MRI brain with the OFC switched off for an orgasm
NASA / Wikimedia Commons

How orgasm hits your brain's off switch

By Sarah Moses October 15, 06:55 pm
When we’re so turned on we orgasm, our brains are actually turned off in a major way. The latest brain scan research reveals what goes on in our brains when we date, have sex, and fall in love.

Why would parts of our brain literally shut down when we climax? It could be so that we can really let go of our inhibitions, say Dutch researchers who have studied the brain scans of young couples while they orgasm.

One area of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex, or OFC, is involved in keeping things cool and under control. So it makes perfect sense that it turns off so that we can… well… totally lose control when we climax.

That’s true for both men and women, their research has shown. And although men’s and women’s brains look pretty similar during sex, there are some important differences, sexpert Dr Serge Stoleru told Love Matters at the World Congress for Sexual Health.

Faking it

In women, parts of the brain linked to fear and anxiety also get switched to off mode during an orgasm, the Dutch researchers found. All women know just how important it is to feel comfortable and relaxed, something which scientists can actually see in the brain.

But when the women in the study faked an orgasm, their brains didn’t shut down at all. Instead, areas that help control movement became active. So though women can be pretty great at pretending to climax, there’s something totally different going on in their brains.

Getting aroused

The OFC – the same area that turns off during an orgasm – is also pretty important when it comes to checking someone out, and getting aroused when we do, says Dr Stoleru. It gets revved up by testosterone in men and by estrogen in women.

During the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels are at their max right before ovulation. That helps explain why women might feel more aroused and up for sex at that time, since their OFC is more active than usual.

Animal love?

If we start dating the person we’re into, it can be next to impossible to keep our eyes off them. That intense attention we pay our sweetheart is thanks to the parietal cortex, a part of the brain that helps us focus on things around us, especially ones we desire.

Over time, if we fall in love, just seeing our partner’s face is enough to set off an area deep within our brains called the ventral tegmental area. Besides humans, all vertebrates, even fish, have this brain part in common, Dr Stoleru told Love Matters. So though romantic love is something we think only humans experience, who knows, maybe it’s something we share with others in the animal kingdom.

Have you felt parts of your brain shut down during sex? ;) Share your experiences below or join the discussion on Facebook.

Image: Love Matters / NASA/Wikimedia Commons / Viktorus/Shutterstock

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