Dr. Debra Laino

Sex Therapy and Life Coaching in Delaware

Archive for the tag “ventral tegmental area”

Neuroscience and Sex

 The Psychology of Sex


We often think of sex in our genital area.  Though this is most often where we feel the strongest sensations the truth of the matter is sex is neurochemically based.  While it is a cliché sex does happen in our brains.  I tell my students and my client’s sex is in the brain because from research in neuroscience the brain controls everything.  Fairly recent research in neuroscience has led brain researchers to see exactly what happens in both males and females brains during sex, especially orgasm.

The interesting thing is that the “subjective” experience of orgasm is quite similar in males and females.  Even though there are some anatomical differences is sexual anatomy males and females feel sexual pleasure in the same way.  It is through brain imaging technology such as pet scans that have allowed sex researchers to see exactly what happens during sex.  From a brain research perspective the following are some pretty fascinating points about sex and the brain in both males and females

The Male Brain

In males what’s been discovered was the part of the brain with the greatest activation during orgasm was a structure called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which, interestingly, is responsible for the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical that is nicknamed the pleasure chemical.  Dopamine is released in high amounts whenever someone (either male or female) does something they perceive as pleasurable.

The Female Brain

In females something even more interesting has been found. Female brains go what might be called silent during orgasm. Specifically, the left lateral orbitofrontal cortex and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, areas seem to deactivate.  Surprisingly these areas are involved in things like self-control and social judgment.

The Male and Female Brain

On a similar note at the moment of orgasm males and females have almost no emotional feelings.  This means that orgasm is felt in a very similar way in both males and females.


While it is true that many females are more emotionally centered this research changes the game just a bit.  Though it is true that females like to be emotionally connected before sex and after sex during sex they let go.  This now begs to answer the age-old question of whether or not women are in fact more emotional than men when it comes to sex.

Thinking and Sex

Another interesting difference is that women have been able to think themselves into orgasm where men have a much more difficult time if they can do it at all (there are always exceptions to the rule).  When women imagine their clitoris being stimulated it activates the sensory cortex as if they were actually being physically stimulated which can produce and orgasm.


Oxytocin is a hormone that is released by both males and females during orgasm.  Oxytocin is responsible for feelings of attachment and makes couples feel closer after they have had sex. This begs to answer another age-old question of whether or not males can actually separate sex and love since neurochemically it would not suggest so.


It is believed that while both sexes have vasopressin and oxytocin that males secrete more vasopressin and females secrete more oxytocin.  Vasopressin is also said to be responsible for monogamous behavior in males but also interestingly is stated to be at the core reason of why males fall asleep after sex more often than females.


Levels of dopamine deplete after orgasm in both males and females.  However, in a male levels fall drastically after orgasm and female levels are more delayed.  This is one of the reasons that it appears that men lose interest in cuddling or (after play) post orgasm.

The Loss of Interest

Because dopamine levels fall off drastically this is researched to be one of the reasons why men and women can lose interest in one another sexually.  Essentially there is a less amount of a dopamine surge so he or she is perceived as less “rewarding”.


Responsible for sex drive in both males and females.  As testosterone levels rise oxytocin and vasopressin levels decline.  Men with higher testosterone levels are said to be less monogamous and perhaps abusive in their relationships.  On the reverse side of this as testosterone declines oxytocin and vasopressin can increase which is why passionate love felt in the beginning of a relationship can turn into attachment.

It is true that these are all part of the sexual experience for both males and females.  However, it would be naïve to think this was all.  There are many neurochemicals involved in sex and sexuality.  Realistically speaking because of the lack of research in the area of brain chemistry and sex we haven’t even broken through the surface of how in-depth the brain is during sex.  What we do know is that the brain and sex is complicated as both males and females have interplay between biology, psychology, and society.

Aaaahhh, there is so much more but with just this information how fascinated are you?




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