantasies. This could explain how you call upon sexual memories and fantasies (or why your imagination is able to be more active) during sexual arousal and peak.
Oxytocin builds up and is released.
Oxytocin is defined as a "bonding" hormone. The forming of oxytocin during sex happens in the pituitary glands and it is then released in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus plays a key role in many important functions including the releasing of other hormones (like dopamine), regulation of body temperature, controlling of appetite, and of course, the management of sexual behaviors.
A surge of dopamine is released.
During orgasm, your brain works hard to produce various hormones, like the aforementioned oxytocin. In that cocktail of hormones is dopamine, which is released at the moment of orgasm. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and desire and therefore acts as a motivation to keep experiencing those feelings of pleasure and desire.
Dopamine is formed in the part of the brain that receives information from several other areas in order to define if your needs (specifically your human needs) are being satisfied.
The release of endorphins, oxytocin, and vasopressin make you less sensitive to pain during sex.
For many, pain and sex go hand in hand. Many people enjoy a little bit of pain during sex, and there is actually a very good reason for this: you're less susceptible to pain during sex. The pituitary gland is activated during sex, which then frees your brain up to release all kinds of endorphins that are able to promote pain reduction.
An interesting thing to note is that some of the same areas of the brain that are active during sex are also active when you experience pain. A very interesting 1985 study looked at the correlation between vaginal stimulation and the elevation of pain.
In people who are unable to feel genital stimulation, the brain may actually be able to "remap" itself.
People who have suffered lower-body paralysis can still achieve orgasm through stimulation of other body parts such as the nipples. In this case, the brain actually creates new pathways to pleasure that doesn't involve our genitalia. This Seattle Times article details paralyzed women who were able to rediscover their ability to orgasm through various other sensations.
Having orgasms can keep your brain healthy.
Because there is a significant increase in blood flow across multiple areas of the brain so dramatically when we achieve orgasm, it's entirely likely that orgasms may have developed in part to keep our brains healthy.
What really happens in the body when you orgasm?
What really happens in the body when we orgasm?
Photo by NATNN on Shutterstock
Your body swells and becomes more sensitive.
While men experience the obvious swelling in the genitals due to increased blood flow, women can experience some forms of swelling during sex as well. From your breasts to your vulva, many women experience swelling during sexual arousal and release.
Your heart rate quickens, which leads to euphoria.
Of course, your heart rate elevates when you're experiencing orgasm, but along with that, you also experience a blood pressure rise and your breathing rate also increases. Both of these things are considered mild aerobic activity responses and could factor into the kind of euphoria you feel during sexual experiences - similar to a "runners high."
Muscles in the vagina, anus, and uterus contract and release - like a workout.
Not only is your pulse racing, but you may also be working out some of the muscles in your body (aside from the ones you're using to physically have sex).
According to Bustle, "Increased blood flow to the genitals during orgasm also maintains the integrity of the smooth muscle that lines the vagina, rectum and connective tissue between the penile shaft and scrotum."
Orgasms may improve allergy symptoms or clear blocked nasal passages.
"Orgasms can be effective at opening blocked nasal passages and can alleviate some allergy and congestion symptoms," according to sexologist and clinical professional counselor Dr. Laura Deitsch.
- What happens in our bodies during sex - Big Think ›
- This Is Your Brain During Orgasm - Big Think ›
- Changes in the brain during sex are slightly different in women than ... ›
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.