6 Ways Having Sex Makes You Smarter

The same host of hormones and chemicals that turn you on also impact other brain processes that help you think clearly, boost your memory and improve your problem-solving skills.

So a dry spell doesn’t just mean you’re missing out on fun — the lack of frequent sex can also affect your mental state. Here are six science-backed reasons why having sex makes you smarter.

1. It grows more brain cells

Bed down more often and you’ll actually grow more neurons in the brain, University of Maryland researchers found. Consistent sex generates more brain cells in the area of the hippocampus, a region associated with information retention. And when the subjects went through withdrawal after a heavily sexually active period? “The improvements in cognitive function were lost despite the presence of more new neurons,” the authors say.

2. It protects us from chronic stress

Stress is bad for your brain and your business: It destroys your concentration, makes you indecisive and causes tension. Fortunately, frequent sex, according to a study published in PLOS One, protects our brains from stress hormones (called corticosterone) that cause these negative emotions. It appears that not only does sex increase neuron growth, it also produces hormones aimed to lower corticosterone levels.

3. It boosts memory

Can’t remember the last time you had great sex? Then step it up — because frequent intercourse can help maintain memory. In one brain research study, for example, scientists compared the learning and memory of mice and found that those who had sex often had better “recognition memory function.” In another study of 1,700 people between the age of 58 and 98, researchers identified a strong link between those who had active sex lives and better memory recall.

4. It enhances analytic skills

Think the best sex for the brain should be the romantic kind, served up with champagne and soft jazz? Quite the opposite, say scientists. Looks like the sheer act of mindless sex promotes more analytical and concrete thinking when compared to romance’s impact on the brain. “When in love, people typically focus on a long-term perspective, which should enhance holistic thinking and thereby creative thought, whereas when experiencing sexual encounters, they focus on the present and on concrete details enhancing analytic thinking,” say study authors.

5. It may make us more open

Thanks to oxytocin, a brain hormone that’s released during sexual arousal, you’re more likely to be outgoing and social after regular bedroom interludes, say scientists from Montreal’s Concordia University. “If someone is feeling very distressed, oxytocin could promote social support seeking, and that may be especially helpful to those individuals,” says study author Christopher Cardoso. Plus, circulating oxytocin also makes us less sensitive to social rejection.

6. It keeps us sharper than Sudoku

We’ve all heard by now that puzzles are good for keeping our brains sharp. Rutgers scientists say that orgasms may be even more effective at maintaining our cognitive health. Scientists came to this conclusion after studying brain MRIs of subjects taken during orgasm. While brain games light up only parts of our gray matter, gratifying sex activates the whole brain at once.

Sex is the most talked-about, joked about, thought-about issue in our culture. Every grown adult is expected to know how to do it, but beyond the basic mechanics we’re not taught about it and fiction is coy. We are not short of information on sexual practices – thank you, Fifty Shades of Grey – but there is a general absence of accurate detail of what happens to our bodies during, and as a result of, the act.

Yet sex is good for our mental and physical health. It lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. It may boost the immune system to protect us against infections and it certainly lowers stress. The NHS even recommends it, in a section tucked away on its website, where few are likely to find it, that advises: “Weekly sex might help fend off illness.”

The consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Leila Frodsham thinks we should be better educated about it. She’s even supporting a project to open a Vagina Museum in Camden, London – after all, there is a Penis Museum in Iceland. More information could make us healthier, happier and save the NHS lot of money, she believes.

“People who have difficulties with sex are much more likely to present with other problems,” says Frodsham. She would like to see more investment in sexual health as preventive medicine.

When hooking up is working out

Sex can be good exercise, although that rather depends on how energetically you go at it. A study in the open-access journal Plos One in 2013 found that healthy young heterosexual couples (wearing the equivalent of a Fitbit) burned about 85 calories during a moderately vigorous session, or 3.6 calories a minute. It’s unlikely to be enough. The NHS says: “Unless you’re having 150 minutes of orgasms a week, try cycling, brisk walking or dancing.”

Tales of men having heart attacks and expiring on the job are much exaggerated. Sex raises the heart rate, which is generally a good thing. A study in the British Medical Journal of 918 men in Wales in 1997 found that sex helped protect men’s health. Men who (admittedly from their own report) had more frequent orgasms had half the risk of dying over the 10 years of the study compared with those who had the least orgasms. As a general rule, if you are able to walk up two flights of stairs without chest pain, you are probably safe to have sex, experts say.

The key to many of the health benefits of sex is the love hormone – oxytocin. Also sometimes called the cuddle hormone, it can even be released when petting your dog. The same hormone causes contractions in childbirth and is in the pessaries given to induce labour. It’s even in sperm. It’s not a myth that sex can help an overdue baby get going. When she was working as an obstetrician, Frodsham says, male partners used to “leave grinning from ear to ear because I’d suggest having sex on all fours to make labour come on”. There’s plenty of oxytocin around when people have sex or even just get friendly. “Any touch releases oxytocin,” says Frodsham. Keeping up physical activity affects libido, she says. “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

She doesn’t often see people with intrinsically low libido, she says. “But we do see people who kind of get into a sexual rut and it sort of disappears. I often encourage people to schedule sex. A lot of couples feel that it is not natural and it is forcing things, but sometimes you need to get them to become habitual so they can become spontaneous.”

Sex helps with sleep, and allows the brain to switch off. “If you are having sex, you should be getting into a zone where your brain is not in overdrive,” she says. It’s like mindfulness. “I don’t think there are many people who actually give themselves time to relax any more,” she says.

Prof Kaye Wellings, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, blames our busy lives for a decline in sexual activity in Britain. Her large recent study of 34,000 men and women, in the British Medical Journal, suggests we are having less sex than we were a decade or more ago. Half of the women and two-thirds of the men told researchers they would prefer to have sex more often. Wellings says the digital age is partly to blame. “We are bombarded with stimuli. I can see that the boundary between the public world and private life is getting weaker. You get home and continue working or continue shopping – everything except for good old-fashioned talking. You don’t feel close when you are on the phone.”

The sexual response, step by step

The best explanation of what actually happens during sex is still credited to two scientists who started work in 1957 – William Masters and Virginia Johnson – although later researchers have criticised parts of their work.

Masters and Johnson worked at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. Masters convinced Johnson to have sex with him in the interests of research while he was married to someone else. He eventually divorced and they married in 1971, splitting up 20 years later. Together they founded the Masters and Johnson Institute where they carried out their research and trained therapists.

In a book called Human Sexual Response, published in 1966, they described a four-stage cycle in heterosexual sex. First is the excitement or arousal phase in response to kissing, petting or watching erotic movies. A small study by Roy Levin in 2006 found that almost 82% of women said that they were aroused by their nipples being fondled – and so did 52% of men.

Half to three-quarters of women get a sex flush, which can show as pink patches developing on the breasts and spreading around the body. About a quarter of men get it too, starting on the abdomen and spreading to the neck, face and back. Men quickly get an erection but may lose it and regain it during this phase.

Women’s sex organs swell. The clitoris, labia minora and the vagina all enlarge. The muscles around the opening of the vagina grow tighter, the uterus expands and lubricating fluid is produced. The breasts also swell and the nipples get hard.

Masters and Johnson say there is then a plateau phase, which in women is mostly more of the same. In men, muscles that control urine contract to prevent any mixing with semen and those at the base of the penis begin contracting. They may start to secrete some pre-seminal fluid.

The third stage is orgasm, in which the pelvic muscles contract and there is ejaculation. Women also have uterine and vaginal contractions. The sensation is the same whether brought about by clitoral stimulation or penetration.

Frodsham says about a third of women easily have orgasms from penetrative sex, a third sometimes do and a third never do. “I have never seen anything that could be a G-spot,” she says. But the clitoris is much larger than some people assume. “The clitoris actually surrounds the vagina. The protuberance is only 5% of the clitoris.”

Women can quickly orgasm again if stimulated, but men cannot. Last is the resolution phase, when everything returns to normal. Muscles relax and blood pressure drops. But, says Cynthia Graham, a professor in sexual and reproductive health at the University of Southampton, “we still don’t understand everything about what happens even though research has been going on since Masters and Johnson’s early lab studies”.

