Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Orgasm health benefits
What are the psychological and physical health benefits of orgasm and why?
Overview[edit | edit source]
Birds do it, bees do it ... and humans love to do it. Sexual reproduction is both a psychological and physiological need, and crucial for species survival (Reeve, 2015). As such, sexual behavior and experience are essential elements of emotion and motivation studies. Orgasm, the climax of sexual experience, not only feels pleasurable but has been demonstrated to have positive associations with psychological, behavioral and physiological outcomes (Therrien & Brotto, 2016). This chapter provides an overview of studies examining the potential health benefits of orgasm, with a focus on the effects of sexual behaviors have regarding our motivation and emotion, and relevant psychological theories.
Achieving Orgasm[edit | edit source]
Orgasm is a reflex of the autonomic nervous system (which deals with non-controlled functions such as digestion, heart rate, and sexual arousal; Georgiadis, 2015). Individuals transition through a sequence of physiological changes that occur in the build up and participation in sexual activities (Georgiadis, 2015). The orgasm reflex is traditionally triggered by penal stimulation in males (Janssen, 2011) and the clitoris in females (Wallen & Lloyd, 2010) in the process of sexual intercourse. However, there is a broad range of sexual behavior which achieves orgasm such as oral sex, masturbation, or other sexual activity (Janssen, 2011).
Hormones[edit | edit source]
In humans, sexual behavior is influenced by hormones produced in the endocrine system. They direct the development of sexual characteristics and help activate sexual behavior (Levin, 2015). Four main hormones, known as the sex hormones, have been identified in sexual activation; Estrogen, which is secreted in greater amounts by females than males, Testosterone, which is the predominate sex hormone in males, Progesterone, which is secreted by the ovaries and involved in menstruation and menopause, and [[wikipedia:Oxytocin|Oxycontin ]], commonly known as the "love hormone" which
plays an important role in the emotional response of sexual behavior (Ahmed, Penhale & Talal, 1985; Mangon & Kalra, 2011). Humans experience both short term and long term changes to their hormonal levels. For example in the short term, women will experience a spike in estrogen around their peak ovulation period, an example of a long term change is a major hormonal shift such as puberty (Ahmed, Penhale & Talal, 1985).
Psychological Theories[edit | edit source]
In the late 1950s Masters and Johnson (1986) first proposed the Human Sexual Response Cycle. Over 700 volunteers of both genders were invited to participate in sexual activity within a laboratory setting, with the aim of recording the body's physiological response to sexual interaction. They suggested a complete sexual response cycle involved four distinct stages:
Excitement - the excitement phase is triggered by physical or mental sexual stimulus, which can vary dramatically according to individual sexual preference (eg. Tickling, nipple stimulation, kissing, verbal stimulation etc.). In this phase the body prepares itself for sexual intercourse. In males, the penis becomes partially erect. In females, the vaginal walls begin the process of lubrication in anticipation of penetration. Blood pressure levels increase, as does breathing rate and heart rate.
Plateau - During the plateau phase, blood flow and circulation is increased in both genders. This stage is referred to as the orgasmic platform, where the genital muscles contract and tense in preparation for orgasm. The penis becomes fully erect and the walls of the vagina begin to contract.
Orgasm' - this phase is the climax of sexual interaction for both genders. The lower pelvic muscles contract rapidly, stimulating the anus and primary sex organs. Males experience ejaculation and females experience a tightening of the vaginal walls and rapid contraction of the clitoris. This phase is highly pleasurable as the body experience hormonal release and acute euphoric sensation.
Resolution - During the resolution phase the body enters a refractory period in which the muscles relax, blood pressure decreases and the body returns to a baseline measure. During this period men typically cannot achieve orgasm, however women may be able to, with research suggesting subsequent orgasms may be stronger.
While contributing enormously to our understanding of the orgasm as a physiological response, the biological perspective taken by the sexual response cycle has been insufficient for explaining orgasm as a sexual experience (Mah & Binik, 2001).
