The Molecule of More

(Jacob Rumans) #1

This transition was caught on camera when men and women in
the Netherlands were placed in brain scanners and then stimulated
to orgasm. The scans showed that sexual climax was associated with
decreased activation throughout the prefrontal cortex, a dopaminer-
gic part of the brain responsible for placing deliberate restrictions on
behavior. The relaxation of control allowed the activation of H&N cir-
cuits necessary for sexual climax. It didn’t matter whether the person
being tested was a man or a woman. With few exceptions the brain’s
response to orgasm was the same: dopamine off, H&N on.
That’s how it’s supposed to be. But just as some people have dif-
ficulty moving from passionate love  to  companionate love, it  can  be 
also  be  difficult for  dopamine-driven people to  let  the  H&Ns take  over 
during sex.  That is,  highly driven women and  men sometimes find  it  a 
significant challenge to  turn off  their thoughts and  just  experience the 
sensations of intimacy—to think less and feel more.
While H&N neurotransmitters let us experience reality—and reality
during sex  is  intense—dopamine floats above reality. It is  always able  to
conjure up something better. To add to its seduction, it puts us in control
of that alternate reality. That these imagined worlds may be impossible
doesn’t matter. Dopamine can always send us chasing phantoms.
Sexual encounters, especially those within ongoing relationships,
fall prey to these dopamine phantoms all the time. A survey of 141
women found that 65 percent of them daydreamed during intercourse
about being with another person or even doing something completely
different. Other studies have put  the  figure as  high as  92  percent. Men 
daydream during sex about as much as women, and the more sex both
men and women have, the more likely they are to daydream.
It is ironic that brain circuits that give us the energy and motivation
we need to get ourselves into bed with a desirable partner subsequently
get in the way of our enjoying the fun. Part of it may involve the inten-
sity  of the  experience. Sex  for  the  first  time is  more intense than sex 
for the hundredth time—especially sex for the hundredth time with
the same partner. But the climax of the experience, orgasm, is almost
always intense enough to move even the most detached dreamer into
the immediate world of H&N.

Free download pdf