Take the female orgasm, for instance. “Women report so many different sensations. Some women describe orgasm in a much more focal way. Some describe it in a diffuse way with, for instance, a tingling down their legs. Some women describe losing consciousness.”

And then there is the male erection. A healthy man may have three to five erections in a night, each lasting around half an hour. The one many wake up with is the last of the series. The cause is unknown, but there are suggestions of a link with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when people are most likely to dream. Even in the daylight hours, erections are not necessarily under conscious control. Usually they are associated with sexual arousal, but not always.

There is an assumption that sexual desire and libido are strongest in the young and fade out as we age. But there is plenty of evidence of people wanting sex and having sex at older ages. For women, the menopause can be a real obstacle. The loss of oestrogen leads to vaginal and vulval dryness. Frodsham points out that hormonal treatments, from oestrogen tablets in pessaries delivered locally into the vagina to creams and gels, are safe and effective. But so is having regular sex, she says. It’s like exercising a muscle.

“There is very good evidence, particularly in menopausal women, that the more they have sex, the better their physiology is,” she says.

But she cautions against the current enthusiasm for promoting the health benefits of sex for all ages. “There can be a kind of pressure on older adults who don’t want to. A lot of older adults do, but not everybody. There’s no norm about sexual desire.”

However biologically similar we may have been at birth, the one thing that is certain is that sexual desire and preference – as well as means of achieving satisfaction – differ from one individual to the next. Frodsham, for one, thinks enhanced understanding could boost our mental and physical health. And, she believes, it needs to start early.

“Many schools present sex as something that is going to cause STIs and pregnancy,” she says. They’re missing something important, she adds: “They don’t talk about the very natural reason to want to have sex, which is pleasure.”

How much do we lie when sex is on the brain?

November 1, 2019 A new study shows the extent to which people will change their own opinions to conform to a stranger’s, or lie about their number of past sexual partners, when the sexual systems of the brain have been activated. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

In a world of seemingly endless opportunities for finding a mate, competition for a partner can be fierce. Not all that glitters is gold, as the old adage goes. If you’ve long suspected that people fudge the truth when it comes to presenting themselves to a potential partner, here’s the research to back you up.

In a new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, two researchers from the University of Rochester’s Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology and the Israeli-based Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya conclude that when the possibility of sex looms, people are more likely to change their attitudes and engage in deceptive self-presentation. In other words, they conform, embellish, and sometimes lie.

The duo of Gurit Birnbaum, a social psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the IDC Herzliya, and Harry Reis, a professor of clinical and social sciences in psychology and Dean’s Professor in Arts, Sciences & Engineering at the University of Rochester, hypothesized that sexual thoughts—or, in the researchers’ more precise terms, the activation of an individual’s sexual system—would increase a person’s efforts to manage first impressions, bringing with it deceptive self-presentation.

Sex on the brain

What laypersons might describe as having sexual thoughts, researchers refer to more precisely as the activation of the sexual system or sexual priming. The phrase, Harry Reis explains, “means getting people to think about things in a sexual way. Technically it means activating a certain set of concepts in the brain. So, the parts of the brain that represent sexuality are being activated. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are getting genitally aroused.”

They tested that hypothesis on 634 students—328 female and 306 male—with an average age of nearly 25, all identifying as heterosexual. Over the course of four studies, the psychologists exposed one group to sexual stimuli and the control group to neutral stimuli. Study participants, all students at an Israeli university, then interacted with an opposite-sex stranger.

Study 1 asked two study participants at a time to solve a dilemma faced by a fictitious third person—whether to accept a job offer abroad or to reject the offer to stay close to family and friends. Both participants were assigned one specific position—one for and one against the move abroad—to argue in a face-to-face interaction. Afterwards, participants rated the extent to which they outwardly expressed agreement with the other participant’s position during the interaction. Compared to participants in the control group (without prior sexual stimuli), participants who had been sexually primed were more likely to express agreement with a contrary opinion advocated by an opposite-sex participant. The researchers interpret this behavior as a strategy to make a favorable impression with the stranger, thereby increasing the likelihood of getting closer to this person.

Study 2 examined whether study participants would actually change their declared preferences to conform to a stranger’s ideals. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire that assessed their preferences in various life situations (such as “to what extent does it bother you to date someone who is messy?” or “do you like to cuddle after sex?”). Next, participants were subliminally exposed to either a sexual or a neutral picture prime.

Participants were then told they would be part of an online chat with another participant, who in reality was an insider—an opposite-sex member of the research team. They looked at an online profile that purported to present the insider’s preferences on various subjects. After viewing the profile, participants were asked to create their own profile to be emailed to the other participant, and asked to complete their profile by rating the same items that had been presented in the insider’s profile.

The researchers found that even a non-conscious sexual stimulus (such as showing an erotic picture in a flash frame inside an otherwise neutral video) led participants to conform more to a potential partner’s preferences across various life situations.

“The desire to impress a potential partner is particularly intense when it comes to preferences that are at the heart of establishing an intimate bond,” writes the team. “Such attitude changes might be viewed as a subtle exaggeration, or as a harmless move to impress or be closer to a potential partner.”

(University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw)

Studies 3 and 4 addressed whether participants would lie about the number of past sexual partners. The researchers hypothesized that people would reduce the actual number of partners so as to appear more selective—or less promiscuous—to a potential mate. To test the hypothesis, researchers had participants talk about the total number of sexual partners they had had during a chat with an attractive study insider. Then they were asked the same question in anonymous questionnaires to provide a true baseline for the researchers. The findings were clear: study participants who had been sexually primed were more likely to lie, reporting lower numbers of previous sexual partners to a potential mate compared to the group without sexual priming.

The researchers found that both men and women (all of whom were sexually primed) tended to decrease the reported number of past sexual partners when chatting with an attractive stranger. (By the way, around seven previous partners was the magic number that most people reported in their doctored answers).

(University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw)

Interpreting the findings

Interestingly, Birnbaum and Reis, who have collaborated for decades (Birnbaum was a post-doctoral fellow in psychology at Rochester in 1998–99) have slightly different takes on what the findings ultimately mean.

“People will do and say just about anything in order to make a connection with an attractive stranger,” says Birnbaum. “When your sexual system is activated you are motivated to present yourself in the best light possible. That means you’ll tell a stranger things that make you look better than you really are.”

But, says Reis, “a lot of it is not necessarily what you’d call a bald-faced lie. Even though it’s clearly not the truth, it’s a way of people finding ways to emphasize different parts of how they see themselves.” And yet: “I think there’s some degree to which it is finding ways to shade one’s perception of the truth. It still counts as a lie, there’s no question about that.”

This research was supported by the Binational Science Foundation (BSF).

For more on Reis and Birnbaum’s research, also read their previous studies on how sex can help initiate a new romantic relationship, why uncertainty in a potential partner’s romantic intent dampens interest, and watch Birnbaum’s TEDxVienna talk on why humans make sex so complicated.

Tags: Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology, Harry Reis, research finding

Category: Society & Culture

If you ever happen to find yourself crossing the Capilano River in North Vancouver, Canada, you’ll have two bridges to choose from:

The first is definitely not for the faint of heart: A mere five feet wide and 450 feet long, the Capilano Canyon Suspension Bridge is constructed solely of plank and cable and sways perilously in the wind some 250 feet above the turbulent rocky tides — right out of a scene from Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” Your other choice? A solidly built anchored bridge that sits a mere 10 feet above sea level.

In 1974, two well-known psychologists, Arthur Aron and Donald Dutton, used these bridges as the focus of an ingenious experiment — one that sought to explore the mysterious nature of sexual attraction. It’s informally dubbed the Shaky Bridge Study — which is why I also like to call it the Shake Up Your Sex Life Study.

The two-part experiment went something like this:

On day one, whenever an unaccompanied man ventured across the shaky bridge, he would find himself stopped midway by an attractive young woman.

She would introduce herself as a psychology student and then proceed to ask if he would mind participating in a brief survey.

On day two, the identical routine would be conducted by the same woman on the sturdy bridge.

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Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But there was a little twist: When each of the men completed the survey, the young woman would hand him her phone number and tell him that he was free to call her later that evening for the results.

