29 August, 2009

Orgasm’s Hidden Cycle

Orgasm feels great, and if climax were the end of the story, partners would project the good feelings generated in the bedroom onto one another—and effortlessly dote on each other forever. Few do.

One challenge is that orgasm—especially that "I'm definitely done!" feeling after sex—isn't an isolated event. It's the beginning of a much longer cycle, which often includes subconscious neurochemical signals of discontent that tarnish lovers' perceptions of each other. Consider this verse from the ancient Greek Anthology, which long ago captured the essence of the Coolidge Effect:

Once plighted, no men would go whoring,
They'd stay with the one they adore,
If women were half as alluring
After the act as before!

If you are familiar with the work of Masters & Johnson, you probably think of the "cycle of orgasm" as a brief series of observable genital events: arousal, plateau, climax and refractory period. The experience of orgasm, however, is produced in a primitive part of the brain. Without these neurochemical fireworks, the Big "O" wouldn't feel like an orgasm regardless of what happens in your genitals.

But assuming you're not trying to patent the next billion-dollar sexual enhancement drug, why do you care about the neurochemical aspects of orgasm? Here are two reasons:

1. Neurochemical events can have powerful effects on your behavior, mood and perceptions without your awareness. You probably don't think of sexual arousal as correlating with rising dopamine, or orgasm as equating with surges of endorphins, adrenaline and so forth. Chances are you also don't think of your feelings over the days after orgasm as being linked to a cascade of neurochemical events (fluctuating dopamine and prolactin levels, testosterone receptor declines, etc.). Read on >>

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