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What happens in our brain during orgasm?

Women are capable of faking an orgasm, but men can fake an entire relationship.

The orgasm is the great word eater. It only allows the groaning, the howling, the subhuman expression, but not the word.

Psychology analyses people’s behaviour and the world of analysis goes from the everyday to the bizarre to the sublime. However, it would be a very narrow stance, to think of our discipline as the only one capable of understanding the wonderful world around us. Assuming a more open and transdisciplinary epistemological strategy puts us in the universe of understanding and complementing with other disciplines the understanding of human behavior such as sex and particularly orgasm.

 

A social neuroscientific approach
The approach used in this article is based on social neuroscience, which studies the relationship between the brain’s neurological processes and social processes. This analysis not only emphasizes how the brain influences social interaction, but also how social interaction can influence the brain (Franzoi, 2007).

Our thoughts, emotions, feelings and behaviours influence us to act in different ways, but also the environment shapes our way of perceiving and facing reality.

The importance of sex in our lives
Sex is the lever that moves the world, the axis around which all human acts revolve and are sustained, from the most resonant and international consequences to the most insignificant and local. Sex, among mortals, is the source of immense joys and also of great catastrophes (Dubois, 1999).

There are activities that trap people in general: eating, sleeping, drugs, music and sex. If we didn’t have sex, we’d be extinct on this planet. The importance of sex in our lives is vital, although some people may live without it.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert conducted a curious experiment in 2010 with men and women. With a sample of 2,250 people, he placed an application to ask the study subjects in random times what they were doing at the time and how happy they were feeling. Being 0 the minimum and 100 the maximum well-being. Some activities and their scores are listed:

Work, 61,
Reading, watching TV and taking care of the kids, 65,
Shopping, 68
Listening to music and talking, 74
Exercise, 77
Having sex with a partner, 92
The conclusion was obvious: sex is the activity that makes us happiest, at least temporarily (Estupinyà, 2013).

The physical effects of orgasm
Orgasm is one of the four stages of human sexual response. The ways to reach orgasm are multiple as you will see later on: by means of stimulation of the erogenous zones, by conditioning as occurs with some paraphilias (looner porn and podophilia, will be explained later), by training as occurs in some mystical practices such as tantric sex, by oxygenation or electrical stimulation of the route of the sacral nerves (a dead person can experience an orgasm by stimulating this route, known as the Lazarus reflex) and even have a brain reshaping (touching the knee and reaching an orgasm).

The experience is so fascinating that the 8th of August is celebrated as World Women’s Orgasm Day. According to international studies, sexual maturity makes orgasm easier and faster (Diario Libre, 2016).

During an orgasm, not only do areas of the brain turn on and off, they also oxygenate and produce chemicals that can strongly influence our behavior. The chemical messengers that are produced in specialized areas of it, strongly influence social behavior. Hormones are influenced by neurons, but it is a reciprocal influence and they are also influenced by the environment around us, as social neuroscience points out.

Neuroimaging techniques can be used to study the brain in great detail, both in terms of structure and brain function,” as Richard Haier, Neuroscientist, Mind Research Network, Univ. New Mexico, points out (Podemos leer la mente, 2011). These techniques generate “maps” of the brains of living people by examining their electrical activity, structure, blood flow and chemistry (Cunningham et al, 2003).

Phases of arousal for orgasm
Since the time of the classic Masters & Johnson studies, the same conclusion has been reached. In the woman, a cannonball, an explosion, the female orgasm is devastating, as Sophia Jeaneau (2014) describes it in her film the orgasm of her.

 

El diccionario de la APA (2010) define un orgasmo como el clímax de la estimulación o actividad sexual, cuando se alcanza el punto máximo del placer, que se caracteriza por la liberación de tensión y contracciones rítmicas de los músculos perineales, el esfínter anal y los órganos reproductivos pélvicos. En los varones, el orgasmo también lo acompaña la emisión de semen (eyaculación); en las mujeres, está acompañado de contracciones de la pared del tercio externo de la vagina.