Unbeknownst to the subjects, the real study was not the answers the men gave on the survey, but what happened afterward. Dutton and Aron set out to examine which of the men gave the attractive psychologist a call and, more importantly, why. In other words, they were interested in studying not just what happened on the bridge, but how that affected what happened later. Would the excitement and exhilaration of being on the shaky bridge, versus the more mundane experience of being on the solid bridge, promote romantic attraction?

Or, to put it simply: Does adrenaline makes the heart grow fonder?

The answer? Indeed, it does.

Not only did Aron and Dutton find that the men on the shaky bridge were more likely than their stable-bridge counterparts to call the woman later for results of the survey, but they were also far more likely to ask her for a date! When it comes to desire and attraction, a little unpredictability goes a long way: It spikes the brain’s natural amphetamines, dopamine and norepinephrine, which play a big role in sexual arousal.

Beneath the layers of linens that cover our beds, there lies a shaky bridge, ready and waiting for high-stakes action. Yet most of us spend our sex lives on the stable, sturdy one — often without realizing it.

So how can you shake up your sex life and metaphorically get out on that shaky bridge?

Work on the novelty outside the bedroom.In technical terms, Aron and Dutton were testing a concept called “misattribution,” also known as excitation transfer theory: The idea being that lingering excitement from one situation — say walking across a shaky bridge versus a stable one — could intensify a subsequent emotional state. It doesn’t take much to get the dopamine going, so think about new things you can do together as a couple. A little novelty goes a long way.

Share a fantasy or two. Sigmund Freud gave fantasy a bad name back in 1908 when he said, “A happy person never fantasizes, only a dissatisfied one.” But research shows that people with active fantasy lives are more sexually satisfied, more sexually responsive and more adventurous about sex in general. Not bad. Remember, there’s a difference between sharing a fantasy and actually acting one out. The brain is our biggest sex organ, so sharing a naughty thought or two might be all you need to get the ball rolling.

Keep it fresh.After you’ve had sex with the same person at least a thousand times it’s easy to fall into a routine. There are two types of sexual arousal — mental and physical. In the beginning of a relationship, we have no shortage of sexy thoughts and feelings that turn us on and create a sense of sexual anticipation, but after a while the mental component can easily fade and we rely on physical stimulation. We know each other’s bodies and we know how to get where we’re going, but we don’t know how to appreciate the journey anymore. That’s when it becomes time to introduce some new routes and paths to pleasure.

Have confidence. And fun.If you’re always submissive when it comes to sex, maybe it’s time to get more dominant. Have a little fun and explore a different sex type. Maybe you generally think of yourself as the girl next door or someone who follows your partner’s lead. Or maybe you’re always the aggressor. Give yourself permission to enjoy a new sex type. It can be as simple as putting on a wig, adding a flair to your lingerie, or just letting your partner know your needs.

And finally, remember it takes two. For every woman who’s willing to get out on that shaky bridge, there needs to be a man who will meet her halfway.

Adapted from Ian Kerner’s book “Passionista: The Empowered Woman’s Guide to Pleasure.”

is a sex therapist, relationship counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books, including “She Comes First” and “Love in the Time of Colic.” He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at .

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Why The Brain Is Our Most Important Sex Organ

Jan 18, 2018 &middot SheKnows

How you think about sex matters when it comes to your health

How we experience our sexuality has a lot to do with bodies: how we like to touch and be touched, how we respond to different kinds of stimulation or illness or physiological issues that may change our sexual desire and responses. But that’s not the whole picture. A big part of our sex lives is defined by the things we have learned about sex, by what we think and how we think about sex and by what we know and believe about relationships.

Even though there are certain medical issues that can impact our sex lives, many who face sexual health challenges should look to their minds rather than their bodies. Just like we know the placebo effect is real, we understand that sometimes what seems like a physical problem can be all in our heads. I spoke with Dr. Logan Levkoff, AASECT-certified clinical sexologist and sex educator, about how our minds can affect our sexuality.

“There’s a great deal of sexual implications that come from our psychology, our education, our upbringing and the messages we get from culture and the media,” she explains. “These things contribute to how we see ourselves as sexual beings and how we understand sexuality, consent and relationships.”

Where do we get our beliefs about sexuality?

Regardless of the culture we grow up in, we hear messages about sexuality from it all the time. What is consent? What are the sexual roles of men and women? When is it appropriate or not to have sex with a partner? What kinds of relationships allow for sex? Are masturbation, pornography and nonheterosexual relationships acceptable?

And as with many cultural messages, sometimes, they don’t match our desires or our experience. Take queer sexuality, for example. Before the gay rights movement, many LGBTQ people felt they had a “disordered” sexuality that required treatment. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness until 1973. The messages around nonheterosexual desire made some people feel distressed about their desires, leading them to believe they were broken or wrong.

“It’s impossible to consider what it means to be sexually healthy without having a really good understanding of the messages that we receive,” says Levkoff.

Like it or not, a big part of our sexuality is culturally determined. There are no “inherently natural” acts or roles; as author Yuval Noah Harari notes in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, if it’s physically possible for humans to do, then it’s “natural.” The concept of what’s normal and abnormal is based on cultural beliefs.

The role of shame

According to Levkoff, the way we internalize those cultural messages can lead us to feel shame about our sexuality. “If we feel an ounce of shame about who we are, our identity, consent or speaking up, it can have significant physical and mental sexual health outcomes,” she says. “That’s when we have trouble giving consent or discussing boundaries.”

Everyone, but women especially, is being shamed all the time. Too slutty or too prude; if you’ve been assaulted or raped, it’s your fault; you should be thin but curvy… the list goes on. In our sexual lives, shame stops us from exploring our identity and desires and from expressing our sexuality in the ways that feel authentic to us.

“We need to give ourselves the freedom to think about what we want as sexually healthy people,” Levkoff explains. “Acknowledging our wants, desires and needs impacts our self-esteem, our voice and our power.” When shame tells us we’re bad people for wanting what we want, we need to fight it with authenticity and honesty.

Throw away the script

Our thoughts and beliefs about sex can lead us to a wonderful, fulfilling sex life; or it can fill us with shame and guilt. Levkoff insists there is no right or wrong way to experience sexuality and “no one else is allowed to define your sexuality for you.” The power is in your hands to throw away the scripts being hurled at us from every direction and to write our own sexual story.

When it comes to sex, our psychology matters just as much as our physiology — if not more. We may be perfectly physically healthy, but if we believe our sexuality is wrong or disordered in some way, a satisfying sex life will remain out of our reach. So when you face issues in your sexual life, you should certainly consult a doctor to eliminate any physical causes; but more often than not, the root of the problem is psychological.

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Your most powerful sexual organ is not down there, but between your ears

Both of them were medical professionals, and yet they had no clue about what to do in bed with each other. Just days after their ‘first night’ after the wedding, they were out looking for help from a sex therapist.

The absence of knowledge and understanding of sexual anatomy is one of the leading reasons for dissatisfaction among couples in India. Several couples, well into their twenties, don’t know the basics of human sexual anatomy. Some think they know enough, but they don’t, or worse, know wrong.

A healthy sex life is imperative to any good relationship. There are several things which keep a relationship afloat, but as Indian society slowly liberates itself sexually, men and women look for better sexual experiences from their partners.

So, do you know enough about your own, and your partner’s, sexual organs?

And is it enough to pay attention to just what’s down there, and not what’s between your ears?

Understanding our sexual organs

For the male, on the outside there is the penis and the scrotum or the testicles.

For the female, the external organs are the vulva and the mons veneris. The vulva is made up of two sets of lips – the outer and the inner. It also has the opening of the urethra and the opening of the vagina. The mons veneris is the space above the vulva that has pubic hair growth and protects the pubic bone. All of these organs are packed with sensitive nerves which is what cause those explosions of pleasure during sexual activity.

In fact, the vagina is barely a sexual organ, considering inserting a tampon into it doesn’t cause any kind of sexual pleasure. It is not external either, often being confused for the vulva. It is indeed an internal organ that joins ranks with everything from the G-Spot to the fallopian tubes.

For the male body, there’s the prostate gland, the cowper’s glands and the vas deferens – all of which serve their own purposes in the body like sexual activity, reproduction or even urination.

Most of these organs also serve purposes other sexual pleasure, except for one organ, the clitoris. It is the only organ in the body whose sole function is sexual pleasure.

