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10 Interesting Facts About Your Brain on Sex

It might not look like the sexiest body part, but it really is.

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It’s hard to believe anyone can have sex during a migraine, but for that 17.5% it sounds like the traditional “Go to bed,” advice worked out pretty nicely (even if "and get some rest" wasn't part of it). 

4. Considering all the kinds of headaches it causes rather than cures, why do we even have sex in the first place? 

Dr. Joseph Shrand is an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. (He also happens to be  Joe from the TV show Zoom! -- if you’re a '70s kid that brought on some of the feel-good chemistry we’re going to talk about in a minute.) Shrand has a wonderfully concise way of explaining why we let ourselves in for the sturm und drang of sex. When we describe love and sexual passion “we use the word 'intoxicating' and that’s a very important word,” Shrand said in a phone interview. “There is  dopamine involved in that sort of lustful attraction,” a neurotransmitter associated with excitement, reward, desire, pleasure and in some case  addiction

“When we are falling in love with someone all we can think about is that person…it’s a remarkable, remarkable feeling and it’s a pleasure. There’s huge biological significance to that. If we didn’t feel pleasure when we have sex we wouldn’t have babies. I mean, can you imagine is sex was really uncomfortable and horrible and not reinforcing? Why would you do it?”

Search me.

“The orgasm is pleasurable as a way of saying 'We want to do this again!' You want to do this as often as you can and if you don’t have somebody to do it with you’ll figure out how to do it anyway,” all of which he says is adaptive because it’s how we get our genes into the next generation.

The trick, Shrand says, is getting your  limbic system, an ancient part of your brain which is the seat of those primal drives and emotions, to work with your “new brain,” the more evolved neocortex that helps you consider causes and consequences. “You have to be able to shift gears in your prefrontal cortex and make a plan,” a plan to get that person, to keep that person, to understand the consequences of what you’re doing, which isn’t easy when your brain is “overwhelmed by dopamine and lust,” he says. “It’s amazing we have relationships at all.” 

But dopamine alone won’t bind you to someone. That’s the province of oxytocin, which has been called “ the cuddle hormone." Oxytocin creates a feeling of warmth, security,  bonding and trust. “It’s a much deeper, more powerful and more modern part of love,” Shrand says, “because oxytocin is a much more complicated chemical which implies it’s really relatively more recent than [a simple one like] dopamine.” So when you find yourself in the grip of lust versus logic, that may well be the primal brain and brain chemistry arguing with the more modern parts. It’s real and we all go through it. Hopefully that raised your oxytocin enough to feel a little better about the whole crazy mess. 

5. The downside to bonding: getting stuck.

If our brains are so smart why do they let us attach to people who might not be so great for us?  Catherine Salmon, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Redlands, says the answer might have something to do with oxytocin, that very same chemical that creates those feelings of warmth and security. It sounds great, right? So how could something so good make us stick with people who aren’t? 

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