Ep. 102 – The Science of Sex & Pleasure

Before we begin, I want to mention that today’s topic is intended for an adult audience. So if you’re listening on a device where younger ear’s may be present, just keep that in mind. 

This episode is going to look at the science behind sex. While this conversation will be more science-y than salacious, I recognize the topic itself carries different levels of comfort for different people. 

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that personal comfort and curiosity are key ingredients to sexual pleasure. 

So in the spirit of the great 1980s musician and sexual muse, George Michael, let’s talk about sex, baby. 

 To begin, the science of sex and the physiology of pleasure encompass various fields, including biology, psychology, and sociology. The episode will explore components of the brain and body related to sexual activity with a partner as well as individual sexual pleasure. 

Both cases involve hormones. Sexual pleasure is a whole body (and brain) affair. During sexual activity with a partner, the key hormones involved include:

Oxytocin: Often referred to as the “love hormone” or “bonding hormone,” oxytocin is released during intimate moments, such as hugging, kissing, and, yes, sex. It promotes bonding and trust between partners.

Endorphins: These are the body’s natural pain relievers and mood lifters. Endorphins contribute feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

Dopamine: This neurotransmitter is associated with pleasure and reward. It plays a role in the brain’s pleasure and motivation systems.

Serotonin: Known as the “happiness hormone,” serotonin regulates mood and contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. It also can influence sexual desire.

Testosterone: While primarily known as a male hormone, testosterone is also present in females and plays a role in sexual desire and arousal in both genders. It increases libido and enhances sexual responsiveness.

Prolactin: This hormone is released after orgasm and is associated with feelings of relaxation and sexual satisfaction. This satisfaction is also a signal to body, and it serves as a bit of a pause button for sexual arousal after an orgasm. 

One note here is that researchers have found that prolactin levels can be up to 400 percent higher after partner sexual activity than self-activity – meaning the sensation of satisfaction has a higher and longer effect. However, that is just for the prolactin hormone – most of the other hormones are at equal levels during solo sexual activity. 

Another important distinction is that an orgasm isn’t required for there to be sexual satisfaction. Based on the numerous components of our brains and bodies, it’s possible to benefit from sexual activity without achieving an orgasm. 

While an orgasm is the result of a physiological responses in the body and marks the physical peak of sexual arousal, there are many additional ways to experience sexual pleasure mentally and physically.  

One component pleasure is being sexually curious, and your own curiosity can be influenced by various factors. 

One is Genetics: Research suggests that genetic factors can influence individual differences in sexual curiosity and behavior. Twin studies have shown that genetic factors contribute to variations in sexual orientation, preferences, and curiosity levels.

Another is Early Developmental Experiences: Childhood experiences and early exposure to sexual information can shape sexual curiosity later in life. Studies have shown that early environmental factors, such as parental attitudes toward sex and sexual education, can influence an individual’s sexual curiosity and behavior.

Social norms, cultural values, and societal attitudes toward sex can also play a significant role in shaping sexual curiosity. Cultural factors such as religious beliefs, media representations of sexuality, and peer influences can all impact an individual’s sexual curiosity and exploration.

 Finally, the brain’s ability to reorganize itself in response to experience and learning (neuroplasticity) also plays a role in sexual curiosity. Exposure to new sexual stimuli or experiences can lead to changes in neural circuits associated with sexual desire and curiosity over time.

 Let’s stay with neuroplasticity for a moment. While recognizing genetic, cultural, and social influences, the brain can be opened to new ideas and experiences through neuroplasticity. 

One example is by tapping into our five senses to explore where our comfort and curiosity can intersect with sexual desire. There has been a heavy emphasis on sight due to the broad availability of visual and video pornography. However, an evolving platform is audio pornography, also known as erotic audio or audio erotica.

This refers to sexually explicit audio recordings or narratives which feature various sexual scenarios. Two popular apps are Dipsea and Quinn, which launched in 2018 and 2019, respectively. But it was the pandemic that drove a surge in downloads of audio-based entertainment. And interest and usage remain steady – with apps seeing millions of downloads each month particularly among the 18–30-year-old demographics. 

More options like this mean more room for curiosity. And that ultimately extends what’s available on the pleasure menu. 

From science to psychology to curiosity, sexual pleasure is a multi-layered experience with many individual elements. Wherever curiosity takes you, comfort and consent should always be available. And so should the option to change – or expand – your mind. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.