What happens in our brain during orgasm?

Charles McCarthy
What happens in our brain during orgasm?

Women can fake an orgasm, but men can fake an entire relationship.

Orgasm is the great eater of words. It only allows the moan, the howl, the subhuman expression, but not the word.

Psychology analyzes the behavior of people and the world of analysis goes from the everyday, through the bizarre to the sublime. However, it would be a very closed position, to think of our discipline as the only one capable of understanding the wonderful world around us. Assuming a more epistemologically open and transdisciplinary strategy puts us in the universe of understanding and complementing with other disciplines the understanding of human behavior such as sex and particularly orgasm..


  • A social neuroscientific approach
  • The importance of sex in our lives
  • The physical effects of orgasm
  • Phases of arousal to reach orgasm
    • Excitement:
    • Plateau:
    • Orgasm:
    • Resolution:
  • Orgasm in the brain
  • Studies on orgasm
  • The similarities of male and female orgasm
  • The differences in male and female orgasms
  • What intensifies the orgasm?
  • The different routes to achieving an orgasm
  • Benefits of having orgasms
    • Bibliography

A social neuroscientific approach

The approach used in this article is based on social neuroscience, which studies the relationship between neurological processes in the brain and social processes. This analysis not only emphasizes how the brain influences social interaction, but also how social interaction can influence the brain (Franzoi, 2007).

Our thoughts, emotions, feelings and behaviors influence us to act in different ways, but also the environment is shaping our way of perceiving and facing reality.

The importance of sex in our lives

Sex is the lever that moves the world, the axis around which all human acts revolve and are sustained, from those with the most resonant and international consequences to the most trivial and most local. Sex, among mortals, is the source of immense joys and also of great catastrophes (Dubois, 1999).

There are activities that catch people in a general way: eating, sleeping, drugs, music and sex. If we didn't have sex, we would be extinct on this planet. The importance of sex in our life is vital, although some people can live without it.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert conducted a curious experiment in 2010 with men and women. With a sample of 2,250 people, he placed an application to ask the study subjects at random times what they were doing at that time and how happy they felt. Being 0 the minimum and 100 the maximum well-being. Some activities and their scores are listed:

  • Work, 61,
  • Reading, watching TV and caring for children, 65,
  • Shopping, 68
  • Listen to music and talk, 74
  • Exercising, 77
  • Having sex with a partner, 92

The conclusion was obvious: sex is the activity that makes us happiest, at least temporarily (Estupinyà, 2013).

The physical effects of orgasm

Orgasm is one of the four stages of the human sexual response. The ways to reach orgasm are multiple, as you will see later: by stimulating the erogenous zones, by conditioning as happens with some paraphilias (looner porn and podophilia, they will be explained later), by training as in some mystical practices such as tantric sex, by oxygenation or electrical stimulation of the sacral nerve pathway (a dead person can experience an orgasm by stimulating this path, it is known as the Lazarus reflex) and even have a brain remapping ( touch the knee and reach an orgasm).

The experience is so fascinating that on August 8th the world day of the female orgasm is celebrated. According to international studies, with sexual maturity, orgasm is reached easier and faster (Diario Libre, 2016).

During an orgasm, not only areas of the brain are turned on and off, they are also oxygenated and produce chemicals capable of strongly influencing our behavior. The chemical messengers that are produced in specialized areas of the same, strongly influence social behavior. Hormones are influenced by neurons, but it is a reciprocal influence and they are also influenced by the environment that surrounds us as indicated by social neuroscience.

Using neuroimaging techniques, the brain can be studied in great detail, both in terms of brain structure and function, ”as Richard Haier, Neuroscientist, Mind Research Network, Univ. New Mexico (We can read minds , 2011). These techniques generate "maps" of the brains of living people by examining their electrical activity, structure, blood flow, and chemistry (Cunningham et al, 2003)..

Phases of arousal to reach orgasm

Since the days of the classic Masters & Johnson studies, the same conclusion has been reached. In women, a cannon shot, an explosion, the female orgasm is devastating, as described by Sophia Jeaneau (2014), in her film her orgasm.

The APA Dictionary (2010) defines an orgasm as the climax of sexual stimulation or activity, when the peak of pleasure is reached, characterized by the release of tension and rhythmic contractions of the perineal muscles, the anal sphincter and the pelvic reproductive organs. In men, orgasm is also accompanied by the emission of semen (ejaculation); in women, it is accompanied by contractions of the wall of the outer third of the vagina.