The tip of it is externally located in the vulva while the rest of it extends a good 5 inches into the body. No wonder it’s hard to find! But the only way one can even find the tip is when the body is sexually aroused because it swells up. It has as much erectile tissue as a penis, imagine that.

Erogenous zones

Now that we’ve covered the obvious organs that come to mind, we can move on to the less obvious ones that are present in our erogenous zones. These are areas that cause sexual arousal on stimulation.

Most people when asked would list out the butt, breasts, nipples, lips, tongue, neck, ears, toes, anus, armpits… the list could be endless. So how do we define the organs that are in our erogenous zones?

We call it the largest organ of sexual anatomy which is the skin. Any part of the body could be an erogenous zone for someone.

A head massage could put someone in the mood if that’s their thing. Erogenous zones are different for different people. One might find being touched in an area during sexual activity enjoyable while another might find it uncomfortably ticklish.

Enhanced sexual activity is possible only when the penis becomes erect and the vulva gets lubricated. It is the stimulation of these areas that can cause an erection or increase lubrication which is what makes skin a sexual organ.

The most important sexual organ is not down there

The most powerful sexual organ is actually up here, the brain.

Sexual activity has so many sides to it – it is physical, chemical, emotional, psychological, social and multi-sensory. All of these things happen in the brain. This is why some people or situations turn us on and why what pleasured you with one person may not work with another.

The brain is also responsible for sending, receiving and translating all of the sexual activity as pleasure while influencing it to begin with; making it the most important sexual organ in our bodies.

Explore your bodies

So it’s not just down under. It’s up here and everywhere in between. And it is only with exploration that we can fully understand the extent of our sexual anatomies, be confident about our bodies and aim at having healthy and happy relationships.

Start by looking at your body in a mirror and observing every little inch of skin and what it looks like. Most women have never looked at their own vulvas!

If you are in a relationship, you can observe each other’s bodies – not as a sexual activity but as a way of learning about each other’s sexual anatomies.

Size does not matter

Of course, there is a tension that comes with observing bodies, especially our own. We tend to worry that we may be limited in some way, but the good news is that size does not matter.

There is no right or wrong size.

There is no right or wrong colour.

Penises come in all sizes and as long as it is 3 ½ inches on erection, intercourse can occur. There is no proven treatment to increase the size of the penis.

Sometimes the outer lips of a vulva are bigger and sometimes the inner. Vulvas may be anywhere from pink to dark brown, depending on the skin colour of the person. Breasts come in all sizes too and so do butts and vaginas.

So tonight, take a look in the mirror and get to know your body. And when you go to bed remember that the magic of sex and orgasms is powered not just by that which is between your legs but also that which is between your ears.

(This is a part of the Sexual Health series bought to you by The News Minute in association with Happy Relationships. Happy Relationships is an enterprise that works in the field of sexual health and relationship wellness.)

‘Dopamine is released and this helps us to feel giddy, energetic and euphoric. Oxytocin is also released during sex, which promotes bonding and affection.’

When oxytocin – also known as the ‘cuddle’ hormone – is released, it influences your mind with feelings of love, bonding and general well-being. On a physical level, it also affects your uterus, especially during pregnancy where it helps start contractions and lowers your stress levels.

The dopamine, which regulates your body’s movement, attention span and emotional responses, plays its part, too. It’s also released when you take certain drugs, such as ecstasy, and gives people such a high that it can be highly addictive.

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Flooding your bloodstream with dopamine during sex is completely healthy but the addiction element is still there.

The hormones can alter your thinking and actions, and many people go on ‘auto-mode’ without actively considering what they’re doing.

Does it feel good to push your body closer? Do you feel the urge to nibble on your lover’s shoulder, even though you’ve never – consciously – thought about it before?

Dopamine, along with oxytocin, is letting your urges call the shots, and you’re filled with pleasure because of it. That being said, the logical side of your brain is still there, but has switched off for the time being.

And while hormones induce bonding feelings, it doesn’t mean this will always lead to slow, sensual or romantic sex.

Hate sex can trigger the same physical response, alongside a boost of adrenaline – which is also released when you’re angry – and serotonin, a happy chemical.

External factors can affect your sex brain as well, such as how you’re feeling before you start having sex.

‘A study by The Journal of Sexual Medicinei n 2017 examined brain activity before, during and immediately after female orgasm,’ Dr Sarah Welsh, who works with the condom brand Hanx, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘It found that brain activity was heightened during orgasm, with increased activity in several parts of the brain, suggesting the brain is heavily affected during sexual activity, as well as the body.

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‘Oxytocin helps regulate cortisol, the stress hormone, which can in turn induce calmness and improve stress symptoms. Other studies have found that sex can lower blood pressure, improve memory, and help with pain symptoms. The activity and increase in blood flow around the body is to thank for this!’

Sex and masturbation can be great stress-relievers, but hormones can only do so much.

The hormones will give you a temporary boost of emotions, but if you’re already experiencing feelings such as stress or anxiety, this could work its way through the sex brain.

Let us explain: say you’re having sex and everything feels great, when suddenly you remember the anxiety you felt when you were at work earlier that day – this can break through the fuzziness that we mentioned earlier and your ‘active’ thinking once again takes charge.

Just as there is sex brain, there is also post-orgasm brain.

The orgasm releases another shot of oxytocin from the brain’s pituitary gland, as well as endorphins (which are also released during exercise) and you’ll feel relaxed, happy and sleepy.

Just because you’re influenced by hormonal compounds, you’re not ever completely at the mercy of them – meaning there is no excuse to be cruel or unkind to someone (or cheat) because of it.

Sex brain only does so much – the rest is all you.

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How does sex affect your brain?

Having sex can flavor our nights, and days, with sweet pleasure and excitement, relieving stress and worry. And, of course, sex has been key to ensuring that the human race lives on. In this article, we ask, “How does sex impact what happens in the brain?”

Share on PinterestSex influences our brain activity in ways that may impact our emotions, sensitivity to pain, and even sleep.

Sexual intercourse is known to impact the way in which the rest of our body functions.

Recent studies have shown that it can have an effect on how much we eat, and how well the heart functions.

As we have reported on Medical News Today, sex has been cited as an effective method of burning calories, with scientists noting that appetite is reduced in the aftermath.

Also, a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in 2016 found that women who have satisfying sex later in life might be better protected against the risk of high blood pressure.

Many of the effects of sex on the body are actually tied to the way in which this pastime influences brain activity and the release of hormones in the central nervous system.

Here, we explain what happens in the brain when we are sexually stimulated, and we look at how this activity can lead to changes in mood, metabolism, and the perception of pain.

Brain activity and sexual stimulation

For both men and women, sexual stimulation and satisfaction have been demonstrated to increase the activity of brain networks related to pain and emotional states, as well as to the reward system.

This led some researchers to liken sex to other stimulants from which we expect an instant “high,” such as drugs and alcohol.

The brain and penile stimulation

A 2005 study by researchers at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands used positron emission tomography scans to monitor the cerebral blood flow of male participants while their genitals were being stimulated by their female partners.

The scans demonstrated that stimulating the erect penis increased blood flow in the posterior insula and the secondary somatosensory cortex in the right hemisphere of the brain, while decreasing it in the right amygdala.

The insula is a part of the brain that has been tied to processing emotions, as well as to sensations of pain and warmth. Similarly, the secondary somatosensory cortex is thought to play an important role in encoding sensations of pain.

As for the amygdala, it is known to be involved in the regulation of emotions, and dysregulations of its activity have been tied to the development of anxiety disorders.

An older study from the same university — which focused on brain regions that were activated at the time of ejaculation — found that there was an increase in blood flow to the cerebellum, which also plays a key role in the processing of emotions.

The researchers liken the activation of the cerebellum during ejaculation to the pleasure rush caused by other activities that stimulate the brain’s reward system.

“Our results correspond with reports of cerebellar activation during heroin rush, sexual arousal, listening to pleasurable music, and monetary reward.”

The brain and the female orgasm

In a study of the female orgasm that was conducted last year, scientists from Rutgers University in Newark, NJ, monitored the brain activity of 10 female participants as they achieved the peak of their pleasure — either by self-stimulation or by being stimulated by their partners.

