The word “orgasm” comes from the Greek and literally means “bubbling with pleasure”. More than just a pleasant moment, orgasm is a real cure for pain, anxiety and gloom. When it occurs, the whole body is impacted by its effects. But what really happens before, during and after an orgasm? What do we know about the physiological and biochemical mechanisms behind this intense pleasure and the emotions associated with it?
The 5 phases of sexual intercourse
Orgasm is a complex physiological process involving the nervous system and the hormonal system. These systems induce voluntary actions (kissing, caresses, stimulation, etc.) and involuntary actions (contraction or relaxation of certain muscles, secretions, modification of sensory perception, etc.). But this moment of pleasure is preceded by several phases necessary for its implementation. In a book titled ” Human Sexual Response William Masters and Virginia Johnson divide sexual intercourse into five phases: desire, excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. To each of these phases are linked hormones or neurotransmitters, that is to say chemical messengers that will induce actions and associated emotions.
When Dopamine Takes Control
During the phases of desire, arousal and plateau, dopamine is the main messenger. This neurotransmitter has an essential role: it is associated with pleasure but also with the neural circuit of the reward. It is dopamine that gives us the desire, the motivation to initiate a relationship or a report, including if it requires making efforts to seduce, to make ourselves available, to take “risks”. Dopamine is also associated with self-confidence and reduced fear.
A lack of dopamine causes a significant drop in libido. Conversely, an excess of dopamine can lead to compulsive behaviors. During sex, dopamine is responsible for the excitement and pleasure felt during foreplay and before orgasm. Its rate increases gradually which results in an acceleration of the heart rate, a dilation of the pupils, the blood flow towards the sex, the increased sensitivity at the level of the skin, the erogenous zones and the genital organs.
Orgasm is linked to a succession of uncontrolled reflexes such as repetitive contractions of the uterus or prostate and pelvic muscles and, in men, to ejaculation. It is triggered by a sudden increase in dopamine. The intense pleasure and satisfaction felt is proportional to the dopamine peak.
Oxytocin, endorphins and prolactin: place for tenderness
But his level plummets as quickly as it skyrocketed to make way for three other messengers: oxytocin, endorphins and prolactin. Oxytocin is the hormone that causes contraction reflexes of pelvic and uterine smooth muscles as well as secretions (vaginal in women, ejaculation in men). But the action of oxytocin is not limited to these “mechanical” actions. This hormone is particularly powerful and creates this feeling of attachment and tenderness between the two partners. It is this hormone that transforms this moment of pleasure into a moment of sharing and strengthening emotional ties. It is also associated with the feeling of protection and the desire to protect one’s partner.
Endorphins are very powerful molecules that provide an intense feeling of well-being, pleasure and calm. They contribute to the reduction of heart rate and relaxation. These are the same endorphins that are released after an intense effort or a meditation session. Finally, prolactin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland. Its rate increases rapidly during orgasm. It also contributes to the feeling of well-being and pleasure felt.
Serotonin organizes well-being
During the resolution phase, the desire fades and gives way to many physiological and emotional reactions such as crying (happy), feelings of varying intensity such as fullness, joy or, conversely, regret or of failure. During this period appears in men the refractory phase during which it is impossible to have an erection. This phase is characterized by the predominance of serotonin, the neurotransmitter of well-being and happiness. The release of serotonin also induces a slowing down of the body sometimes causing sleepiness.
Whether from the desire phase to the resolution phase, the levels of these chemical messengers are extremely variable, which explains why from one person to another the emotions and the intensity of pleasure can vary enormously. But whether you feel like screaming, scratching, laughing, crying or feeling tender after an orgasm, now you know why! In a future article, I will explain how to increase the right neurotransmitter, at the right time.