The Brain and Sex

Sex is an important, healthy appetite for humans.  Modern neuroscience research has uncovered startling new information about how sex affects our brains.  The effect of sex on our brains can have all sorts of consequences, including many that scientists are still working to understand.  But we do know that sex can literally change a person’s brain, influencing the thought process and affecting future decisions.  When sex is experienced in unhealthy ways, at the wrong time, it can damage vital aspects of who we are as human beings.

What we know from science is that and the brain is the largest and most important sex organ.  Chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin, help guide human behavior. 

  • Dopamine makes a person feel good after an exciting experience. It has a great influence over human behavior since it also gives us the desire or need to repeat the behavior that caused us such a good sensation.  Sex is one of the strongest generators of dopamine reward.  However, dopamine cannot distinguish between beneficial and harmful sexual behavior.
  • Oxytocin is critically important to bonding and trust, especially in women. Oxytocin, much like dopamine, occurs during an intimate physical relationship and cannot distinguish between right and wrong.  Oxytocin is released regardless of who the sexual partner is which can cause a woman to bond and trust a man even after a one-night stand.  That bond/trust explains why it can be so painful emotionally when sexually active people break-up.  It also helps explain why some women are unable or unwilling to get out of a bad or abusive relationship.
  • Vasopressin initiates the bonding in the brain in males. Like oxytocin, it occurs during an intimate physical relationship and cannot distinguish between right and wrong. 
  • We cannot separate the brain from the body. What are body does has a dramatic impact on our brain, and what we think in our brain (affected by the chemicals in our brain) will have a dramatic impact on our body and how we use it.

Adolescents: The adolescent body may be capable of having sex, but the adolescent mind may not be prepared to think through and handle all the consequences.  In contrast to pregnancy and STIs, the emotional and psychological impact cannot be guarded against with condoms and other forms of contraception.  A 2017 survey of high school adolescents illustrates that both boys and girls who have had sex are more likely to be depressed than their friends who have not had sex.  That survey also showed that students who had not had sexual activity consistently had a lower percentage of suicidal thoughts than their more sexually active classmates.

Pornography certainly adversely affects the brain in both adolescents and older people.

  • Studies have found that frequency of pornography consumption correlates with an increase in depression, anxiety, stress, and social problems.
  • Even moderate pornography consumption is correlated with shrunken grey matter in parts of the brain that oversee cognitive function.
  • Viewing porn leaves such an imprint on young (and older) minds that it can become addicting.
  • Pornography often shows vulgarity, physical aggression, and even rape and incest. Watching such “extreme” pornography may cause some men to learn from porn and treat women more aggressively and believe that they are entitled to sex from all women.

Please see our Research Topic covering Pornography.

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