SEX: WHY IT MAKES WOMEN FALL IN LOVE
Sex is one of our biggest preoccupations — causing thrills, heartache and downright confusion. But until recently, exactly what happens in the brain during sex was something of a mystery to scientists. Now, however, American researchers have uncovered what goes on in a woman’s head during an orgasm. The scientists from Rutgers University, New Jersey, used scans to monitor women’s brains during orgasm and found that different brain parts are activated when various parts of her body are aroused. They found that up to 30 different parts of the brain are activated, including those responsible for emotion, touch, joy, satisfaction and memory. The scientists found that two minutes before orgasm the brain’s reward centres become active. These are the areas usually activated when eating food and drink.
Before they reached the peak, other areas of the brain became affected such as the sensory cortex, which receives ‘touch’ messages from parts of the body. The final part of the brain to be activated is the hypothalamus, the ‘control’ part which regulates temperature, hunger, thirst and tiredness. The scientists also discovered that sexual arousal numbs the female nervous system to such an extent that a woman doesn’t feel as much pain — only pleasure. The team now hopes to map what happens in a man’s brain during orgasm. But what else is happening inside our heads when we slip between the sheets? Here we ask the experts to reveal how sex alters our brain.
Why Love Hurts
A key hormone released during sex is oxytocin, also known as the ‘cuddle hormone’. This lowers our defences and makes us trust people more. It’s also the key to bonding, as it increases levels of empathy. Women produce more of this hormone, although it’s not clear why, and this means they are more likely to let their guard down and fall in love with a man after sex. However, the problem is that the body can’t distinguish whether the person we’re with is a casual fling or marriage material — oxytocin is released either way. So while it might help you bond with the love of your life, it’s also the reason you may feel so miserable when a short-term relationship ends. Men, on the other hand, instead of getting a surge of bonding hormone receive a surge of simple pleasure. ‘The problem is that when a man has an orgasm, the main hormone released is dopamine — the pleasure hormone. And this surge can be addictive. That’s why so many more men tend to suffer from sex addiction.
Starving Off Dementia
Many of us are all too aware that our brain cells decline with age. In fact, it’s said we lose 7,000 brain cells a day by the time we’re 35, which makes rather depressing reading. The good news, however, is that having regular sex may help us grow new brain cells, according to scientists from Princeton University in the United States. And the more sex you have, the more cells you can grow, it seems. Animal studies, published in the journal PLoS ONE, suggest that sex stimulates the growth of brain cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Factors such as stress and depression have been shown to shrink the hippocampus, yet exercise and sex counteract this effect.