By Maria Cohut   

Fact checked by Jasmin Collier   

Having
sex can flavor our nights, and days, with sweet pleasure and
excitement, relieving stress and worry. And, of course, sex has been key
to ensuring that the human race lives on. In this article, we ask, “How does sex impact what happens in the brain?”

Sex
influences our brain activity in ways that may impact our emotions,
sensitivity to pain, and even sleep.Sexual intercourse is known to
impact the way in which the rest of our body functions. Recent studies
have shown that it can have an effect on how much we eat, and how well
the heart functions. As we have reported on Medical News Today, sex has
been cited as an effective method of burning calories, with scientists
noting that appetite is reduced in the aftermath.

Also, a study
published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in 2016 found
that women who have satisfying sex later in life might be better
protected against the risk of high blood pressure. Many of the effects
of sex on the body are actually tied to the way in which this pastime
influences brain activity and the release of hormones in the central
nervous system. Here, we explain what happens in the brain when we are
sexually stimulated, and we look at how this activity can lead to
changes in mood, metabolism, and the perception of pain.

Brain activity and sexual stimulation


For
both men and women, sexual stimulation and satisfaction have been
demonstrated to increase the activity of brain networks related to pain
and emotional states, as well as to the reward system. This led some
researchers to liken sex to other stimulants from which we expect an
instant “high,” such as drugs and alcohol.

The brain and penile stimulation


A
2005 study by researchers at the University Medical Center Groningen in
the Netherlands used positron emission tomography scans to monitor the
cerebral blood flow of male participants while their genitals were being
stimulated by their female partners. The scans demonstrated that
stimulating the erect penis increased blood flow in the posterior insula
and the secondary somatosensory cortex in the right hemisphere of the
brain, while decreasing it in the right amygdala.

The insula is a
part of the brain that has been tied to processing emotions, as well as
to sensations of pain and warmth. Similarly, the secondary
somatosensory cortex is thought to play an important role in encoding
sensations of pain.

As for the amygdala, it is known to be
involved in the regulation of emotions, and dysregulations of its
activity have been tied to the development of anxiety disorders. An
older study from the same university — which focused on brain regions
that were activated at the time of ejaculation — found that there was an
increase in blood flow to the cerebellum, which also plays a key role
in the processing of emotions. The researchers liken the activation of
the cerebellum during ejaculation to the pleasure rush caused by other
activities that stimulate the brain’s reward system.

    “Our
results correspond with reports of cerebellar activation during heroin
rush, sexual arousal, listening to pleasurable music, and monetary
reward.”

The brain and the female orgasm


In
a study of the female orgasm that was conducted last year, scientists
from Rutgers University in Newark, NJ, monitored the brain activity of
10 female participants as they achieved the peak of their pleasure —
either by self-stimulation or by being stimulating by their partners.

The regions that were “significantly activated
during orgasm, the team found, included part of the prefrontal cortex,
the orbitofrontal cortex, the insula, the cingulate gyrus, and the
cerebellum.

These brain regions are variously involved in the
processing of emotions and sensations of pain, as well as in the
regulation of some metabolic processes and decision-making. Another
study previously covered on MNT suggested that the rhythmic and
pleasurable stimulation associated with orgasm puts the brain in a
trance-like state. Study author Adam Safron compares the effect of
female orgasms on the brain with that induced by dancing or listening to
music.

“Music and dance may be the only things that come
close to sexual interaction in their power to entrain neural rhythms and
produce sensory absorption and trance
,” he writes.

That is,” he adds, “the
reasons we enjoy sexual experiences may overlap heavily with the
reasons we enjoy musical experience, both in terms of proximate (i.e.
neural entrainment and induction of trance-like states) and ultimate
(i.e. mate choice and bonding) levels of causation.

Sex and hormonal activity


So
what does this all mean? In essence, it means that sex can impact our
mood — normally for the better, but sometimes for the worse. Having sex
releases a lot of hormones linked to emotions. This usually bodes well
for our mood, but there are some exceptions. Having sex has repeatedly
been associated with improved moods and psychological, as well as
physiological, relaxation.

The reason behind why we may feel that
stress impacts us less after a session between the sheets is due to a
brain region called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus dictates the
release of a hormone called oxytocin.

Higher levels of oxytocin
can make us feel more relaxed, as studies have noted that it can offset
the effects of cortisol, the hormone linked with an increased state of
stress. Not only does oxytocin make us calmer, but it also dampens our
sense of pain. A study from 2013 found that this hormone could relieve
headaches in individuals living with them as a chronic condition.

Another
study from 2013 suggested that a different set of hormones that are
released during sexual intercourse — called endorphins — can also
relieve the pain associated with cluster headaches.

Can sex also make us feel down?


The answer to that, unfortunately, is “yes.
While sex is generally hailed as a great natural remedy for the blues, a
small segment of the population actually report an instant down rather
than an instant high after engaging in this activity.

This condition is known as “postcoital dysphoria,”
and its causes remain largely unknown. One study conducted in 2010
interviewed 222 female university students to better understand its
effects.

Of these participants, 32.9 percent said that they had experienced negative moods after sex.

The
team noted that a lifelong prevalence of this condition could be down
to past traumatic events. In most cases, however, its causes remained
unclear and a biological predisposition could not be eliminated.

“This
draws attention to the unique nature of [postcoital dysphoria], where
the melancholy is limited only to the period following sexual
intercourse and the individual cannot explain why the dysphoria occurs,
” the authors write.

Sex may lead to better sleep


Studies
have shown that sexual intercourse can also improve sleep. After an
orgasm, the body also releases higher levels of a hormone called
prolactin, which is known to play a key role in sleep. Researchers from
Central Queensland University in Australia also hypothesized that the
release of oxytocin during sex may act as a sedative, leading to a
better night’s sleep. In the case of men, ejaculation has been found to
reduce activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is a brain region known
to benefit particularly from a good night’s sleep.

In sleep, the
prefrontal cortex exhibits the slowest brainwave activity compared with
other brain regions, which supports the proper execution of cognitive
functions during the daytime.

Researchers say that sex may lead
to better cognitive functioning in older age, protecting people from
memory loss and other cognitive impairments. Studies have shown that “older men who are sexually active […] have increased levels of general cognitive function.”

For
women, being sexually active later in life appears to sustain memory
recall, specifically. These effects may be due to the action of hormones
such as testosterone and oxytocin, which are influenced by intercourse.

So,
next time you’re about to slip between the sheets with that special
someone, just know that this moment of passion will spark a whole neural
firework show, releasing a special hormonal cocktail that will, at its
best, charge a whole set of biological batteries.

Source: MedicalNewsToday

Oluwole Olusanya
Oluwole Olusanya is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of one of the fastest-growing lifestyle and entertainment website in the country. He is a banker, writer, blogger, public affairs analyst and a tax consultant. He anchors Trending Topics on SHEFFA where he shares his thoughts and opinions on trending issues. He is currently studying for a Master’s Degree in Business Administration at the University of South Wales, Wales, United Kingdom. He has diplomas in Banking and Finance, Investigative Journalism, Creative Writing, and Linguistics from Lagos State Polytechnic, Isolo, Lagos, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland and The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom.