Your Chemical Romance: The Body’s Sexual Magic Formula
August 15, 2022
Sex can unleash a roller coaster of emotions, making it difficult to understand what’s going on in your body and brain. Whether it’s a casual or committed relationship (or even something in between), you’re bound to experience the feels of chemical romance…even if it’s just like having more sex!
What’s fascinating is that those feelings are connected primarily to biology and brain chemistry. While there’s SO much more to sex than mere biology, knowing what’s going on in your body before, during, and after sex can make the experience even more remarkable.
But think about it…it makes perfect sense. Getting in touch with your body allows for a more comfortable and liberating experience—you’ll have a greater understanding of how you feel, what you enjoy, and how to ask for it. It could even improve communication between you and your partner and, in the long run, better satisfy your emotional and physical needs.
When you read about orgasms, hugs, kisses, and pleasure, you’ll often hear about how the brain is saturated with “feel-good” chemicals. You may even hear the words “oxytocin” or “dopamine.” (And for good reason!)
These are two of the primary hot-shot neurotransmitters the brain produces when experiencing sexual pleasure. But, there’s even more where that came from—hormones and chemicals are abundant—all contributing to those delightful little explosions of sexual pleasure.
Yep, science is fun
…and so is sex!
Combine the two, and you’ll be in your element! (Pun intended)
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the fascinating world of your body’s chemical romance.
The ‘Desire’ phase
MRI studies reveal heightened activity in specific brain parts before sex, notably the limbic system (your emotional center). This area of your brain is in charge of memory, fear, anger, and other emotions.
Sex, like eating your favorite meal, gambling, receiving a compliment, or having fun with your fave vibe, induces the release of vast amounts of dopamine (known as the pleasure chemical).
This, in turn, becomes a sensory experience that your brain “remembers” and you seek out—the greater the reward (in this example, sex), the greater the dopamine release, and the greater the desire to experience it again.
During this first stage of the sexual response cycle, your body becomes stimulated and prepares for sex. When this occurs, the neurotransmitter serotonin is released by the brain. This molecule is responsible for eliciting the feeling of happiness.
The vaginal walls begin to lubricate (hence the importance of foreplay), and the clitoris and surrounding tissue expand. Your heart begins to beat quicker, increasing blood pressure and breathing rate. It may happen in seconds for some and may take longer for others.
The peripheral nervous system sends signals to the brain when we touch, kiss, or engage in other sexual activities. The hypothalamus (which regulates all hormones in the body) reacts to arousal in the brain.
It signals the body to produce testosterone. (That’s why people with low levels of this hormone find it hard to get aroused or experience orgasms!)
The hormone vasopressin causes blood vessels to constrict, the release of which affects male arousal.
In women, the luteinizing hormone is positively associated with sexual excitement. This hormone reaches its peak just before ovulation when a woman’s eggs are preparing for fertilization. According to several studies, a woman’s gait (that is, the way she walks), voice, and scent change before ovulation.
Heightened continued sexual arousal results in the release of nitrogen oxide and noradrenaline. These substances boost blood flow to our genitalia, causing an erection, lubrication, and labia enlargement. (This is also why your nipples become more sensitive and erect!)
Your pulse, blood pressure, and breathing rate continue to rise depending on how vigorous the sex is. Dopamine and epinephrine (the adrenaline hormone) levels continue to increase during sex. As you approach climax, the muscles throughout your body may begin to tighten, owing to all the changes happening in the cerebellum.
The Plateau phase
The plateau phase is the period of sexual bliss preceding climax. In other words, the plateau represents the Mount Everest of sexual excitement. Heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and muscle tension rise throughout. The clitoris becomes highly sensitive and partially withdraws. The Bartholin glands produce additional lubrication.
Activity in several parts of the brain also rises; the amygdala is one of these. It is involved in memory processing, decision-making, and emotional reactions.
Orgasm is the most pleasurable and shortest phase. Vulva owners are slightly luckier than penis owners since their orgasms last longer and can follow in multiples. That said, men have an advantage: it’s easier to achieve an orgasm.
Oxytocin secretion causes rhythmic muscle contraction and ejaculation. The larger the oxytocin release, the more intense the orgasm.
The Nucleus Accumbens then rewards us with another significant hit of dopamine, which we experience as a soothing pleasure. More serotonin and DHEA are also released during climax.
Resolution (or refractory) phase
During the resolution phase, your muscles start relaxing, your heart rate and breathing rate return to normal, and the body experiences pleasant tiredness.
Every individual’s refractory time is different, and various circumstances determine it. Some can be aroused again within a few minutes, while others require an hour or even a day. Researchers now know that the greater the oxytocin and prolactin output, the longer the refractory period.
The release of oxytocin fosters a sense of trust and makes us miss our partners, while prolactin boosts feelings of satisfaction following sexual pleasure and orgasm.
A few more interesting facts about what happens to our bodies during sex…
- MRI scans reveal that orgasms involve approximately 30 active areas in our brains. These include, amongst others, the amygdala (memory and emotions), hypothalamus (subconscious body control), anterior cingulate cortex (impulse control and empathy), and nucleus accumbens (a feeling of euphoria).
- Sex is a natural painkiller. It causes endorphins to be released, which reduces pain and tension. According to research, pain sensitivity lessens during vaginal stimulation. Scientists think that this mechanism may be involved in childbirth.
- In general, men require some respite (a refractory phase) after ejaculation before they may be aroused again. Their neurons generally need a bit of time to produce the necessary amount of neurotransmitters. Since women do not have a refractory period, they can have many orgasms.
No matter how it looks, smells, or works…you gotta admit, the human body is amazing! Appreciate it, treat it well, and always make sure that you’re giving it a good dose of sexual magic!