Bansson (2001) suggested an alternative model sexual response cycle in which sexual behavior can also facilitate mental processing of additional stimuli toward further arousal. Women particularly were highlighted as needing to first initiate low-key sensual stimuli before they can participate in more explicit sexual stimuli. This proposed model emphasizes that some or many sexual experiences begin from a nonsexual state of mind, suggesting the motivation underpinnings may not be primarily sexual (Levin, 2015). The focal point of the model was enhanced emotional intimacy, with the key difference relating the process of emotional feedback and regulation throughout sexual behavior. The alternative cycle illustrates the dualism of mind and body throughout the sexual experience. The extensive feedback to the mind (emotions, sense of physical arousal, sense of genital arousal, mental excitement, cognition) constitutes ongoing stimuli to be processed and thereby modulates the ongoing sexual response (Bansson, 2001).
Taken together, these models of sexual response illustrate that orgasm and is both a physiological and psychological process effecting behavioral and emotional outcomes in individuals.
Orgasm and Oxytocin[edit | edit source]
Peptide molecules modulate the intensity of neural responses altering the psychological and behavioral outcomes (Hiller, 2004). Oxytocin, is generated in the hypothalamus and circulated in the bloodstream through the pituitary gland (Hiller, 2004). Oxytocineplays an important role in elevating sadness and separation distress, facilitates joy, love, contentment, attraction and social bonding (Reeve, 2015). A seminal study by Carmichael et al. (1987) measured the release of plasma Oxytocin during self stimulation in an intensive physical analysis. Physiological responses were measured in real time using blood testing, electromyography, and anal photoplethysmography recordings while the participants engaged in the self stimulation to create a highly detailed account of muscle and chemical responses. The results showed that during rewarding sexual activity, Oxytocin levels build gradually until they peak at orgasm and for five minutes post orgasm. Research has investigated the relationship between the proliferation of Oxytocin in the blood stream during orgasm and psychological health outcomes.
Reduces anxiety[edit | edit source]
In mammals, Oxytocin has been shown to inhibit the secretion of glucocorticoids, which are associated with anxiety and stress (Hiller, 2004). Additionally, a study by Georgiadis et al. (2006) found that when women experience an orgasm, the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with fear and anxiety, shows little to no activity. The physical combination of an inhibition of the amygdala and a proliferation of Oxytocin produces a stress alleviating effect and releases bodily tension (Hiller, 2004). These effects have been artificially induced in animal studies. Leuner, Glasper & Gould (2010) tested the rate of anxiety behaviour adult male rats in relation to frequency of sexual activity. They found that the rats which had been exposed to and copulated with sexually receptive mates showed reduced anxiety-like behaviour in face of novel stimuli. These findings were echoed in a survey of over 2600 women between the ages of 23-90 years, in which 39 per cent of participants sighted the need for relaxation as a reason for masturbation (Ellison, 2000). The findings demonstrate that orgasm is associated with stress relief and anxiety reduction.
Increases attachment[edit | edit source]
Attachment formation has been demonstrated to be supported by sexual behaviour, namely through Oxytocin (Hiller, 2004). The simultaneous activation of neuropeptide and dopamine receptors in the reward centers of the brain during mating results in a conditioned partner preference, observed as a pair bond (Young & Wang, 2004). Only three to five per cent of mammals exhibit monogamous attachments. One group of species in particular, voles, has emerged as a valuable tool for investigating the neurobiological mechanisms of pair-bond formation (Young & Wang, 2004). The prairie vole and montane vole are two nearly genetically identical breeds with minor exceptions to their endocrine system (which regulate hormonal activity; Mangon & Kalra, 2011). While the prairie vole is monogamous, the montane vole has no interest in partnership beyond mating, this is primiralyattributed to the prairie vole having receptors in its brain associated with reward and reinforcement. The montane vole does not have these receptors and does not exhibit monogamous behaviour even when oxytocin has been artificially administered (Mangon & Kalra, 2011). The pair bond is an integral aspect of human sexuality with important implications for both psychological and physical health. The convergence of mechanisms underlying reward result in the motivation to maintain selective contact with one's partner (Young & Wang, 2004). This has protective emotional benefits for both males and females.
Orgasm and Menstrual cycle regulation[edit | edit source]
Orgasm has been demonstrated to improve circulation to structures in the pelvic cavity, delivering nutrients, assisting the growth of healthy tissues, and regulating the female menstrual cycle. A study by Culter, Gracia & Kreiger (1979) investigated if the menstrual cycle length was related to frequency of orgasm and if so what specific sexual behaviours are associated with different cycle lengths. They found that Women who have intercourse at least once a week are more likely to have normal menstrual cycles than women who abstained or who had infrequent sex. Interestingly, intercourse and genital stimulation were found to help with regularity, however masturbation couldn't be significantly associated with any type of pattern. The distinction between self induced and partner induced orgasm has not been explained. An inverse association showed that infrequent sexual activity was connected with extreme cycle length, which are characterized by a lack of ovulation. This suggests that orgasm through sexual intercourse may be associated with fertility (Culter, Gracia & Kreiger, 1979).
