The Science of Sex

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Decoding the Primal, Physical and Psychological Aspects of Sex

From an evolutionary standpoint, sexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are. Our inherent urge to reproduce is constantly flowing through our veins and is vital to ensure the survival of our species as a whole. However, what was once a mechanism of conception is now more about recreation. Nowadays, sex is everywhere you turn. It's in the way that we dress, the places we go and even the foods we eat. Sex has infiltrated nearly every aspect of our existence.

Your brain on sex

If you were to take a picture of your brain during sex, you'd see that despite everything going on between your legs, the real action is happening between your ears. When we're sexually aroused, the limbic system within the brain is flooded with a surge of neurochemicals - these are the chemical messengers that forge emotions, feelings of attachment and even love. Your overall pleasure depends on the release of these chemicals, which determine the intensity of your sexual climax. The afterglow associated with sex is different for women and men. After sex, women tend to feel more attached and often like to cuddle or spoon with their mate. Men, on the other hand, are known for finishing their business, rolling over and calling it a night. Why the contrast? Well for starters, physical exertion during sex depletes the muscles of energy-producing glycogen, which leads to drowsiness. Since men typically have more muscle mass than women, men are more sensitive to the effects. Additionally, prolactin, a protein that affects dopamine levels, is released after ejaculation, and that can also cause lethargy.

The big "O"

In simple terms, an orgasm is the body's physiological response to sexual stimulation. The climactic response is prompted by the release of the neurohormones oxytocin and vasopressin (we'll talk more about these later). Brain scans have shown that, during orgasm, metabolic activity in the cerebral cortex decreases while activity in the limbic areas of the brain increases. The cerebral cortex governs the conscious layers of the brain, playing a role in attention, awareness, thought process and memory. On the flip side, the limbic system controls the unconscious portion of the mind. This is why orgasms typically cause involuntary body movements and vocalizations. An orgasm has a similar effect on the brain to that of an addictive substance, in the sense that it consists of a euphoric high followed by a hangover-like low. It's what scientists like to call homeostasis or a restoration of balance. What goes up must come down.

##The pleasure principle Sexuality helps to fortify the bond between a man and a woman - and not just through intercourse alone. Sexuality is fused to each kiss, each touch and each embrace. Even a casual glance can be teeming with broiling lust. While emotions flood the brain in what seem like mere seconds, the process is actually quite complex. Initially, when we begin to feel an attraction towards someone of the opposite sex, our heart rate increases and blood levels of adrenaline and the "stress hormone" known as cortisol rise accordingly. This is then followed by the release of dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that induce an intense rush of pleasure, similar to the stimulatory effects of cocaine and amphetamine.

Attachment on the other hand is different story. The human body is equipped with neurohormones, such as oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin is a hormone released during orgasm and scientists believe that it is capable of deepening feelings of attachment. This is why relationship coaches will place such a high emphasis on couples engaging in sexual activity on a regular basis - the more often you're having sex, the closer you and partner will become. Vasopressin is another hormone released during sex that also plays an important role in long-term commitment. Several studies have concluded that fear of commitment is due in part to a genetic variation in vasopressin receptors.

Sex through the ages

19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote, "The desire for intercourse is the genius of the genus." And what an intricate genius it is! It goes without saying that sex is vital to the survival of the human race - or any species, for that matter. However, for humans, sex is dual-purpose. Not only do we rely on sex for reproduction, but also for pleasure.

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