El orgasmo es una parte de cuatro fases que manifiestan tanto en hombres como mujeres y que difieren solo en aspectos determinados por la anatomía masculina o femenina:

Excitación:
Mujeres Los labios vaginales se hinchan y aparece la lubricación vaginal.
Hombres: Un estímulo erótico despierta la libido. Se presenta una vasocongestión y los cuerpos cavernosos se llenan de sangre. Esto provoca la erección del pene. Tarda en producirse entre ocho segundos en los hombres jóvenes, mientras que en los de mayor edad es más lenta y gradual. Se engrosa la piel del escroto y la bolsa testicular y los testículos aumentan de tamaño.
Dura entre varios minutos y varias horas.
Meseta:
Mujeres: El útero se eleva, la vagina se expande y los labios vaginales cambian de color. Las mujeres necesitan al menos 20 minutos de estimulación sexual para entrar en clima y llegar al máximo placer.
Hombres: La excitación se torna constante y uniforme. El glande toma una tonalidad púrpura, porque la vasocongestión aumenta. Los testículos siguen elevándose y se preparan para la próxima eyaculación, y su tamaño se acrecienta hasta ser una vez y media más grande de lo habitual. Las glándulas de Cowper segregan unas gotas de fluido seminal, para lubricar la punta del pene. Durante esta etapa, el 25% de los hombres experimenta efectos como: la piel de distintas partes del cuerpo cubierta de unas manchas rojizas; semejantes a una erupción, la pérdida del control sobre los gestos de la cara, la respiración se acelera hasta alcanzar, en ocasiones, el punto de jadeo.
Orgasmo:
Mujeres: Contracciones del útero y el ano, y terremoto vaginal. El orgasmo en una mujer, dura de 6 a 10 segundos, aunque puede llegar a durar 20 en algunos casos.
Hombres: Está marcada por la eyaculación en los hombres. El orgasmo en los hombres es de cuatro a cinco segundos.
Resolución:
Mujeres: El útero desciende y la vagina vuelve a la normalidad. Puede durar solo unos segundos.
Hombres: Dura entre 15 minutos y un día. Los tejidos de los órganos genitales se vacían de sangre, por lo que se pierde la mitad de la tensión del pene (Jeaneau, 2014; APA, 2010; Silva, 2017; Diario Libre, 2016).
Descrita por las mujeres, un orgasmo es una oleada de placer, una sensación intensa, es el clímax del placer, sientes calor y todo se hincha un poco (los senos, el sexo), son muchas sensaciones muy agradables, lo sientes por todo el cuerpo. “Yo grito y tengo la sensación de que es como un canto”. “Es la unión con el otro, es cuando sientes que estás en comunión con la otra persona”.

El orgasmo puede llegar por diferentes vías (clítoris, vagina, pezones, estimulando el deseo, las emociones y las fantasías, el autocontrol de las paredes vaginales, estimulación del punto G -al principio del canal vaginal-, mediante la estimulación del punto A -al final del canal vaginal, es la que proporciona un orgasmo anal-, ) y todas ellas son interpretadas por el cerebro como un orgasmo.

El deseo es esencial para el orgasmo, es neurológico, cuando se desea a alguien ardientemente el cerebro libera dopamina que incrementa el placer (Jeaneau, 2014).

El orgasmo en el cerebro
El cerebro ha desarrollado una respuesta al miedo para mantenernos fuera de peligro, pero también está dotado de un fuerte impulso sexual para asegurar la supervivencia de las especies. Helen Fisher menciona que: “el orgasmo es una de las experiencias más fuertes para los humanos, así que escudriñar en la mente y descubrir cómo produce el cerebro ese estado de éxtasis resulta emocionante. Recibes un torrente de dopamina, la dopamina es el mismo compuesto químico que se activa cuando consumes cocaína y otras drogas estimulantes. Es una experiencia abrumadora de éxtasis y energía” (El cerebro humano, 2016).

Estudios sobre el orgasmo
La experiencia de analizar el orgasmo en los cerebros masculino y femenino no es exclusiva de un solo investigador, y en esta labor titánica han intervenido afortunadamente muchas mentes brillantes para desenmarañar sus misterios.

