What is 'sex brain'?

  • 'Sex brain' is the lack of rationality humans experience during sexual activity
  • But how does sex really affect our brains?
  • Blood flow is increased in certain regions of the brain while 'happy hormones' are released throughout the body

Humans are great multitaskers, but that skill goes right out the window when we're in the throes of passion.

As neurons fire off during sex, the brain zeroes in on only one objective: reaching climax, while the rest of our functions take a back seat. 

This is popularly called "sex brain", but is it a real thing?

READ | Less sleep leads to less sex in postmenopausal women 

What science says

There have been countless studies on what happens in the brain during and after sex – and most of them have found similar results.

Our brains are a mass of neural networks, many of which are designed to react to external stimuli. In the case of sexual arousal, more activity starts taking place in the parts of the brain that control emotion, pain and the release of hormones.

According to scientists, it also affects behavioural functions outside our neural network, including motor coordination, mood, cognitive function and blood pressure regulation.

Voice of reason switched off temporarily

There's one important part of your brain that loses some functionality during sex: the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. This section of the brain is believed to control our reasoning and decision-making, which is why you might feel less inhibited during coitus, and more inclined to comply with your urges. 

But this doesn't mean you have no access at all to this part of your brain during sex. It's still there to help you prevent making mistakes – if you're prepared to listen.

Another reason we love the high of sex is that the brain releases oxytocin and dopamine, generally known as the love and happiness hormones. They spread throughout the whole brain, making us giddy and helping us bond with our partner, while also reducing stress and anxiety.

READ MORE | Contraception – now and then

Do men and women have different experiences?

One study hooked up men's brains to monitors while being sexually stimulated by their partners to study what parts of the brain light up.

The posterior insula and secondary somatosensory cortex had an increase in blood flow – where stimuli and pain are processed – while there was a decrease in activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain where our fears and anxiety live and stress hormones are released. 

Not only does this decrease vigilance, but inhibiting this part of our brain also prevents performance anxiety in the bedroom.

A study of the female orgasm found that while brain activity in women experiencing sexual arousal gradually increased until orgasm, then decreased, researchers didn't find deactivation of any brain regions at any stage up to and during orgasm.

The parts of the brain that experienced more activity include cortical, subcortical, and brainstem regions where sensory, motor and reward functions are processed.

What is important, though, is that "brain fog" during sex is no excuse for irrational actions, and doesn't absolve us from the consequences of our deeds. We need to be able to handle the hormonal impact of sex on our brains and control the effect it might have on our behaviour and decisions.

READ | More sex partners, higher cancer risk?

Image credit: Pixabay

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