The Science of Sex: Increasingly Focused on the Brain

The Science of Sex: Increasingly Focused on the Brain


Sexology, that is to say the science of sex, is concerned with the study of sexuality in its different dimensions. In fact, its lines of research are quite eclectic, and we can find from gender studies to psychosexual therapy, biotechnologies, erotology, among others. But definitely one of the most interesting research topics is the relationship between brain and sexuality, which thanks to new diagnostic tools yields more than surprising data.

So restless that he was able to travel to the United States in 2012 where he was received by the renowned researcher Barry Komisaruk, from Rutgers University. 

The challenge? Manually stimulate his genitals inside a functional magnetic resonance scanner that would measure the activity of his brain during the process of excitation and orgasm. The least erotic context possible for any type of sexual situation. 

Pere accepted the challenge, and also had several interviews with the celebrated neuroscientist – as well as with other experts – so he collected valuable information that closely relates what happens between our ears while we enjoy a sexual encounter.

The book deals with several topics, all very interesting, that reflect the complexity of sexuality and always giving a scientific response but written in popular language: the chemistry of sexual behavior, genital response, the G-spot, female ejaculation, sexual dysfunctions in men and women, sex in the animal kingdom, the pedagogical use of pornography, sexual orientations, hypersexuality, polyamor and group sex, to give just a few examples.

As for our readers to be encouraged to look for this book and other similar readings that feed their sexual culture and enrich their erotic life, we present some of the most relevant data from The Science of Sex. On this occasion, information related to women’s sexuality, and on another blog, we will summarize some findings related to men.

-The orgasms by stimulation of clitoris and vagina are not the same. Studies of brain images captured while women were stimulating the inside of the vagina compared to those manipulating their clitoris, showed the activation of different areas of the cerebral cortex in both cases. This is how neurology breaks with the belief that all orgasms are equal in response, and that what changes is only the stimulus.

-Anorgasmia could have a clear brain causality. The orbitofrontal cortex is an area of the brain related to body consciousness and self-control.  Some researchers found that in women with preorgasmia (who get excited as far as the plateau phase but fail to trigger orgasm) this area appears to be disconnected at that time and thus cannot reach climax. 

Is there a famous G-spot?  Within sexology, different positions are considered, based on different types of research.  However, the science of sex presents a review of 96 scientific articles published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine: surveys show that most women do believe that the G-spot exists, but objective measures have failed to provide strong and consistent evidence of the existence of an anatomical site that could be related to it.  In short, some women may identify a highly sensitive area in the anterior wall of the vagina, but science has not found conclusive anatomical reasons to support these subjective levels of pleasure. 

-The female multiorgasmia could have a genetic explanation.  Beyond the fact that we know different factors related to the possibility of reaching an orgasm more or less easily, including multiple orgasms, some studies found that in genetically identical women there was a similar pattern of orgasms compared to twin sister couples.  It is a hypothesis that will need further work to relate to other aspects such as education, personality traits (such as extroversion and introversion), sexual history, self-knowledge and characteristics of the relationship and effective sexual stimulation.

 -Women take the first step in courtship. Dr. Monica Moore’s studies show that in two thirds of the cases it is the women who initiate the heterosexual approach, and they do it through some kind of non-verbal language signal that the man decodes and promotes his approach to her.

-Hyperventilation would facilitate orgasms by activating the sympathetic nervous system. Hyperventilating is something like accelerating the respiratory rate, and some studies showed that in young women without sexual dysfunction this technique improved their genital sensations and the possibility of reaching an orgasm.

-Sex with orgasms could reduce headaches. Let it not be an excuse then, as it has been shown that the release of endorphins and oxytocin after orgasm generates an analgesic effect.

Variants of sexual activity and their importance in the sexual satisfaction of couples

In this space we talk many times about different sexual dysfunctions in men and women, including sexual desire disorders.  We also made reference – with the corresponding scientific support – to the fact that sexual difficulties are a source of anguish and discomfort in the daily life of many couples who suffer from them. Its prevalence is very high, and estimates range from 31% to 50% for men and 43% to 77% for women.