Orgasm is a part of four phases that manifest in both men and women and that differ only in aspects determined by the male or female anatomy:


  • Women The vaginal lips swell and vaginal lubrication appears.
  • Men: An erotic stimulus awakens the libido. There is vasocongestion and the corpora cavernosa fill with blood. This causes the erection of the penis. It takes about eight seconds to occur in young men, while in older men it is slower and more gradual. The skin of the scrotum and testicular bag thickens and the testicles increase in size.
  • Lasts from several minutes to several hours.


  • Women: The uterus rises, the vagina expands, and the labia change color. Women need at least 20 minutes of sexual stimulation to get into the mood for maximum pleasure.
  • Men: Arousal becomes constant and uniform. The glans turns purple, because vasocongestion increases. The testicles continue to rise and prepare for the next ejaculation, growing in size to one and a half times larger than usual. Cowper's glands secrete a few drops of seminal fluid to lubricate the tip of the penis. During this stage, 25% of men experience effects such as: the skin of different parts of the body covered with reddish spots; similar to a rash, loss of control over facial gestures, breathing accelerates to the point of panting at times.


  • Women: Contractions of the uterus and anus, and vaginal earthquake. The orgasm in a woman lasts from 6 to 10 seconds, although it can last 20 in some cases.
  • Men: It is marked by ejaculation in men. Orgasm in men is four to five seconds.


  • Women: The uterus descends and the vagina returns to normal. It can last only a few seconds.
  • Men: Lasts between 15 minutes and a day. The tissues of the genital organs are emptied of blood, so that half of the penis tension is lost (Jeaneau, 2014; APA, 2010; Silva, 2017; Diario Libre, 2016).

Described by women, an orgasm is a wave of pleasure, an intense sensation, it is the climax of pleasure, you feel heat and everything swells a little (the breasts, sex), there are many very pleasant sensations, you feel it for the whole Body. "I scream and I have the feeling that it is like a song." "It is the union with the other, it is when you feel that you are in communion with the other person".

Orgasm can come in different ways (clitoris, vagina, nipples, stimulating desire, emotions and fantasies, self-control of the vaginal walls, stimulation of the G-spot -at the beginning of the vaginal canal-, by stimulating the A-point - at the end of the vaginal canal, is the one that provides an anal orgasm-,) and all of them are interpreted by the brain as an orgasm.

Desire is essential for orgasm, it is neurological, when you desire someone ardently, the brain releases dopamine that increases pleasure (Jeaneau, 2014).

Orgasm in the brain

The brain has developed a fear response to keep us out of harm's way, but it is also endowed with a strong sexual drive to ensure the survival of the species. Helen Fisher mentions that: “Orgasm is one of the strongest experiences for humans, so searching the mind and discovering how the brain produces that state of ecstasy is exciting. You receive a torrent of dopamine, dopamine is the same chemical compound that is activated when you use cocaine and other stimulant drugs. It is an overwhelming experience of ecstasy and energy ”(The Human Brain, 2016).

Orgasm Studies

The experience of analyzing the orgasm in the male and female brains is not exclusive to a single researcher, and fortunately many brilliant minds have intervened in this titanic work to unravel its mysteries..

In the Netherlands, the neuroscientist Greg Berns, began to make his way a few years ago in the research on orgasm, he showed for the first time what happens in the brains of men and women, in a “PET” scan, blood flow brain at the time of achieving it. The brain has many kilometers of blood vessels (if we could form all the veins, arteries and capillaries of a person, it would turn the earth twice and a half times) and when the cells are working they need a large amount of blood charged with energy and rich in oxygen, when they are not working they need very little. And you can see which parts of the brain are active during ejaculation or orgasm.

The similarities of male and female orgasm

  • We have similarities and differences at the brain level when we reach an orgasm, the most important coincidence is that both generate dopamine in anticipation of orgasm and in its consummation. And, control is taken by the autonomic nervous system, activating the brain stem. In addition to being the oldest part of the human brain, it is the area that controls the release of dopamine in the brain (dopamine, is known as the pleasure hormone, regulates motivation and desire and makes us repeat behaviors).
  • Also at the end of orgasm, both oxytocin is released, the hormone of calm, love and healing..
  • Fear and anxiety decrease or disappear and the brain amygdala goes into rest mode.