En Holanda, el neurocientífico Greg Berns, se empezó abrir camino hace algunos años en la investigación sobre el orgasmo, mostró por primera vez lo que ocurre en el cerebro del hombre y la mujer, en un escáner “PET”, se ve el flujo sanguíneo cerebral en el momento de lograrlo. El cerebro tiene muchos kilómetros de vasos sanguíneos (si pudiéramos formar todas las venas arterias y capilares de una persona le daría dos veces y media la vuelta a la tierra) y cuando las células están trabajando necesitan gran cantidad de sangre cargada de energía y rica en oxígeno, cuando no están trabajando necesitan muy poca. Y se puede ver que partes del cerebro están activas durante la eyaculación o el orgasmo.

Las semejanzas del orgasmo masculino y femenino
Tenemos semejanzas y diferencias a nivel cerebral cuando alcanzamos un orgasmo, la coincidencia más importante es que ambos generan dopamina ante la expectativa del orgasmo y en la consumación del mismo. Y, el control es tomado por el sistema nervioso autónomo, activándose el tallo cerebral. Además de ser la parte más antigua del cerebro humano, es la zona que controla la liberación de dopamina en el cerebro (la dopamina, es conocida como la hormona del placer, regula la motivación y el deseo y hace que repitamos conductas).
También al final del orgasmo en ambos se libera oxitocina, la hormona de la calma, el amor y la sanación.
El miedo y la ansiedad disminuyen o desaparecen y la amígdala cerebral entra en modo de descanso.

 

 

The differences in male and female orgasms
However, the differences are fascinating:

Dr. Gert Holstege found that women’s orgasms involve activity in the nucleus accumbens, anterior cingulate, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and preoptic area, while male orgasms involve the ventral tegmental area, thalamus, and visual cortex (Wheatley & Puts 2015). Both activate different dopamine routes.
The experiment showed that blood flow in men decreased in areas related to anxiety, but other areas remained on alert. In men there is a deactivation of the amygdala, of the areas that have to do with anxiety or fear.
Deactivation in women, was the most important finding, there was a large deactivation in the areas of the brain that have to do with anxiety, fear and vigilance. It seems that women abandon themselves, they may lose consciousness during orgasm.
Dopamine accompanied by euphoria before orgasm is a common trait in both. However, later in men, it simply disappears and in women it goes down, but does not disappear (The Human Brain, 2016).
A recent study showed sexual differences in the pituitary (called the master gland, because it controls many of the functions of other glands) during orgasm, with female orgasm being associated only with increased activity in that region of the brain. Higher pituitary activation in women was interpreted by the authors to mean higher plasma concentrations of oxytocin (peace, relationship and rest hormone), a hormone released from the pituitary and found in much higher plasma concentrations in women than in men after orgasm (Wheatley & Puts, 2015). If after orgasm the pituitary is activated more and oxytocin is released in women, it could well be the cause of asking the couple to continue with kisses and caresses after climaxing.
Oxytocin is also known as the hormone of calm, love and healing. Dr. Kerstin Uvnäs Mober, is recognized worldwide as an authority on oxytocin and points out: Studies in humans have shown a dramatic increase in the rate of oxytocin in blood of both sexes at the time of sexual contact, which peaks during orgasm. After intercourse we often feel relaxed, or even numb. Sometimes it is at this point that we feel most intimate with our partner, and nothing matters more than being with the loved one (Uvnäs, 2009).

It is no wonder that in men and women, areas of the brain are deactivated so that they do not feel anxiety or fear and we simply concentrate on orgasm. Evolutionary psychologists believe that this difference between men and women may have its origins in prehistory when we were hunter-gatherers. Women could be materially disconnected, but men had to be alert even after mating in order not to be eaten by some beast.

What intensifies orgasm?
Moving from a somewhat mechanical physiological reaction to a highly pleasurable sensation at orgasm can be intensified through the following aspects:

