Have you ever wondered why an orgasm is such a wonderful experience? Whether it happens during solo time, or with a partner (or partners), experiencing that mindblowing moment of bliss will have you reveling in the ease and relaxation you feel throughout your body. But what exactly is going on in your brain during and after your orgasm to make you feel so satisfied?
First of All, What Exactly Is an Orgasm?
An orgasm is: “The peak of pleasure experienced during sexual stimulation or activity, marked by the release of tension and rhythmic contractions of the perineal muscles, anal sphincter, and pelvic reproductive organs.”The American Psychological Association
During an orgasm, people may feel intense pleasure in their genitals and throughout their bodies. This pleasure is usually followed by a sense of mental and physical satisfaction. But of course, orgasms can feel different for each person!
Now that we know what science says an orgasm is, let’s get to the juicy part!
What Happens to Your Brain When You Orgasm?
When we climax, we notice many things happening to our bodies: shaky legs, crazy spasms, fluid release — but what’s most intriguing is what happens in our brain when we experience orgasm.
During sex, the logical part of your brain shuts down.
Because the part of your brain responsible for logical reasoning skills is temporarily shut down during sex, people tend to feel more bold and less inhibited during sex.
According to clinical psychologist Daniel Sher, deactivating this part of the brain is also associated with decreased fear and anxiety. This makes sense, as the inverse could translate as performance anxiety, which could disrupt arousal.
However, other parts of the brain begin warming up.
According to Jason Krellman, PhD, a neuropsychologist and assistant professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Medical Center, the limbic system activates during sex. This is a more primitive region of the brain which is responsible for our physical drives and elements of emotional processing.
The activation of this primitive region could explain why we tend to let go and follow our more “animalistic” instincts when we’re getting down to business.
Your brain releases dopamine!
Your brain works overtime during orgasm to produce a slew of different hormones and neurochemicals. Dopamine, a hormone responsible for feelings of desire, euphoria, satisfaction, and motivation, is one of these.
According to Mimi Shagaga, PsyD, a licenced clinical psychologist specialising in neuropsychology, dopamine, a key component of the brain’s reward system, is released in the same part of the brain that activates when certain foods or drugs are consumed.
And did you know that dopamine is part of the reason why sex might be better in hotels or more out-of-the-ordinary locations? This is given to the fact that your brain gets to enjoy a nice dose of dopamine when you have new experiences, too.
Your brain also releases oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that rises in response to sexual arousal and orgasm. This hormone is also known as the love, lust, and labor hormone, as some studies show that it makes us feel close to others and promotes affection, and helps with the labor process.
Other studies have found that oxytocin released during sex may have pain-relieving effects, which could explain why sexual pleasure and pain are frequently linked.
Find yourself getting sleepy?
An orgasm can activate the parasympathetic nervous system – a network of nerves that relaxes your body after periods of stress or danger. Following an orgasm, the brain also produces serotonin, a hormone that has been shown to improve mood, increase relaxation, reduce your stress and even improve your memory. For some people, serotonin can also cause drowsiness and the desire to curl up for a quick nap!
Remember: Sex and Orgasms Are Different for Everyone
In people who cannot feel genital stimulation, the brain may remap itself to allow them to orgasm. Though we usually link orgasm and sexual pleasure with genital stimulation, this is not the case for everyone!
Our brain can create new pleasure pathways by remapping our senses so that we don’t have to involve our genital organs at all. In people who have had lower body paralysis, for example, the brain may actually rewire itself to allow for orgasm through stimulation of other body parts, such as the skin of the arm or the nipples.
In fact, you can experience nipple orgasms, and other types of orgasms while still enjoying genital stimulation.
What Can I Do with This Juicy New Info?
All of this demonstrates once again that the brain is the most powerful sex organ! And that sex, in whatever form, quantity, or style feels right for us, should be an important part of our lives.
Also, remember that enjoying the journey is more important than reaching the big O! Even if you don’t orgasm, you can still relieve stress and anxiety, improve your heart health, and strengthen your pelvic floor, among other things!
Exploring your sexuality in any capacity will improve both your physical and mental health — why not explore it more? Experiment with which areas feel the best during solo time, find out how many orgasms you can reach, or try out consensual kinks or fantasies with someone else.
So, why not plan a sexy date with yourself, a partner or partners?
“APA Dictionary of Psychology’s Definition of Orgasm.” APA Dictionary of Psychology, American Psychological Foundation, https://dictionary.apa.org/orgasm. Accessed 1 Aug. 2022.
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Flam, Faye. “Paralyzed woman rediscovers orgasms.” The Seattle Times, 23 November 2005, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/health/paralyzed-women-rediscover-orgasms/.
Lopez, Claudia. “Here’s Why You Might Want To Develop a Kink (Even If Your Sex Life Is Already Great).” The MAPS Institute, 15 January 2022, https://themapsinstitute.com/why-do-we-want-to-develop-a-kink-aside-from-spicing-things-up-in-the-bedroom/.
Magon, Navneet, and Sanjay Kalra. “The Orgasmic History of Oxytocin: Love, Lust, and Labor.” Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, vol. 15, no. 7, Medknow, 2011, p. 156. Crossref, doi:10.4103/2230-8210.84851.
McIntosh, James. Orgasm: What Is It, What Does It Feel like, and How Long Does It Last? Medical News Today, 17 Jan. 2022, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232318#what-is-an-orgasm.
Mitrokostas, Sophia. Here’s What Happens to Your Body And Brain When You Orgasm. ScienceAlert, 25 January 2019, https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-what-happens-to-your-brain-when-you-orgasm.
Sloan, Erica. Is Sex Good for You and Your Health Even Without Orgasm? Well+Good, 4 Apr. 2022, https://www.wellandgood.com/sex-good-for-you-without-orgasm/.