The differences in male and female orgasms

However, the differences are fascinating:

  • Dr. Gert Holstege found that women's orgasms involve activity in the nucleus accumbens, anterior cingulate, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and preoptic area, while male orgasms involve the ventral tegmental area, thalamus, and visual cortex (Wheatley & Puts 2015). In both, different dopamine pathways are activated.
  • The experiment showed that in men blood flow decreased in areas related to anxiety, but other areas remained alert. In men there is a deactivation of the amygdala, of the areas that have to do with anxiety or fear.
  • The deactivation in women, was the most important finding, there was a great deactivation in the areas of the brain that have to do with anxiety, fear and vigilance. Apparently women abandon themselves, they can lose consciousness during orgasm.
  • Dopamine accompanied by euphoria before orgasm is a common trait in both. However, later in men, it simply disappears and in women it goes down, but it does not disappear (The Human Brain, 2016).
  • A recent study demonstrated sex differences in the pituitary (it is called the master gland, because it controls many of the functions of other glands) during orgasm, with female orgasm being associated only with increased activity in that region of the brain. Higher pituitary activation in women was interpreted by the authors to mean higher plasma concentrations of oxytocin (peace, relationship, and rest hormone), a hormone that is released from the pituitary and is found in much higher plasma concentrations in women than men after orgasm (Wheatley & Puts, 2015). If after orgasm the pituitary is more activated and the release of oxytocin in women, it could well be the cause of asking the partner to continue with kisses and caresses after reaching the climax.
  • Oxytocin is also known as the hormone of calm, love and healing. Dr. Kerstin Uvnäs Mober, is recognized worldwide as an authority on oxytocin and points out: Certain studies in humans have shown the spectacular increase in the rate of oxytocin in the blood of both sexes at the time of sexual contact, which peaks during orgasm. After intercourse we often feel relaxed, or even sleepy. Sometimes it is at that moment that we feel more intimate with our partner, and nothing matters more than being with the person we love (Uvnäs, 2009).

It is not surprising that in men and women areas of the brain are deactivated so that they do not feel anxiety or fear and we simply focus on orgasm. Evolutionary psychologists believe that this difference between men and women may have its origins in prehistory when we were hunter gatherers. Women could materially disconnect, but men had to be alert even after mating so as not to be eaten by some beast.

What intensifies the orgasm?

Going from a somewhat mechanical physiological reaction to a highly pleasant sensation in orgasm can be intensified through the following aspects:

  • Unlike the penis, the sole purpose of the clitoris is to provide pleasure. It does not interfere with the reproductive process.
  • Between 50 and 80% of women who reach orgasm do so by clitoral stimulation, with or without vaginal penetration.
  • Over time the clitoris gets bigger. At 35, it is four times as large as when the woman was 15. After 45, it is seven times as large as at birth. That is why older women reach orgasm faster.
  • The clitoris is not the only female orgasm zone in and around the vagina. The G-spot (inside the vagina) is directly connected to the clitoris and is also a source of orgasms.
  • It is the most sensitive female sexual organ, orgasm switch par excellence.
  • The outer part of the clitoris (glans, shaft and body) contains more than 8 thousand nerve endings that connect with a network of more than 15 thousand other nerve endings in the pelvic region. The penis has only 4 thousand nerve endings.
  • Clitoral orgasms are not inferior to vaginal ones, on the contrary, they have the same intensity and, strictly speaking, all orgasms occur because they connect with the clitoris through nerve endings.
  • In 1998, Australian Helen O'connell was able to obtain the complete anatomy of the clitoris thanks to magnetic resonance imaging studies done on volunteers. Before that date, only the external part of the clitoris was shown and the actual volume of the erectile tissue was unknown (Meraz, 2014).

The different routes to achieving an orgasm

Orgasm is a reflection of the autonomic nervous system, it is part of the nervous system that deals with things that we do not have conscious control over; like digestion, heart rate, sexual arousal. And the orgasm reflex can be triggered by a surprisingly wide range of stimuli (Roach M. (2009).

Experience an orgasm; It can be done alone, as a couple, accompanied by accessories or utensils, accompanied by more people or even animals or other objects for some of us unconventional, the paths are as personal as they are chosen, the possibilities are almost endless. And, they are even experienced by stimulating areas of the body that have nothing erogenous..

It is clear that orgasms are related to the reward system that generates dopamine. However, these neurons can respond when they are associated with a non-erotic stimulus and they also respond with an unexpected reward. In psychology this is known as a conditioned stimulus and is to associate a neutral stimulus as Ivan Pavlov did when ringing a bell and associate it with the presence of food from his dogs. If this activity continued to occur repeatedly, later the dog began to salivate with just the ringing of the bell and then it was spoken of a conditioned stimulus. The sound of the bell associated with the presence of food, made the dog salivate and then wait to be fed.

In simple words, the routes to reach an orgasm can be associated with any neutral stimulus (dogs, feet, armpits, hair, urine or excrement, etc.) associated with the production of dopamine and sexual contact, naturally produce a conditioning in behavior. If this is done repeatedly, when a neutral stimulus is presented and associated with sex in some modality, as we can see later, a paraphilia or a different way of obtaining dopamine associated with sex or an orgasm is presented..

