Skip To Content
  • Classic badge

This Is What An Orgasm Does To Your Brain

Basically, it has absolutely no chill.

Believe it or not, lots of people have had orgasms inside fMRI scanners. For science.

For the record, fMRI machines can look at what parts of your brain are lighting up. When people have orgasms in these scanners (for science!), researchers are able to see their brains light up like the freaking Fourth of July.

“What we see is a gradual increase in all the brain regions leading up to orgasm,” behavioral neuroscientist Barry Komisaruk, Ph.D., coauthor of The Orgasm Answer Guide, told BuzzFeed Life.

Komisaruk has been studying brain activity during sexual stimulation for 20 years now, and he admits there’s still a lot we don’t know about what’s going on up there. But based on all those lab-induced orgasms, we have a pretty good idea of what regions are lighting up and why they might make us act kind of crazy in bed (or car/hotel/bathroom/wherever you’re getting naked). So here's what we do know:

First, genital stimulation sends a signal to your limbic system that it’s go time.

NBC / Via

This is basically the emotional control center of the brain. This includes the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and fantasies, says Komisaruk. (Maybe that’s why thoughts of your ex or the hot salesperson you saw yesterday keep popping into your head.)

It also includes the amygdala, which is another emotional part of the brain involved in sexual functioning, fear, and aggression. This doesn’t necessarily translate into rough, angry sex — it just means that this highly emotional area is also activated when you're sexing.

Speaking of rough sex, some brain areas respond to both orgasm and pain.

Focus Features / Via

These regions are the anterior cingulate cortex and the insular cortex, and activity steadily increases in both during sex. When these light up in response to pleasure, it’s possible that they can can help inhibit pain sensations, Komisaruk explains. That might be why things like biting and hair pulling don’t hurt as much when you’re having sex. This also explains why facial expressions made in the heat of an orgasm are similar to the grimaces we make when we’re in pain, he says.

And about all those weird facial expressions and curling toes…


That’s because activity in your cerebellum is steadily increasing, which is responsible for increased muscle tension related to sexual stimulation.


Your brain officially has no chill. All the activation leading up to this point comes to a crescendo at orgasm, says Komisaruk. This is when the hypothalamus and nucleus accumbens, which basically produce the grand finale of brain responses, are activated. Your heart is racing, your pupils are dilated, you’re breathing heavily, and you’re getting a sex flush — this is all thanks to activation in the hypothalamus.

During orgasm, you release oxytocin.


This is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced by the hypothalamus. In many women, oxytocin can trigger strong uterine contractions that pulse along with their orgasms, says Komisaruk.

You may have heard it referred to as the “bonding hormone” or the “cuddle hormone,” but Komisaruk stresses that the research doesn't show that oxytocin produces emotional feelings. Instead, research only shows that oxytocin is an effect of orgasms.

Meanwhile, your brain is rewarding you with sweet, sweet dopamine. / Via

The nucleus accumbens — the reward center of the brain — gets a flood of dopamine, which activates it and rewards you for all the sex. This area is also activated by addictive things — like chocolate, cocaine, caffeine, or nicotine, says Komisaruk. When it’s activated during sexy times, it’s possible that it could make you want to have even more sex, since it’s associated with this rewarding response. So, yeah, sex is basically like a drug.

Post-orgasm, your mind is chill, calm, kind of stoned, and everything feels freaking wonderful. / Via

There’s a rapid cooling off across all areas of the brain after orgasm, says Komisaruk. In men, this coincides with the refractory period, which is when genital stimulation basically feels like nothing and the penis has zero interest in sex. Komisaruk and his colleagues are currently studying the neural basis for how this happens — because, aren’t you actually curious, too?

AND you can actually watch all this go down here:

View this video on YouTube

Thumbnail image credit: Universal Pictures / Via