The regions that were “significantly activated” during orgasm, the team found, included part of the prefrontal cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex, the insula, the cingulate gyrus, and the cerebellum.

These brain regions are variously involved in the processing of emotions and sensations of pain, as well as in the regulation of some metabolic processes and decision-making.

Another study previously covered on MNT suggested that the rhythmic and pleasurable stimulation associated with orgasm puts the brain in a trance-like state. Study author Adam Safron compares the effect of female orgasms on the brain to that induced by dancing or listening to music.

“Music and dance may be the only things that come close to sexual interaction in their power to entrain neural rhythms and produce sensory absorption and trance,” he writes.

“That is,” he adds, “the reasons we enjoy sexual experiences may overlap heavily with the reasons we enjoy musical experience, both in terms of proximate (i.e. neural entrainment and induction of trance-like states) and ultimate (i.e. mate choice and bonding) levels of causation.”

Sex and hormonal activity

So what does this all mean? In essence, it means that sex can impact our mood — normally for the better, but sometimes for the worse.

Share on PinterestHaving sex releases a lot of hormones linked to emotions. This usually bodes well for our mood, but there are some exceptions.

Having sex has repeatedly been associated with improved moods and psychological, as well as physiological, relaxation.

The reason behind why we may feel that stress impacts us less after a session between the sheets is due to a brain region called the hypothalamus.

The hypothalamus dictates the release of a hormone called oxytocin.

Higher levels of oxytocin can make us feel more relaxed, as studies have noted that it can offset the effects of cortisol, the hormone linked with an increased state of stress.

Not only does oxytocin make us calmer, but it also dampens our sense of pain. A study from 2013 found that this hormone could relieve headaches in individuals living with them as a chronic condition.

Another study from 2013 suggested that a different set of hormones that are released during sexual intercourse — called endorphins — can also relieve the pain associated with cluster headaches.

Can sex also make us feel down?

The answer to that, unfortunately, is “yes.” While sex is generally hailed as a great natural remedy for the blues, a small segment of the population actually report an instant down rather than an instant high after engaging in this activity.

This condition is known as “postcoital dysphoria,” and its causes remain largely unknown. One study conducted in 2010 interviewed 222 female university students to better understand its effects.

Of these participants, 32.9 percent said that they had experienced negative moods after sex.

The team noted that a lifelong prevalence of this condition could be down to past traumatic events. In most cases, however, its causes remained unclear and a biological predisposition could not be eliminated.

“This draws attention to the unique nature of , where the melancholy is limited only to the period following sexual intercourse and the individual cannot explain why the dysphoria occurs,” the authors write.

Sex may lead to better sleep

Studies have shown that sexual intercourse can also improve sleep. After an orgasm, the body also releases higher levels of a hormone called prolactin, which is known to play a key role in sleep.

Researchers from Central Queensland University in Australia also hypothesized that the release of oxytocin during sex may act as a sedative, leading to a better night’s sleep.

In the case of men, ejaculation has been found to reduce activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is a brain region known to benefit particularly from a good night’s sleep.

In sleep, the prefrontal cortex exhibits the slowest brainwave activity compared with other brain regions, which supports the proper execution of cognitive functions during the daytime.

Researchers say that sex may lead to better cognitive functioning in older age, protecting people from memory loss and other cognitive impairments. Studies have shown that “older men who are sexually active have increased levels of general cognitive function.”

For women, being sexually active later in life appears to sustain memory recall, specifically. These effects may be due to the action of hormones such as testosterone and oxytocin, which are influenced by intercourse.

So, next time you’re about to slip between the sheets with that special someone, just know that this moment of passion will spark a whole neural firework show, releasing a special hormonal cocktail that will, at its best, charge a whole set of biological batteries.

— — intro: Understanding how sex affects your brain can improve your roll in the hay, and it may also shed light on other parts of your health, says Barry R. Komisaruk, PhD, distinguished professor of psychology at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. It’s not the easiest subject to study—test subjects might have to masturbate in an MRI machine—so research is still developing. But scientists are starting to unravel the mystery. Here’s what we know so far about your brain on sex.

13 Reasons to Have More Sex

quicklist: 1 category: Ways Sex Affects Your Brain title: Sex is like a drug url: text: Sex makes us feel good. That’s why we want it, like it, and spend so much time hunting for mates. The pleasure we get from sex is largely due to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the reward center of the brain. Dopamine is also one of the chemicals responsible for the high people get on certain drugs. “Taking cocaine and having sex don’t feel exactly the same, but they do involve the same regions as well as different regions of the brain,” says Timothy Fong, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Caffeine, nicotine, and chocolate also tickle the reward center, says Komisaruk.

20 Weird Facts About Sex and Love

quicklist: 2 category: Ways Sex Affects Your Brain title: Sex can act like an antidepressant url: text: A 2002 study out of the University at Albany looked at 300 women and found that those who had sex without a condom had fewer depressive symptoms than women who did use a condom. The researchers hypothesized that various compounds in semen, including estrogen and prostaglandin, have antidepressant properties, which are then absorbed into the body after sex. (They corrected for other things that might affect both mood and condom use, such as being in a serious relationship or use of oral contraceptives.) This is good news for anyone who is in a committed relationship, but if you’re still playing the field, then you shouldn’t give up condoms. There are other ways to boost mood, but really no other way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

10 Signs You Should See a Doctor for Depression

quicklist: 3 category: Ways Sex Affects Your Brain title: Sex can (sometimes) be a downer url: text: Those feel-good chemicals may be going full blast during the act, but after? According to researchers, there is such a thing as post-sex blues (technical term: postcoital dysphoria). About one-third of the women participating in one study reported having experienced sadness after sex at some point in time. While it’s possible that regret or feeling coerced might be the reason why, researchers can’t explain the connection at this point for sure.

quicklist: 4 category: Ways Sex Affects Your Brain title: Sex relieves pain url: text: Don’t skip sex when you have a headache. Research shows that doing the deed may relieve your symptoms. In a 2013 German study, 60% of participants who had migraines and 30% of cluster-headache sufferers who had sex during a headache episode reported partial or total relief. Other studies have found that women who stimulated an area of the G spot had an elevation in pain threshold. “It took greater pain stimulus for them to feel the pain,” says Beverly Whipple, PhD, a professor emerita at Rutgers University who has conducted some research on the topic. Whipple didn’t study why this was so, but other researchers have attributed the effect to oxytocin, the so-called bonding hormone that helps mothers and babies bond and which also has pain-relieving properties.

quicklist: 5 category: Ways Sex Affects Your Brain title: Sex can wipe your memory clean url: text: Each year, fewer than 7 people per 100,000 experience “global transient amnesia,” a sudden but temporary loss of memory that can’t be attributed to any other neurological condition. The condition can be brought on by vigorous sex, as well as emotional stress, pain, minor head injuries, medical procedures, and jumping into hot or cold water. The forgetfulness can last a few minutes or a few hours. During an episode, a person cannot form new memories or remember very recent events. Fortunately, there seem to be no lasting effects.

quicklist: 6 category: Ways Sex Affects Your Brain title: Sex may boost your memory url: text: Or at least it might if you’re a rodent. A 2010 study found that, compared with rats who were allowed only one one-night stand, rodents who engaged in “chronic” sex (once a day for 14 consecutive days) grew more neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory. The findings were backed up by a second study, also in mice. It remains to be seen if regular sex also has this effect in humans (but you can always tell yourself it does).

quicklist: 7 category: Ways Sex Affects Your Brain title: Sex calms you down url: text: The same study that linked frequent sex to a brain boost in rats also found that the rats were less stressed. This works for humans, too. One study found that people who’d just had sexual intercourse had better responses to stressful situations like public speaking than people who had not, or who had engaged in other types of sexual activity. How did sex ease stress? In this case, by lowering blood pressure.

quicklist:8 category: Ways Sex Affects Your Brain title: Sex makes you sleepy url: text: Sex is more likely to make men sleepy than women, and scientists think they know why: The part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex winds down after ejaculation. This, along with the release of oxytocin and serotonin, may account for the “rolling over and falling asleep” syndrome.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

We all love sex, don’t we? We know how it’s done and most of us do it quite frequently. However, have you wondered what kind of effect sex can have on your mind and your mental health? You might think it’s all good because sex feels good.

Some of the impacts is, in fact, really good for our minds but there is a part of it that’s not. While you are surely going to continue enjoying and having sex – in all forms – it’s good to have a general idea of what it does to your and your partner’s brain as well as get some explanations for common occurrences.

Here is a list of all the ways sex affects your brain.

1. Sex Boosts Your Memory

Sex can actually boost your memory! While this theory has only been tested on mice so far, scientists believe that it’s true for humans as well. In the study that first confirmed this thesis, one mouse was allowed only one-night intercourse while another was allowed to have chronic sex or sex every day for 114 days. The scientists then analysed their individual intelligence levels – they were tested beforehand and they scored equally – and concluded that the mouse which had consecutive intercourse was more intelligent and could memorise more than the mouse who only had sex once. Another study confirmed this as well.

Research published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour also suggested that sex may improve women’s memory. Results have shown that women who had penetrative sex were able to remember more abstract words from the word-memory task.

It’s yet unclear whether sex really does improve the memory or if better memory correlates with having more sex but it might be the former – sex simulates the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus.

2. Makes You Sleepy

So, you know how you always feel like you are going to just pass out after sex? Well, turns out that there is scientific explanations for that as well. As sex tends to make men more sleepy than women, scientists have concluded that it’s because of the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex which winds down after ejaculation.

This works together with oxytocin and serotonin which may account for the sleepy syndrome. Sex could be the answer to all sorts of sleep problems as well. It can help you achieve 7 to 9 hours of sound sleep each night. Because of chemicals released during sex, we feel closeness and bond with someone and it is through this effect that we get all sleepy and cuddly which can make you feel sleepy in turn.

A rise of estrogen levels in women during sex enhances their REM cycle. And in men, we have the already mentioned occurrence.

3. Calms You Down

Stress causes a lot of health problems for humans. Namely, it’s headaches, sleeping, tension or upset stomach – conditions could be even more serious than that. There is evidence that physical and emotional intimacy can reduce the stress levels in couples. Another study has proven that people who had penetrative sex have lower stress levels than people who masturbated or had the non-coital sex. Psychologists hypothesize that the calming effect might exist due to the oxytocin released during sex which causes bonding and relationship building. It lowers your blood pressure and makes you spend more energy as if you were exercising.

So, it was proven by science that sex can relieve you of stress. Try it out if you are having a bad day.

4. Relieves Pain

Even though women often use a headache as a way to avoid sex, it can often have a good impact on all of your aches, including an infamous headache or migraines. This might be the last thing you want to do but before you reach for a pill, try it out.

Neurologists have found that sex can relieve head pain like a migraine and cluster headache. People who had a migraine were tested and 60% of them confirmed that they experienced an improvement in pain after sex while 37% of people who experienced a cluster headache confirmed an improvement. The same scientists explained that sex releases endorphins and that this is the mechanism behind pain relief. Since endorphins are a painkiller, they can reduce the pain of a headache.

In another research, women were found to experience less pain and more pleasure after pr through vaginal self-stimulation.

5. It Can Make You Feel Bad

Sex can also make you feel bad in certain occasions. The good feeling we get from sex is great when we are doing it but what comes after may be a downer. Researchers have found that people can have post-sex blues. About one-third of women participating in a study that found this said that they have experienced sadness after sex at some point. It could be because of regret or some similar guilty feeling but no one is yet sure why this happens. It could also be due to the difference of emotion between extreme happiness we feel with an orgasm compared to feeling less than that after.

Whatever the reason may be, it’s good to know that not all sex is good and that it’s possible to feel bad after just as a precaution.

6. It Can Be Like a Drug

Sex makes us feel good like food, sweets or similar things. While it’s not like a drug in a literal sense, it can be quite addictive. The pleasure we get is because of dopamine which activates the reward centre in our brain. It’s a chemical responsible for people getting addicted to certain kinds of drugs as well. Taking cocaine and having sex doesn’t feel the same but it causes a chemical reaction in the brain that is quite similar. Many things tickle this part of the brain like caffeine, nicotine, sweets and so on. This is why food and drugs are addictive as well.

This is another downfall of having sex but it doesn’t happen to everyone. You have probably heard of cases where people have a sexual addiction. While it may seem like a fun addition to have, it’s a huge problem for people who have it and their partners.

7. Can Be An Antidepressant

A study done more than a decade ago studied 300 women and found that those who had sex frequently had fewer depression syndrome than those who don’t. This is great news but a paradoxical one as well. People suffering from depression are prone to having low libido so the last thing they would want to do is to have sex.

Another way sex can help with depression is improving your self-confidence. Research has shown that those who have frequent sex – either casual or in a committed relationship – experienced higher well-being and higher self-esteem levels as well.

However, another study has shown that women who are more self-confident have better, more satisfying sex.

Sex is valuable only when made as an honest affirmation of another person and should never be treated as a remedy for loneliness or a confidence booster as a first place!

8. Sex Can Wipe Your Memory

Every year, there are people who experience amnesia because of sex. This is a sudden but temporary memory loss that is often attributed to other neurological condition. This condition often happens after or during vigorous sex, stress, pain, injuries and so on. This amnesia can last either a few minutes or a few hours. During this event, the person who loses the memory can’t form new memories or remember what recently happened. However, there are no long-term effects.

This is a good thing to know whether you or your partner get affected. The chances are small but it’s very possible.

9. Masturbation Improves Mental Health

Having good self-esteem is as mentioned very important. Masturbation can make you more confident and have higher self-esteem. Multiple studies have shown that not only the masturbation releases the happy hormones but it also has a positive body image impact on both women and men. Female masturbation especially is related to better self-esteem and better mental health.

10. Casual Sex Can Impact your Mental Health

Casual sex, as mentioned, can have an impact on your mental health as well. However, not all of it has to be bad. Naturally, those who do it for all the wrong reasons are inclined to feel a lot worse after but those who do it because they like it and want it – truly, not as a way to mask their feelings – feel refreshed and a lot better after it. This has proven true for both men and women.

Sex is something that most people enjoy. A great number of them never really find out why that is. However, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find out that it’s all about chemicals and hormones which work together and create various effects both long-term and short-term. For example, rolling over and falling asleep is a short term effect but a memory boost could be a long term one. No matter what, sex will continue to be one of the favourite activities for men and women across the world – and surely you can test some of these theories yourself!

Sex on the Brain: Frequent Sex Might Have Cognitive Benefits

Source: VK Studio/

Frequent sex might enhance our performance on certain cognitive tasks. A growing body of research on both humans and animals published in the last decade points to this conclusion, including a new study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Here’s a look at the accumulated evidence and what it suggests about how sex might benefit the brain.

First, a 2010 study published in the journal PLoS ONE discovered a link between sexual activity and neuron growth in male rats. Specifically, rats that were permitted to have sex daily over a two-week period demonstrated more neuron growth than rats that were only allowed to have sex once during the same amount of time.

Building on this, a 2013 study published in the journal Hippocampus — which also focused on male rats — found that daily sexual activity was not only associated with the generation of more new neurons, but also with enhanced cognitive function.

Research on humans has yielded similar findings. A 2016 study published in Age and Aging looked at how the sexual practices of nearly 7,000 adults aged 50-89 related to their performance on a number sequencing task (which measured executive functions, such as problem-solving) and a word recall task (which measured memory ability). It turned out that both men and women who had engaged in any kind of sex over the past year had higher scores on the word recall test. Furthermore, for men only, being sexually active was linked to better performance on the number sequencing task.

Likewise, a 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior examined how sexual activity was linked to performance on a common memory task in a sample of 78 heterosexual women aged 18-29. Specifically, scientists looked at whether their frequency of sexual intercourse was associated with memory while controlling for several other factors, such as grade point average, menstrual cycle phase, oral contraceptive use, and relationship length. The results revealed that women who engaged in more frequent sexual intercourse had better recall of abstract words on the test.