Unlike the penis, the sole purpose of the clitoris is to provide pleasure. Does not interfere with the reproductive process.
Between 50 and 80% of women who reach orgasm do so by clitoral stimulation, with or without vaginal penetration.
Over time, the clitoris grows larger. At 35, it’s four times bigger than when the woman was 15. After 45, seven times the size of birth. That’s why older women reach orgasm faster.
The clitoris is not the only female orgasm zone in and around the vagina. The G-spot (inside the vagina) is connected directly to the clitoris and is also a source of orgasms.
It is the most sensitive female sexual organ, orgasm switch par excellence.
The external part of the clitoris (glans, stem and body) contains more than 8 thousand nerve endings that connect to a network of more than 15 thousand more nerve endings in the pelvic region. The penis has only 4,000 nerve endings.
Clitoral orgasms are not inferior to vaginal orgasms, on the contrary, they have the same intensity and, strictly speaking, all orgasms occur because they are connected to the clitoris through the nerve endings.
In 1998, Helen O’connell of Australia was able to obtain the complete anatomy of the clitoris thanks to magnetic resonance imaging studies of volunteers. Before that date, only the external part of the clitoris was shown and the actual volume of erectile tissue was unknown (Meraz, 2014).
The different routes to achieve an orgasm
Orgasm is a reflection of the autonomic nervous system, it is part of the nervous system that deals with things we have no conscious control over; like digestion, heart rate, sexual arousal. And the orgasm reflex can be triggered by a surprisingly wide range of stimuli (Roach M. (2009).

To experience an orgasm; it can be done alone, in pairs, accompanied by accessories or utensils, accompanied by more people or even by animals or other objects for some of us unconventional, the paths are as personal as they are chosen, the possibilities are almost endless. And, they are even experienced by stimulating areas of the body that are not erogenous at all.

It is clear that orgasms are related to the reward system that generates dopamine. However, these neurons can respond when they are associated with some non-erotic stimulus and they also respond with an unexpected reward. In psychology this is known as conditioned stimulation and is to associate a neutral stimulus as Ivan Pavlov did when ringing a bell and associate it with the presence of food from his dogs. If this activity continued to occur repeatedly, then the dog started to salivate with the ringing of the bell and then there was talk of a conditioned stimulus. The sound of the bell associated with the presence of food made the dog salivate and then wait to be fed.

In simple words, the routes to reach an orgasm can be associated to any neutral stimulus (dogs, feet, armpits, hair, urine or excrement, etc.) that associated to the production of dopamine and sexual contact, produce in a natural way a conditioning in the behavior. If this is done repeatedly, when a neutral stimulus is presented and sex is associated with some modality as we can see later on, there is a paraphilia or a different way of obtaining dopamine associated with sex or orgasm.

And, they can result in a mixture of pleasure, pain, surprise, love, passion, eroticism, desire or just loveless sex:

Through masturbation or autoeroticism (stroking, fantasizing, stimulating the clitoris)
With control of the body, some women can have an orgasm by contracting the muscles of their vagina (Jeaneau, 2014).
With oral sex or cunnilingus
Through the experience of some paraphilia, such as looner porn, people who inflate balloons (conditioned stimulus), play with them, or simply take them to the maximum point of resistance until they burst and thus achieve an orgasm.
Experiencing sexual bias (erotic attraction to a different part of the body)

 

Benefits of having orgasms
It almost completely disconnects women’s brains.
It partially disconnects men’s brains.
It can cure hiccups (Roach M. (2009).
It relaxes you.
Having orgasms and ejaculating, according to British sexologist Roy Levin, may promote fertility and needs to be renewed within a week before fertilization abnormalities begin to develop.
Improves blood flow, relaxes and oxygenates the blood.
It generates endorphins (natural analgesics), and by improving blood flow and oxygenating our bloodstream it reduces headaches, menstrual pains, toothaches and many more.
It makes us happier by releasing dopamine and allows us to later analyze problems more objectively and calm emotions (it makes us emotionally smarter).
It creates a sense of closeness with your partner by releasing oxytocin (the hormone of peace, love and healing).
By increasing dopamine levels against subtracting the stress hormone (cortisol) and improving serotonin levels also fighting depression.
Because of the effort that is made, having it burns calories (127 to 500) and helps combat insomnia. It produces post-coital narcolepsy and you sleep like an angel, and the large amounts of oxytocin released into the blood are responsible for this effect.
By improving blood microcirculation, it improves the condition of the skin and the functioning of our genitals. As well as, oxygenation of the brain.
It generates close ties with the couple.
It improves our self-esteem.
Men who ejaculate more regularly have a lower incidence of prostate cancer.
A study conducted at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania found that people who reach orgasm had 30% antibody that helps strengthen the system.

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