And, they can result in a mixture of pleasure, pain, surprise, love, passion, eroticism, desire or just sex without love:

  • Through masturbation or autoeroticism (caressing, fantasizing, stimulating the clitoris)
  • With body control, some women can produce an orgasm by contracting the muscles of their vagina (Jeaneau, 2014).
  • With oral sex or cunnilingus
  • Through the experience of some paraphilia, such as looner porn, people who inflate balloons (conditioned stimulus), play with them, or simply take them to the maximum point of resistance until they burst and thus achieve an orgasm.
  • Experiencing a sexual bias (erotic attraction to some part other than the genitals, but with the same desire): podophilia or foot fetishism, maschalagni or attraction to the armpits, nasophilia or erotic desire for the nose, trichophilia or attraction to the hair and pygophilia or erotic desire for the buttocks, masochism or experiencing pleasure and pain (physical or psychological) at the same time, urophilia or yellow rain is experienced by putting the partner in contact with urine, coprophilia or meteor shower is The fetishism for putting the couple in contact with the excrement, eproctophilia, a variety of coprophilia, is the fetishism or taste for gases of the couple (Roble, 2017). Zoophilia or bestiality sexual arousal from contact with animals, somnophilia or attraction to caress and perform oral sex on a sleeping person until awakening, olfactophilia excitement due to the smell of perspiration especially from the genitals, narratophilia sexual excitement only when listening to erotic narratives, hirsutophilia attraction by hair dysmorphophilia sexual arousal by deformed people, choreophilia experiencing sexual arousal when dancing, agonophilia arousal from fighting with a partner, alorgasmic arousal from fantasizing during sex with another person other than the partner (Galamoth, 2012), and the list goes on.

The diversity of reaching orgasm has more surprising ways and every time it makes us know more.

Those who practice tantric sex can achieve an orgasm simply by concentrating and doing breathing exercises. Which requires preparation. Men even have what they call retrograde ejaculation and they can last much longer in sexual intercourse than the average human being has..

The psychologist and scientific communicator Mary Roach (2009) in her TED TALKS talk mentions other different routes to reach orgasm, which corresponds to a brain remapping but which activates the same pleasure routes at the brain level:

  • Mentions a woman who achieves orgasm when someone strokes her eyebrow.
  • Points to knee orgasms reported in specialized literature.
  • A woman who had orgasms every time she brushed her teeth, performing this sensory-motor action. If I had this condition, I would surely have very white teeth.
  • A surprising fact is that a dead person can experience an orgasm as a reflex action, it is known as the Lazarus reflex. The explanation is as follows: The main site of orgasm along the spinal cord is something we call the sacral nerve pathway. If you provoke it, if you stimulate it with an electrode at the precise point, an orgasm is caused.

Benefits of having orgasms

  • Almost completely disconnects the brain of women.
  • Partially switch off men's brains.
  • It can cure hiccups (Roach M. (2009).
  • It relax you.
  • Having orgasms and ejaculating according to the British sexologist Roy Levin, could promote fertility and needs to be renewed a week before it begins to develop abnormalities for fertilization.
  • Improves blood flow, relaxes and oxygenates the blood.
  • It generates endorphins (natural painkillers), and by improving blood flow and oxygenate our stream, it reduces headaches, menstrual pain, toothaches and many others..
  • It makes us happier by releasing dopamine and later allows us to analyze problems more objectively and calm emotions (it makes us more emotionally intelligent).
  • Generates a feeling of greater closeness with the partner by releasing oxytocin (the hormone of peace, love and healing).
  • By increasing dopamine levels, it reduces the stress hormone (cortisol) and improves serotonin levels, also fighting depression.
  • Due to the effort that is made, having it burns calories (from 127 to 500) and helps fight insomnia. It produces postcoital narcolepsy and you sleep like a little angel, and responsible for this effect are the large amounts of oxytocin that are released into the blood.
  • By improving blood microcirculation, it improves the condition of the skin and the functioning of our genitals. As well as, the oxygenation of the brain.
  • Generates close ties with the couple.
  • Improve our self-esteem.
  • Men who ejaculate more regularly have a lower incidence of prostate cancer.
  • A study carried out at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania observed that 30% of people who reach orgasm had an antibody that helps strengthen the immune system (Hermosilla, 2012).

Watermelon, garlic, blueberries, shellfish, dark chocolate, citrus fruits and nuts help to have more intense orgasms (Diario Libre, 2016).


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