Last but not least, a new study out this year (also in the Archives of Sexual Behavior) that involved approximately 6,000 adults age 50 and over explored how sexual frequency was associated with performance on two episodic memory tasks administered two years apart. Participants who had sex more often had better performance on the memory test. It’s worth noting that more emotional closeness during sex was linked to better memory performance, too. However, it’s important to point out that memory performance declined for everyone over the course of the study and being sexually active did not prevent this decline. What this means is that while sex is linked to a higher baseline for memory performance, it doesn’t necessarily prevent cognitive decline in older age: We’ll all experience it at some point, whether we’re sexually active or not.

As always, more research is necessary, especially research that can help to establish cause-and-effect in humans and that explores what actually happens in the brain in response to frequent sex. That said, the overall pattern of findings to date is consistent with the idea that sex may very well be beneficial for our brains and our cognitive performance.

How do sex hormones affect brain function?

Sexual activity can boost hormones like estrogen and DHEA, and that can promote smoother, tighter skin. Sex also increases levels of oxytocin, the bonding and trust hormone, and decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Not only does this feel good immediately, but tests of longevity in men show that greater frequency of orgasm is associated with increased lifespan. And women who have regular sex have been shown to have significantly higher levels of estrogen in their blood compared to women with infrequent or no sex.
Estrogen helps maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, reduces bad cholesterol, and increases good cholesterol, increases bone density and enhances skin. It also is beneficial to brain function.
Another hormone that spikes during orgasm is DHEA, which is believed to improve brain function, balance the immune system and help maintain and repair tissue while it promotes healthy skin. It may also have a positive effect on cardiovascular health.
Testosterone is also increased through regular sexual activity. Testosterone helps strengthen bones and muscles, and offers many benefits to the brain and the cardiovascular system.
Plus, sexual activity is great exercise and burns calories. And the release that comes with orgasm can have a calming, sedative effect. It’s often followed by great sleep. All of this can be a wonderful brain and beauty treatment.
Unleash the Power of the Female Brain Special Offer

This is Your Brain on… Sex

Sex is fun. I’m sure I don’t need to sell you on the concept. But exactly how fun dancing the horizontal mambo is depends more on what’s going on up top than, well, anywhere else. Your brain is your most powerful sex organ, and learning how it works can be the difference between “eh” and “ah!”

Let’s start with hormones. Any woman who’s ever wondered why she cried through a shampoo commercial and ate six bars of chocolate only to find Aunt Flo on her doorstep the next day won’t be surprised that hormones like dopamine (the happiness hormone), oxytocin (the cuddling hormone), and even testosterone (yes, girls have some too), rule our sex drive too. We tend to think of hormones as things that control us, but it turns out we have some control over them as well. And it all starts with your brain!

Dr Daniel Amen, researcher and author of the book Sex on the Brain: 12 Lessons to Enhance Your Love Life, compiled more than 36,000 brain scans to figure out how to use your brain to your healthiest-and sexiest-advantage. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Don’t ignore mental illness. Since dopamine has the largest effect on your libido, pleasure, and orgasm, making sure you have just enough is crucial. Too little and you’ll be in your Forever Lazy with a good book. Too much and you could become a sex addict. Untreated depression due to dopamine malfunction is, unsurprisingly, one the most common mood-killers. ADHD, anxiety, and other mood disorders can have a big effect on libido.

2. Have an attitude of gratitude. Dr. Amen says that changing the way you think about things can actually change your brain scans. Positive people tend to think more positively about everything, including sex. He suggests making a list every night of a few things that you are grateful for.

3. Accept gender differences. Men and women are different-you might have heard. But Dr. Amen cautions women not to discount the impact of these structural and societal differences. “Women need to ask for what they want sexually, and must teach their men through repetition, practice, and good coaching.”

  • By Charlotte Andersen

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On April 11, 1944, a doctor named T. C. Erickson addressed the Chicago Neurological Society about a patient he called Mrs. C. W. At age 43 she had started to wake up many nights feeling as if she were having sex—or as she put it to Erickson, feeling “hot all over.” As the years passed her hot spells struck more often, even in the daytime, and began to be followed by seizures that left her unable to speak. Erickson examined Mrs. C. W. when she was 54 and diagnosed her with nymphomania. He prescribed a treatment that was shockingly common at the time: He blasted her ovaries with X-rays.

Despite the X-rays, Mrs. C. W.’s seizures became worse, leaving her motionless and feeling as if an egg yolk were running down her throat. Erickson began to suspect that her sexual feelings were emanating not from her ovaries but from her head. Doctors opened up her skull and discovered a slow-growing tumor pressing against her brain. After the tumor was removed and Mrs. C. W. recovered, the seizures faded. “When asked if she still had any ‘passionate spells,’” Erickson recounted, “she said, ‘No, I haven’t had any; they were terrible things.’”

Mrs. C. W.’s experience was rare but not unique. In 1969 two Florida doctors wrote to the journal Neurology about a patient who experienced similar spells of passion. She would beat both hands on her chest and order her husband to satisfy her. Usually the woman would come to with no memory of what had just happened, but sometimes she would fall to the floor in a seizure. Her doctors diagnosed her with epilepsy, probably brought on by the damage done to parts of her brain by a case of syphilis. More recently, in 2004, doctors in Taiwan described a woman who complained of orgasms that swept over her when she brushed her teeth. Shame kept her silent for years, until her episodes also caused her to lose consciousness. When the doctors examined her, they diagnosed her with epilepsy as well, caused by a small patch of damaged brain tissue.

Each of these stories contains a small clue about the enigmatic neuroscience of sex. A hundred years ago Sigmund Freud argued that sexual desire was the primary motivating energy in human life. Psychologists and sociologists have since mapped the vast variations in human sexuality. Today pharmaceutical companies make billions bringing new life to old sex organs. But for all the attention that these fields of research have lavished on sex, neuroscientists have lagged far behind. What little they knew came from rare cases such as Mrs. C. W.’s.

The case studies do make a couple of things clear. For starters, they demonstrate that sexual pleasure is not just a simple set of reflexes in the body. After all, epileptic bursts of electricity in the brain alone can trigger everything from desire to ecstasy. The clinical examples also point to the parts of the brain that may be involved in sexual experiences. In 2007 cognitive neuroscientist Stephanie Ortigue of Syracuse University and psychiatrist Francesco Bianchi-Demicheli of the Geneva University Psychiatric Center reviewed the case of Mrs. C. W. and 19 other instances of spontaneous orgasms. In 80 percent of them, doctors pinpointed epilepsy in the temporal lobe.

The temporal lobe is still a big piece of real estate, though. To zoom in on the regions associated with sexuality, neuroscientists needed to scan people’s brains while they were having sex-related thoughts. But using brain scans to study sex is not easy. Most brain imaging technology works the way cameras did in the 19th century: If you want a clear picture, you have to hold very still. Even then, brain scans provide meaningful information only in carefully designed experiments. If you want to find the parts of the brain that are crucial for reading, for instance, you can’t just take pictures of people’s brains as they read; the visual cortex carries out many functions other than reading. Scientists therefore have to craft experiments that allow them to compare what happens to brains during reading with what happens when people look at random strings of letters or checkerboard patterns. The same precision is required to study sex in the brain.

As a result, the first imaging studies of sex in the brain have appeared only in the past few years. Serge Stoléru, a neuroscientist at Pierre and Marie Curie University in France, published one on sexual desire in 2003. He and his colleagues showed a series of pictures and films—some erotic, some ordinary—to 15 men. To record the activity in the subjects’ brains, the scientists used PET scans: They injected radioactive tracers into the volunteers and then tracked how the tracers moved in the brain. The radioactive signal accumulated in areas where neurons became active, as their energy was replenished by the surrounding blood vessels.

Eight of the men were ordinary, sexually speaking. The other seven suffered from hypoactive sexual desire disorder. People with this condition rarely experience sexual desires or fantasies. Stoléru and his colleagues found clear-cut differences between the two groups. In particular, a patch of neurons near the front of the brain—a region called the medial orbitofrontal cortex—was active in the desire-impaired men but quiet in the normal ones. Among its jobs, the medial orbitofrontal cortex keeps our emotions from getting out of control. Perhaps men with hypoactive sexual desire disorder couldn’t feel desire because their brains were keeping their emotions bottled up.