However, it turns out that many of these sexual difficulties are subclinical insofar as the intensity, persistence and duration of the symptoms are insufficient to meet the diagnostic criteria of a sexual disorder. 

However, we cannot fail to pay attention to them because, despite their lower intensity, these sexual problems can cause significant discomfort in couples and even lead to sexual dysfunctions. In fact, studies on these subclinical sexual difficulties suggest that they are negatively associated with sexual satisfaction, both in individuals who report the difficulty and in their partners.

In relation to this issue, we found a very interesting article in the 2018 Journal of Sexual Medicine entitled The mediating role of sexual behavior in event level associations between sexual difficulties and sexual satisfaction in newly married couples of mixed sex.

The study sought to fill theoretical gaps in the scientific literature by examining the event-level associations between sexual difficulties, variety of sexual behaviors, and sexual satisfaction in the daily diary reports provided by a sample of couples. The work focused on the experience of low subjective sexual arousal, low genital sexual arousal and genito-pelvic pain in newly married and mixed sex couples.

Previous studies show that both sexual difficulties and sexual satisfaction are associated with partner behaviour during sexual activity. In particular the frequency and duration of sex, the duration of foreplay, the duration of post-sex affective exchanges, and – of particular interest to this work – the range or variety of sexual behaviors, have been shown to correlate with the level of sexual satisfaction. 

Conversely, cross-sectional studies have linked sexual difficulties with less frequent sex and less sexual satisfaction. In addition, restrictions on the range of sexual behaviors have been reported for both men and women experiencing difficulties with sexual arousal and orgasm and for women with genito-pelvic pain. Therefore, a plausible hypothesis that the study attempts to test is that a couple’s sexual difficulties may lead to restrictions on their variety of behaviors during sexual activity, which in turn may result in decreased sexual satisfaction.

The first thirty-five couples who met the inclusion criteria participated in the study. Participants completed a standardized electronic journal for thirty-five consecutive days with smartphones. On days when participants had had sex, the diary included questions about their sexual satisfaction, about any sexual difficulties, and about their behavior during sex. Finally, participants were interviewed in a final face-to-face session once the journal period was completed.

The following are the main findings:

-Difficulties marked with subjective and physiological sexual arousal were significantly associated with lower levels of sexual satisfaction for both partners.

-Greater genito-pelvic pain was significantly associated with lower levels of sexual satisfaction for women but not in men.

-Men’s difficulties with subjective sexual arousal were significantly associated with lower levels of their partner’s sexual satisfaction. To the extent that low sexual arousal can be interpreted as a lack of physical or sexual attraction, it is possible that this psychological component is related to women’s discomfort.

-A wider range of sexual behaviors during the sexual activity of the partner was significantly associated with greater sexual satisfaction for both men and women. This goes hand in hand with what sexologists pose which is the concept that sexual creativity is a fundamental erotic resource, plus a good antidote to avoid boredom and monotony in eroticism by increasing levels of shared pleasure.

-The greatest difficulties with subjective sexual arousal were significantly associated with a narrower range of sexual behaviors for men and women. That is, the psychological distress caused by sexual arousal problems is related to routine, mechanical, and predictable erotic behaviors, which in turn perpetuate and perhaps aggravate the symptom.

-Sexual frequency was not significantly associated with the average level of sexual difficulty, suggesting that although the participants’ sexual problems affected their sexual satisfaction, they did not lead them to avoid sex altogether. Perhaps this has something to do with the particularity of the sample: newly married couples with greater enthusiasm and levels of tolerance for frustration.

In summary, the results suggest that in the population studied, subclinical sexual difficulties lead to lower sexual satisfaction. 

The results support the clinical relevance of sex and couple therapy interventions in these cases, in particular including therapeutic strategies targeting the types and variants of sexual activities that couples practice.


John Ewers