The truth about orgasms


Why are so many marriages and relationships failing? Why do friendships that turn into love affairs so often turn sour? Could it have something to do with our biology, the way we're wired, our chemical reactions to sexual stimulation? After a brief honeymoon period, the force that brings lovers together can also push them apart. The culprit is an ancient program in the mammalian part of the brain-Cupid's poisoned arrow. Lovers can start to look to each other like that fifth slice of pizza. They may even wonder if they have fallen out of love. By making love often, but smarter, mates can counter depression, anxiety, sexual frustration and disharmony--and tap into another ancient subconscious language that strengthens emotional bonds effortlessly. The key to employing this other approach in the bedroom is to learn more about how orgasm affects the brain. Let's revisit some of the most popular mainstream beliefs.

Common Belief #1: The more intense the orgasmic sex, the better for a relationship.

Truth: The very passion that drives us together can also drive us apart. Sexual satiation (that "I'm done!" feeling after sex) is a subconscious signal to the primitive part of the brain. It compels mammals to find an existing mate less appealing, while novel potential mates register as especially attractive. Mammals that are so-called "monogamous," may experience a brief honeymoon before they tire of their beloved. Scientists know this phenomenon of tiring of a mate after sexual satiation as "the Coolidge Effect." It has been seen in all mammals tested, even in females.

Common Belief #2: Frequent orgasm is the best way to stay in love with each other.

Truth: At the beginning of a new relationship, lovers are flooded with "honeymoon neurochemistry." It pumps them up with adrenaline, lowers serotonin (which can make them obsessed with each other), and alters testosterone levels (bringing libidos more into sync). It is this drug-like "high" that temporarily hooks lovers to each other and masks the highs and lows of the passion cycle. It is not their orgasms. Because orgasm sets off subtle uneasiness during the days and weeks following, it can actually push lovers apart, once their honeymoon neurochemistry fades.

Research is revealing that what really bonds lovers is relaxed, affectionate, daily contact, such as skin-to-skin contact, kissing, comforting stroking, generous acts, and so forth. These cues soothe the amygdala in the primitive brain, and make us want to stay bonded with those we associate with this comforting intimacy. Mastering a new subconscious language based on bonding behaviors is the lazy way to stay in love.

Common Belief #3: The orgasm cycle ends after the refractory period.

Truth: Orgasm is actually the beginning of a far longer cycle of neurochemical changes in a primitive part of the brain. The initial high is an intense rush of neurochemicals. A Dutch researcher once commented that brain scans of people climaxing resemble brain scans of people shooting heroin. What goes up must come down.

In fact, it takes up to 15 days for the brain to return to equilibrium. During this time lovers may experience uncharacteristic mood swings as their neurochemistry fluctuates. These shifts are subtle, so most lovers never connect them with climax. However, they can increase irritability, dissatisfaction, sexual frustration apathy, cravings for junk food, and so forth. They can make our partners appear less attractive (to us). When the unwelcome effects of this full "passion cycle" are taken into account, it's not clear that orgasm contributes to overall well-being.

Common Belief #4: Orgasm is the only path to sexual satisfaction.

Truth: The ancient Chinese Taoists distinguished between intercourse and orgasm. They recorded that affectionate intercourse is beneficial, and recent research is confirming that warm touch (including intercourse) and close, trusted companionship soothe our nervous system, support good health and increase longevity.

Throughout the ages, various traditions across the globe have taught that it is possible to make love gently and frequently with lots of periods of relaxation (instead of orgasm). Lovers report that they not only feel satisfied, energized and more loving, but, paradoxically, also less sexually frustrated. By making love often, but smarter, mates can counter depression, anxiety, sexual frustration and disharmony.

Common Belief #5: Frequent orgasm is good for you.

Truth: Have you seen those popular articles about how good for you sex is? Frequent sex is good for you, but the most powerful benefits are coming from affectionate touch and close, trusted companionship rather than from orgasm itself. Indeed, frequent orgasm has been shown to decrease sperm count for up to five months. Orgasm can also increase sexual frustration, because libido often rebounds with even greater intensity during days after sexual satiation. (The brain is seeking relief from uncomfortable feelings). Frequent orgasm can also breed disharmony. It has been shown to make women perceive men as less attractive and less friendly, and is associated with higher rates of depression.

Incidentally, the medical profession does not consider orgasm frequency to be a risk factor for prostate disease. A few years ago, some research showed that men who remembered climaxing a lot in their twenties had slightly lower rates of prostate cancer. However, more recent research concluded the opposite; men who were more sexually active during these years had slightly higher rates of prostate cancer. Neither study found any correlation between rates of cancer and frequency of orgasm at other ages. In short, the research is inconclusive.

About Marnia Robinson:
Marnia Robinson is a former corporate attorney with degrees from Brown and Yale who writes books about the unwelcome effects of evolutionary biology on intimate relationships and the striking parallels between recent scientific discoveries and traditional sacred-sex texts. Her cross-disciplinary perspective incorporates the insights of psychologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists, evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and even ancient sages. Her new book is Cupid's Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships. Most recently her work was featured in the award-winning anthology Toward 2012: Perspectives on the Next Age. Cupid is also slated for publication in German.

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