Unfortunately, PET scans take several minutes to capture a single image. A lot can happen in that time, especially when sex is involved. So Stoléru and other scientists have switched to a faster method, functional MRI (fMRI), which monitors the flow of blood to active neurons by measuring levels of oxygen in the brain. This technique can capture an image of the working brain in just a couple of seconds and locate areas of activity down to a millimeter or so—about one-twentieth of an inch.

Using fMRI, scientists have pinpointed a number of regions of the brain that kick in when people feel sexual desire. As expected, several of them are in the temporal lobe. One of those regions, the amygdala, orchestrates powerful emotions. Another, the hippocampus, manages our memories. It may become active as we associate sights and smells with past sexual experiences. But despite what Freud thought, sexual experiences are not just a matter of primal emotions and associations. The parts of the brain that light up in the fMRI scans include regions that are associated with some of our most sophisticated forms of thought. The anterior insula, for instance, is what we use to reflect on the state of our own bodies (to be aware of the sensation of butterflies in the stomach, say, or of lightness in the head). Brain regions that are associated with understanding the thoughts and intentions of other people also seem linked with sexual feelings.

Even fMRI studies are not fast enough to catch the flow of activity, however. They cannot tell us which regions of the brain become active first, which later. So Ortigue and Bianchi-Demicheli are updating one of the oldest brain-monitoring technologies. For decades scientists have taped electrodes onto people’s scalps to record their brain activity and create a readout called an electroencephalogram, or EEG. In the past this approach offered a blurry picture of what was going on in the subject’s brain. An electrode on the scalp can pick up electrical activity only after it has spread beyond the skull, getting weakened and smeared along the way. But the EEG process is fast; it can capture 1,000 snapshots a second.

In recent years scientists have dramatically improved the power of EEG by writing computer programs that compare recordings from multiple locations around the head and then calculate which regions of the brain are producing the signals. These programs can home in on regions just a few millimeters across, nearly as close as fMRI.

Ortigue and Bianchi-Demicheli put the improved EEG to the test by placing a set of 128 electrodes on a group of healthy volunteers and showing them pictures of people in swimsuits. The subjects then had to decide whether each person they were looking at was desirable or not and press a computer key to register their vote. These EEG recordings detected activity in many of the same regions that turned up in the early fMRI studies. But Ortigue and Bianchi-Demicheli were able, for the first time, to observe when different regions of the brain became active, combining the readings into an extraordinary movie:

On average, Ortigue and Bianchi-Demicheli’s subjects needed about 0.4 second to become aware of whether a person looked desirable or not and press a button. But in that 0.4 second, a lot happened in their brains. Some parts became active, then quiet, then active again. Other parts went through a different series of changes.

Intriguingly, the pattern of neural action seen in the experiment does not follow an orderly progression from the vision-processing centers to the centers of emotion and finally to the lofty regions of self-awareness. In fact, the “higher” regions of the brain start responding and passing judgment remarkably early. Ortigue and Bianchi-Demicheli found a clear difference in the activity in people’s brains depending on whether they regarded the people in the photos as desirable or undesirable; that decision emerged less than 0.2 second after a picture was viewed.

Ortigue and Bianchi-Demicheli suspect that several different parts of the brain are analyzing the information coming in from the eyes and influencing the final response. In some cases the flow of information goes from the bottom up, as signals from the visual cortex and the emotional centers move to the higher regions of the brain. But the influence also goes from the top down. The higher regions may be priming the visual cortex to be more sensitive to certain kinds of information—in essence, instructing the eyes on what kind of person looks sexually desirable. The brain regions that handle self-awareness and understanding others may also be telling the emotional centers what to feel. All this happens in about half a blink of an eye, with many of the details of how it unfolds still quite obscure.

Which is to say, we still have a lot to learn about sex. But at least we are far beyond the days of Mrs. C. W.

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University University of Rochester

With sex on their minds, people are more likely to change their attitudes and engage in deceptive self-presentation, research on sexual priming finds.

In other words, they conform, embellish, and sometimes lie.

The researchers hypothesized that sexual thoughts—or, in the researchers’ more precise terms, the activation of an individual’s sexual system—would increase a person’s efforts to manage first impressions, bringing with it deceptive self-presentation.

What laypersons might describe as having sexual thoughts, researchers refer to more precisely as the activation of the sexual system or sexual priming. The phrase, “means getting people to think about things in a sexual way,” explains study coauthor Harry Reis, a professor of clinical and social sciences at the University of Rochester.

“Technically it means activating a certain set of concepts in the brain. So, the parts of the brain that represent sexuality are being activated. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are getting genitally aroused.”

Reis and coauthor Gurit Birnbaum, associate professor of psychology at the IDC Herzliya in Israel, tested that hypothesis on 634 students—328 female and 306 male—with an average age of nearly 25, all of whom identified as heterosexual.

Over the course of four studies, the psychologists exposed one group to sexual stimuli and the control group to neutral stimuli. Study participants, all students at an Israeli university, then interacted with a stranger of the other sex.

Making a good impression

The first study asked two study participants at a time to solve a dilemma faced by a fictitious third person—whether to accept a job offer abroad or to reject the offer to stay close to family and friends.

“When your sexual system is activated you are motivated to present yourself in the best light possible.”

Both participants were assigned one specific position—one for and one against the move abroad—to argue in a face-to-face interaction. Afterwards, participants rated the extent to which they outwardly expressed agreement with the other participant’s position during the interaction.

Compared to participants in the control group (without prior sexual stimuli), participants who had been sexually primed were more likely to express agreement with a contrary opinion advocated by a participant of the other sex. The researchers interpret this behavior as a strategy to make a favorable impression with the stranger, thereby increasing the likelihood of getting closer to this person.

Shifting preferences

The second study examined whether study participants would actually change their declared preferences to conform to a stranger’s ideals. Participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their preferences in various life situations (such as “to what extent does it bother you to date someone who is messy?” or “do you like to cuddle after sex?”). Next, participants were subliminally exposed to either a sexual or a neutral picture prime.

Participants then learned that they would be part of an online chat with another participant, who in reality was an insider—an opposite-sex member of the research team. They looked at an online profile that purported to present the insider’s preferences on various subjects. After viewing the profile, participants were asked to create their own profile to be emailed to the other participant, and asked to complete their profile by rating the same items that had been presented in the insider’s profile.

The researchers found that even a non-conscious sexual stimulus (such as showing an erotic picture in a flash frame inside an otherwise neutral video) led participants to conform more to a potential partner’s preferences across various life situations.

“The desire to impress a potential partner is particularly intense when it comes to preferences that are at the heart of establishing an intimate bond,” write the researchers. “Such attitude changes might be viewed as a subtle exaggeration, or as a harmless move to impress or be closer to a potential partner.”

(Credit: Mike Osadciw/U. Rochester)

How many people have you slept with?

The third and fourth studies addressed whether participants would lie about the number of past sexual partners. The researchers hypothesized that people would reduce the actual number of partners so as to appear more selective—or less promiscuous—to a potential mate.

To test the hypothesis, researchers had participants talk about the total number of sexual partners they had had during a chat with an attractive study insider. Then they were asked the same question in anonymous questionnaires to provide a true baseline for the researchers. The findings were clear: study participants who had been sexually primed were more likely to lie, reporting lower numbers of previous sexual partners to a potential mate compared to the group without sexual priming.

The researchers found that both men and women (all of whom were sexually primed) tended to decrease the reported number of past sexual partners when chatting with an attractive stranger. (By the way, around seven previous partners was the magic number that most people reported in their doctored answers).

(Credit: Mike Osadciw/U. Rochester)

What does sexual priming show?

Interestingly, long-time collaborators Birnbaum and Reis have slightly different takes on what the findings ultimately mean.

“People will do and say just about anything in order to make a connection with an attractive stranger,” says Birnbaum. “When your sexual system is activated you are motivated to present yourself in the best light possible. That means you’ll tell a stranger things that make you look better than you really are.”

But, says Reis, “a lot of it is not necessarily what you’d call a bald-faced lie. Even though it’s clearly not the truth, it’s a way of people finding ways to emphasize different parts of how they see themselves.” And yet: “I think there’s some degree to which it is finding ways to shade one’s perception of the truth. It still counts as a lie, there’s no question about that.”

The Binational Science Foundation supported the work, which appears in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Source: University of Rochester

Sex and the brain

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