Your Brain On Sex: 4 Ways To Use Human Physiology In Your Bedroom

brain and sex
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Consider this scenario: You and your man have been looking forward to this moment all week. Flirty emails at work, emoticon-laced texts at 1 a.m., and finally, on Friday night, a long boozy dinner followed by a makeout session on the way back to his place.

But, when you're finally in bed, (more than) ready to get it started, you get distracted. "Oh no! I forgot to send that email for work!" Suddenly, all the foreplay in the world can't seem to connect your brain with your vagina.

It's happened to the best of us. And according to the latest brain science, it's no surprise. In the past ten years, advances in brain-imaging technology have allowed scientists to see first-hand the avalanche of chemical activity in the brain during sex. The brain truly is the the center of desire. So what exactly have they learned? And how can you use it to avoid the situation above? YourTango reports.

Look To Buddha For Better Orgasms

In 2003, Dutch neuroscientist Gert Holstege measured brain activity in women while their partners stimulated them to orgasm. He found that key parts of their brains went "silent" during the big "O," specifically, the parts of the prefrontal cortex involved in self-control and social judgment. For anyone who's had an orgasm — or been mentally distracted so that they can't have an orgasm — this makes sense. "If you're thinking, 'I look fat,''‘Is that mole in my leg gross?' or 'Am I making a weird face?!' you might have trouble reaching orgasm," says Kayt Sukel, author of This Is Your Brain on Sex. Dr. Kristin Mark, Ph.D., a sex and relationships researcher at the University of Kentucky, agrees: "There is a connection between inability to orgasm and inability to give up control. Practicing mindfulness, being in the moment, is something that can vastly improve ability to orgasm. When individuals have trouble orgasming, it is often a mental block, and much more rarely something physiological going on. So by giving up control of the situation, being present in the moment and really focusing on the arousing sensations, an orgasm is much more likely to occur."

Break Free Of The Big O

When you have an orgasm, your dopamine levels soar — producing the full-body euphoria that causes humans to seek out sex again and again. To wit, brain scan studies show that the brain during orgasm is 95 percent the same as the brain on heroin. But after orgasm, dopamine levels fall dramatically, and this change in brain chemistry can last for up to two weeks. "During this slow, somewhat erratic, return to neurochemical homeostasis after orgasm, it's not unusual to experience intermittent sensations of neediness, irritability, intense horniness and so forth," says Marnia Robinson, the author of Cupid's Poison Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships. For some people, that means dopamine-seeking behaviors, such as overeating or compulsive shopping. The fluctuations in dopamine have also been blamed for our tendency to seek out new and novel sexual partners when things have cooled off in the bedroom with a long-term mate.

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In an attempt to break free from this cycle, some couples are turning to Karezza, a centuries old practice that involves "gentle intercourse, with lots of affection and relaxation, but without the goal of orgasm," Marnia explains. Basically, couples engage in lots of touching, foreplay and even (gentle) sex, but forgo orgasm, at least for three weeks at a time. Couples report a deepened sense of bonding and closeness, without the dopamine roller-coaster that orgasms can set in motion.

If You Think It, You Will Come.

Dr. Barry Komisaruk, Ph.D., a sex researcher at Rutgers, was intrigued by women who claimed they could "think" their way to orgasm — no masturbation, no partner, no outside stimulus at all. So he viewed scans of their brains when they had orgasms by "thinking" and when they had orgasms from manual masturbation. The scans showed the exact same pattern of response. "I was surprised that women could do this," says author Kayt Sukel, who interviewed Komisaruk for her book. "But when I informally surveyed my small group of girlfriends, about a third confirmed that they could think their way to orgasm!" Sukel even convinced one friend to "think" her way to orgasm in front of her. "It took a few margaritas, but she did it," Sukel says.

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"Unfortunately, this is not something we are trained to do or encouraged to do," Sukel says. "but it shows us that fantasy is our friend and can help improve arousal and get us to faster, bigger, better orgasm." Having trouble getting in the mood during sex? Practice fantasizing when you're alone. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and you can start to use the same mindfulness when you're with a partner.

Boost Your "Bonding" Chemical

When a woman gives birth, her brain is flooded with oxytocin, a wonderful little chemical that causes her to bond with her child and to actually forget some of the painful stressful experiences of childbirth. Oxytocin decreases stress and anxiety and increases feelings of trust. In fact, in a study led by Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich, men who inhaled a nasal spray of oxytocin gave more money to partners in a risky investment game than men who inhaled a placebo. Oxytocin is released in mass quantities during — you guessed it — sex. In fact, after orgasm, a man's oxytocin levels are raised more than 500 percent.

"Oxytocin has long been known to aid in pair-bonding," says Kristen Mark. "Having pleasurable sex that released oxytocin may therefore increase the bond in couples." So while dopamine is associated with the heady euphoria of "new love," some scientists theorize that over time it is replaced with oxytocin, the safe, trusting calm love of long-term monogamous couples. Long-term love can be a wonderful thing, but is it possible to get a little dopamine back in the bedroom? Yes, with novelty. According to Michael Castleman, a leading sex writer and the founder of GreatSexAfter40.com, dopamine is directly affected when you and your partner try something new. So try a new position; go away for the weekend and have sex in a new bed; or even just try a new restaurant together. If you can keep dopamine and oxytocin flowing, you've truly got the secret to hot sex forever.