Treating the Common Cold[edit | edit source]
Leukocytes, or "killer cells", are the cells of the immune system that are involved in protecting the body against both infectious disease and foreign invaders. In a study investigating the effects of self-induced orgasm in a population of healthy young men, it was found that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the presence of Leukocytes in the blood stream. These findings demonstrate that components of the innate immune system are activated by sexual arousal and orgasm (Haake et al., 2004). This means that when men are sick, an orgasm could initiate an increased response of their immune system which could treat commonplace ailments such as the common cold.
Test Yourself[edit | edit source]
Conclusion[edit | edit source]
The human orgasm is a highly subjective experience and is influenced by a variety of demographic factors such as age and gender. As a reflex it interacts with both the central nervous system and the endocrine system, creating a strong bodily reaction. It is found to increase heart rate, respiratory rate and hormonal circulation in the bloodstream. These in turn have an array of physical and psychological benefits. The mechanisms of orgasm have been widely examined, research regarding the underlying processes and their causality regarding health outcomes is still needed.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Orgasm neurology (Book chapter, 2017)
- Orgasm (Wikipedia)
- Human Sexual Response Cycle (Wikipedia)
- Sexology (Wikipedia)
References[edit | edit source]
Basson, R. (2001). Human sex-response cycles. Journal of Sex &Marital Therapy, 27(1), 33-43.
Carmichael, M. S., Humbert, R., Dixen, J., Palmisano, G., Greenleaf, W., & Davidson, J. M. (1987). Plasma oxytocin increases in the human sexual response. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 64(1), 27-31.
Cutler, W. B., Garcia, C. R., & Krieger, A. M. (1979). Sexual behavior frequency and menstrual cycle length in mature premenopausal women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 4(4), 297-309.
Georgiadis, J. R. (2015). Functional neuroanatomy of human cortex cerebri in relation to wanting sex and having it. Clinical Anatomy, 28(3), 314-323.
Georgiadis, J. R., Kortekaas, R., Kuipers, R., Nieuwenburg, A., Pruim, J., Reinders, A. A. T., & Holstege, G. (2006). Regional cerebral blood flow changes associated with clitorally induced orgasm in healthy women. European Journal of Neuroscience, 24(11), 3305-3316.
Haake, P., Krueger, T. H., Goebel, M. U., Heberling, K. M., Hartmann, U., & Schedlowski, M. (2004). Effects of sexual arousal on lymphocyte subset circulation and cytokine production in man. Neuroimmunomodulation, 11(5), 293-298. Chicago
Hiller, J. (2004). Speculations on the links between feelings, emotions and sexual behaviour: Are vasopressin and oxytocin involved?. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 19(4), 393-412.
Janssen, E. (2011). Sexual arousal in men: A review and conceptual analysis. Hormones and behavior, 59(5), 708-716.
Leuner, B., Glasper, E. R., & Gould, E. (2010). Sexual experience promotes adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus despite an initial elevation in stress hormones. PLoS One, 5(7), e11597.
Magon, N., & Kalra, S. (2011). The orgasmic history of oxytocin: Love, lust, and labor. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 15(Suppl3), S156.
Mah, K., & Binik, Y. M. (2001). The nature of human orgasm: a critical review of major trends. Clinical Psychology Review, 21(6), 823-856.
Masters, W. H., & Masters, V. J. (1986). Human sexual response. Bantam Books.
Therrien, S., & Brotto, L. A. (2016). A critical examination of the relationship between vaginal orgasm consistency and measures of psychological and sexual functioning and sexual concordance in women with sexual dysfunction. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 25(2), 109-118.
Wallen, K., & Lloyd, E. A. (2011). Female sexual arousal: Genital anatomy and orgasm in intercourse. Hormones and behavior, 59(5), 780-792.
Young, L. J., & Wang, Z. (2004). The neurobiology of pair bonding. Nature neuroscience, 7(10), 1048-1054.