Just because the average person isn't necessarily "thinking" all that much at the moment of orgasm, that doesn't mean your brain isn't super busy during that time. Even if you're mostly concerned with the stimulation of one particular part of your body at that point, multiple areas of your brain are stimulated, too. So what are some of the most fascinating things that happen in your brain when you orgasm?
Thanks in no small part to the many brave souls who've consented to having solo sexy time in an fMRI machine, scientists actually have a fairly good idea about what goes on in people's heads when they climax, and it's a lot more complicated than you might think. It's not just the regions of the brains connected to your obvious pleasure center that light up, for one thing. Your whole body is along for the ride, and your brain is totally in the driver's seat — that includes the moments leading up to and following the Big O, too.
And then, when the big one hits? Look out! Your brain is up to all kinds of odd and amazing things.
1Your Brain Makes You All Emotional
As Komisaruk (who's been researching how the brain functions during sex for decades) also explained to Buzzfeed, genital stimulation sends a signal to the brain's limbic system. This is essentially the emotional control center of the brain and includes the hippocampus (which deals with fantasies and memories) and the amygdala (which deals with aggression, fear, and sexual functioning).
So if you find yourself overwhelmed with a flood of conflicting feelings during sex (as in, ping-ponging between flashbacks to hot hookups and the urge to dominate), your brain could be to blame!
2Your Brain Reacts Differently If You're With A Partner Or Alone
If you thought there was no physical difference between an orgasm administered by yourself or a partner, initially conflicting studies suggest your brain is smarter than that.
As an article in Psychology Today explained, when Dr. JR Georgiadis and his colleagues at the University of Groningen studied the brains of women during sexual stimulation and orgasm, they found that a woman's odds of climaxing might have more to do with parts of the brain that "turn off," rather than those that "turn on" (Georgiadis was particularly interested in the left Orbital Frontal Cortex in the frontal lobe, which he thinks "plays a role in controlling and inhibiting sexual response.")
Dr. Komisiruk, on the other hand, concluded during his research that in women, the OFC “turned on” during orgasms. So what's the deal? The contradiction could be explained by the fact that the women climaxed in different ways in each study: In Georgiadis’s work, the women were stimulated by partners, while they were self-stimulated in Komisiruk’s study. The takeaway is fascinating: A woman's brain might actually orgasm in different ways depending on whether she's alone or not.
3Your Brain Chooses Pleasure Over Pain
Way more fun than reaching for a bottle of ibuprofen, research has shown climaxing can prevent you from feeling pain. That's because, as the New Scientist explained it, when you're having an orgasm, the dorsal raphe nucleus is more active:
“This region plays a role in controlling the release of the brain chemical serotonin, which can act as an analgesic, dampening the sensation of pain."
Research also revealed increased activity in the nucleus cuneiformis, a part of the brain that "allows humans to control feelings of pain through thoughts" (did you even know that part of the brain exists?!).
4Your Brain Makes You Want To Bond
If you're a mom, you probably know all about oxytocin: Also known as the "cuddle hormone" or the "love hormone," it's the stuff that makes moms want to bond with their newborn babies — and when oxytocin is released during sex, it "lowers our defenses and makes us trust people more," Dr Arun Ghosh, a sexual health specialist, told The Daily Mail.
This could also account for why you sometimes feel extra cuddly afterwards!
5Your Brain Is Basically On Drugs When You Have An Orgasm
There's a reason why sex can be addictive: When you have an orgasm, your brain releases the euphoria-inducing chemical dopamine. Dopamine, as an article in Big Think explained, is a neurotransmitter that affects the brain's reward circuit (the same circuit that's activated by drugs like heroin and cocaine). Interestingly, men's brains release more dopamine than women's brains (hmm, that could explain a thing or two.)
There's still much research to be done in this area, but scientists hope that the more they learn, the better sex people will have. A noble pursuit, to be sure!
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.