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April 28, 2017

Sex on the Brain: Researchers on What Turns Us On

This article originally ran as the cover story of the April 2017 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition. Your brain is your biggest sex organ, and contrary to the idea that the penis has a mind of its own and controls the brain, it’s actually the other way around. Several studies have explored what’s going on in that pulsating, throbbing brain of ours. Your Brain on Porn A study of the brain and sex revealed that “all three phases of the sexual pleasure cycle”— wanting sex, having sex and not wanting sex—are due to the cerebral cortex area of the brain. The study, which appeared in The National Journal of Clinical Anatomy Review in India, also found that sexual dysfunction occurs when there are “alterations” in this brain area that controls sex. “For all its primitive functions, human sex draws heavily on the functionality of the part of the brain that has evolved most recently, the cerebral cortex,” said lead researcher Dr. Janniko Georgiadis from the University of Groningen in Netherlands. The study researched participants who took part in “sexually stimulating activities” such as watching porn, and then studied how the brain reacts when varying emotional or physical changes are brought into the mix.” Dr. Georgiadis has also studied the brain and orgasm. “Orgasm is tied into the brain’s reward system. There is much we can learn about the brain, about sensation, about how pleasure works.” So next time you want to have sex, just ask your brain. Your Brain on BDSM Another study has found that BDSM alters the brain’s chemistry and creates altered states of consciousness. The study was called “Consensual BDSM Facilitates Role-Specific Altered States of Consciousness: A Preliminary Study.” Researchers recruited seven couples who practice “consensual BDSM” including couples in long-term as well as polyamorous relationships. One couple met on the day of the study! (“Hi, nice to meet you! Spank the crap out of me and we’ll see what it does to our brains!”) The study was published in the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice. According to the findings, “Research has tested whether BDSM activities actually facilitate altered states. To this end, we randomly assigned 14 experienced BDSM practitioners to the bottom role (the person who is bound, receiving stimulation, or following orders) or the top role (the person providing stimulation, orders, or structure) for a BDSM scene.” Just another day at the S&M sex lab.   The results showed that “Topping was associated with an altered state aligned with Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, and bottoming was associated with an altered state aligned with Dietrich’s transient hypofrontality as well as some facets of flow.” (Just saying that last sentence out loud should get you excited.)   An earlier study found bottoms had higher cortisol levels during their scenes, while tops did not. That’s somewhat expected—bottoms are usually experiencing pain, which should, accordingly, stress out their bodies and increase their levels of stress hormone. And after a mutually enjoyable encounter, both tops and bottoms showed decreased cortisol levels. Additional results suggest that BDSM activities were associated with reductions in psychological stress and increases in sexual arousal.” Relax, it’s just hardcore bondage and sadomasochism. Brad Sagarin, a psychology professor at Northern Illinois University who worked on the study, told Time what happens is “the rest of the world drops away and you are completely focused on what you’re doing.” Sagarin explained that the “flow state” is what occurs when individuals lose themselves in an activity they’re good at. Zapping Your Brain Other researchers studied whether zapping the brain can alter a person’s sex drive. The study, “EEG to Primary Rewards: Predictive Utility and Malleability by Brain Stimulation,” found that stimulating the reward centers of the brain can make people horny. Participants aged 18-55 were hooked up to machines. Their left dorsolateral pre-frontal cortexes were then excited. In the name of science, female subjects had their hoo-has hooked up to vibrators (the classic Hitachi wand) and guys had their schlongs attached to “guybrators” to measure their sexual response. Participants in the study reported having a bunch of orgasms a few days after the study, due to their brains being stimulated. The take-away from the study was that compulsive sexual behaviors could someday be clinically controlled, and that low sex drives could be stimulated with a brain zapper. How to Have a BrainGasm “Sex starts between the ears as your brain influences the kind of sex you want to have, from romantic, playful, intimate, to erotic or wild,” says Dr. Ava Cadell, author of Neurolovelogy: The Power to Mindful Love and Sex. “It releases a powerful cocktail of brain chemicals as the sensations of pleasure travels between your legs,” she says. Thank you, brain! Cadell’s online university, Loveology University, offers classes to improve the average person’s sex life, and she hopes everyone can achieve a “BrainGasm.” “With millions of nerve endings in the brain devoted to the lips, passionate kissing is essential to achieve a BrainGasm,” she says. Then she suggests “focusing on your partner with your full attention by looking deep into their eyes to release oxytocin.” Using tantra integration techniques, she says, “Put your hand on each other’s heart to light the emotional fire centers for a heart-mind-body connection. The amygdala induces sexual energy from the brain as low serotonin levels make you feel intense emotions as if two hearts beat as one,” she says. It’s boner time. And for more cerebral fun, she advises teasing each other by “taking your partner’s breath away by using your breath around their most sensitive erogenous zones, from the top of their neck to the tip of their toes. When you blow your cool breath on the left side of your partner’s body, you are stimulating the right side of their brain. Watch your partner’s muscles contract with pleasure, controlled by the cerebellum.” “Your partner should be begging you to touch them by now,” she says. “With the first erotic touch on the nipples, toes or sexual organs, the brain’s sensory cortex region fires up. Neurons linked to your erogenous zones communicate with the sensory cortex, to activate the brain regions that produce orgasm. “Oral sex, sexual intercourse and anal sex activate the hippocampus, a region of the brain that evokes mind-blowing sensations, while the frontal cortex induces erotic fantasies, and the cerebellum triggers body-melting sexual tension. This can all result in an earth-shattering, energy-melting, all-embracing BrainGasm.”

 
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