“All we seem to do is talk about sex” – The psychology behind the orgasm

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Let’s just say, I’m glad I live in the 21st century. If I was born any earlier, a female writing about such a subject as sex would’ve probably landed me in trouble (then again, it still might do with my parents. Dad, please stop reading.)
Sex is still a topic that so many people shy away from nowadays, and the word “orgasm” is treated as badly as a swear word half the time – but why!? Sex is such a big thing in life, whether you’re having it or not and whether you want it or not, you certainly wouldn’t be reading this article without it.

Ever wondered what goes on in that noggon of yours whilst you’re having it though? I know what goes on in mine afterwards the majority of the time, and it involves a lot of swearing, a bit of “lets do that again”, and is usually tainted with a slight hint of regret, but that’s not a story for this blog…

If you ever wondered what goes on in the brain at the exact moment of orgasm and what makes up an orgasm, in both males and females (yep, when people say that males and females think about sex differently, they’re technically correct), then read on.

Orgasms are generally seen as a product of a physical input, the prize to be won at the end of an intense encounter, something to be gained. You get aroused, you have sex or complete a sexual act, and then you orgasm – done deal, right? Wrong.

Alfred Kinsey was the father of sexology. At the time, he was controversial, and he’s still seen as so now. However, despite how he did it, he brought sex to the forefront of psychology and began to change the way we think about sex, particularly the way we think about sexuality and female sex drives. Before the 60s women were seen to not have a sex drive, and were just there for men to have sex with and use to satisfy themselves (like I said, thank god I was born in the 21st century). Gynecologist William Masters and psychologist Virginia Johnson expanded Kinsey’s work to look at the sexual response cycle – how the body responds to sexual desire. They believed that the cycle begins with excitation – a tactile response, from being kissed and touched in all the right places to the point of arousal. The body would then orgasm, and then would enter the resolution phase and the body would return to normal. Seems pretty logical, but Helen Singer Kaplan in the 1970s described the orgasm as a 3 stage model, and much more than just physical arousal.

Kaplan believed that in order for the sexual response cycle to start then desire is required. This desire would then lead to sexual excitation, then an orgasm is produced.

The Oxford dictionary has two definitions for “desire”.

  1. “A strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen”
  2. “Strong sexual feeling or appetite”

Well both of these make sense in the context that we are talking about desire. However, psychologically, what do men and women desire?

Men tend to be more drawn to visual stimuli. They like the way something looks, then they desire it. In a study which involved men and women watching videos of sexual acts, the type of actor/actress was more important to men to become aroused than what the sexual act was. They were picky, in other words. They had a type of person they desire in their head, and if the actor/actress did not fit that type then they found it more difficult to become aroused.

Women are also drawn by visual stimuli, but also by cognitive and emotional stimuli. It was argued by urologist Jennifer Berman that women experience desire as a result of the context in which they are in. They like to feel “comfortable” with their partner, are more likely to real orgasm if they feel that they have a “true bond” with their partner, and if they need “safe”. However, with regards to the study explained above, women were a lot more flexible in their sexual interests and preferences – as in they were not picky about what the actor/actress looked like, and they were also not picky about what act was being demonstrated in the video, they were on average just equally aroused across the board of acts and people.

So we’ve looked at what can lead to orgasm, and what the concept of desire is. But what happens when an orgasm is reached? This is also different between men and women.

In men, the amygdala the area of the brain which controls vigilance (to keep watch for possible fear, or difficulties) decreases in activity. So at the point of orgasms, men do not feel fear or anxiety, and are not worried about any danger.  Their pleasure centre in the brain, goes crazy though, lights up all over the shop – obviously. The reward circuitry is activated; it’s like their brain is literally rewarding them for getting laid. It’s activation is also comparable to that induced by heroin and cocaine, that’s how intense it is.

In women however, it’s slightly different. Much of the brain goes silent. Their pleasure centre does also light up. Furthermore the left-lateral orbitofrontal cortex goes silent – therefore they have no self control over their desires. The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex also silences – so women lose their moral reasoning and social judgement at the moment of orgasm. The amygdala also decreases in activity in women, but more so than in men. It reaches a point in women that has been related to whats called “euphoric psychological state.” At the moment of orgasms, women feel no emotions, positive or negative, including fear. It has been stated by neuroscientist Gert Holstege that “fear and anxiety need to be avoided at all costs if a women wishes to have an orgasm”.

So if you ever feel like a heartless bitch when you orgasm ladies, blame your brain for shutting off all emotions at that moment.

So what’s the point? What’s the point in an orgasm? Obviously, given the scientific evidence (and all of our personal experience, probably) they’re great, they feel good, and they’re rewarding. However there’s got to be more to it than that.

In men, the answer is pretty obvious. An orgasm in males results in ejaculation. In evolutionary terms, orgasms are key to constant reproduction. This is why their reward circuitry lights up and activates so much when they orgasm. It’s literally your brain conditioning you to continue having sex again and again in order to populate the earth and expand our species.

For females, it’s probably more subtle. An orgasm isn’t necessary in females to reporduce. There is some evidence that an orgasm might physically aid the retention of sperm, however it’s still not a necessity; women can get pregnant without experiencing an orgasm. The hormones that are released during orgasm (e.g. oxytocin) promote bonding, so orgasms can be seen to help facilitate a bond with a mate in order to give their offspring the best chance in life – because in evolutionary terms, sex is an act that results in reproduction.

This might also be the reason why generally speaking women tend to get more attached after the act of sex than men do. Looking at this from an evolutionary point of view, it is more beneficial for women to settle down with one man in order for him to help raise her children, but for men it’s more beneficial to have sex and impregnante as many women as possible in order to spread his genetics around the earth. Obviously, this is all in evolutionary terms. I definitely don’t think ALL women want to only have sex with and settle down with the first man they sleep with, and not ALL men want to shag every woman they see. Besides, this theory doesnt even begin to touch on homosexuality. Furthermore, the majority of sex acts now are done purely for the pleasure, and not just to reproduce, but I’m looking at this from a evolutionary psychologists point of view.

So, there we have it. Next time you’re having sex and about to reach an orgasm you can think about this blog post and what’s going on in that brain of yours…although maybe not, it might put you off a bit 😉

 

 

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One thought on ““All we seem to do is talk about sex” – The psychology behind the orgasm

  1. Well this has certainly been the most interesting topic I have read so far….. Really interesting to know what’s going on in your head and your counterpart and I would say it gives you a little more respect for the act. In the sense that if you really make the effort to please the other person the pleasure and emotion that you can trigger is alot more intense than we think. Sex is a real important part of a relationship and I suppose it is because of these feelings that can be triggered that could potentially make or break how you feel about someone. Seriously can’t believe we once believed woman had no sex drive !! Great read keep them coming…. X

    Like

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