Why Your Brain is Your Largest Sex Organ
Sex and Your Brain
Often when we talk about the risks of sex, we focus on the physical risks such as pregnancy and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Other times we talk about the emotional risks involved with sex, but we rarely discuss the psychological consequences, or how sex affects your brain. Advances in neuroscience have made it possible to study how the brain is active and even how it is altered by sexual activity.
Why Your Brain is Your Largest Sex Organ?
During sex there are three prominent neurochemicals that are involved and each has a significant affect on your brain.
Dopamine: This chemical is present in men and women. Dopamine is a “reward chemical” in that it rewards people by saturating their brain with a feeling of exhilaration when that persons engages in the activity (in this case sex). Unfortunately, dopamine doesn’t know the difference between positive and negative behaviors and so it rewards the brain for both types of actions, things such as acing a test or speeding. Dopamine is the chemical that is responsible for the addictive nature of sex. It keeps you wanting that next fix.
Oxytocin: This is found in the female and is the bonding chemical. When this is released, it increases her desire for touch and causes her to bond to the person she is in physical contact with. With intercourse and orgasm, oxytocin washes over the brain, causing her to want more sex with the person she is bonded with. Like dopamine, oxytocin doesn’t discriminate. The result can be that a woman becomes bonded with someone she only thought would be a casual hookup.
Vasopressin: This is the male version of the bonding chemical and is the cause of the man’s connection with the woman. Again, it is non-discriminatory and may result in an unintentional connection with a partner.
“Sex Brain” and Bad Decisions
Understanding how these chemicals work can explain why people make bad decisions and helps us better understand the consequences. Often people jump into sex too soon. One reason for this is sex rewires the brain to make it easier to say yes to more sex. The part of the brain that regulates sexual restraint is weakened. They crave the release of dopamine. This helps explain why after a breakup, once a new relationship has begun it can progress quickly to a sexual relationship.
Another affect is that sex can keep people in bad relationships. Most of us know couples that stay in unhealthy, even abusive relationships and find ourselves asking why. It’s the sex. The bonding chemicals create such a strong attachment, even if there is no other foundation for the relationship that they can’t leave each other.
A third affect is that when a person engages in patterns of dating, having sex, breaking up finding a new partner, or just casually hooking up, that person potentially makes it more difficult to later bond with a spouse. By disrupting the function of the bonding chemicals, this pattern can break the circuits needed for long-term commitment. It becomes addicted to the sex without the emotional connection.
These affects can last a long time, affecting the person’s ability to emotionally invest and be committed to future relationships.
Safe Sex is about more than wearing a condom. It’s about protecting yourself physically, emotionally and psychologically. It’s about understanding the risks in all three areas and taking the steps to keep yourself safe. After all, you’re worth it! If you are struggling with the physical, emotional or psychological affects of sexual activity and would like to talk to someone, our team is available.
If you are interested in reading more about the psychological affects of sex on the brain, we encourage you to check out “Hooked” by Joe S. McIlhaney Jr, MD and Freda McKissic Bush, MD.