While we’ve talked about various body parts and their roles in sexual response and pleasure, there is one major organ we’ve been saving for last: the brain. Sure sexual organs are important when we talk about sexual satisfaction, but the brain plays the biggest role.
It is a true statement to say that people are born sexual beings. However, it is during puberty that our sexual capacities expand. During puberty, the hypothalamus (a small section of the brain) starts production of gonadotropins. Gonadotropins are hormones that act on the testes and ovaries to kick start the production of estrogen and testosterone. In men specifically, this increase in testosterone acts on our bodies and brains, changing the chemistry and physical characteristics of our bodies. We all know the classic signs of puberty in males: broadened shoulders, deeper voice, pubic and body hair, and a significant growth in the size of the penis and testes. Yet, with this increased level of testosterone, the brain also changes. The major changes in the brain include an increased libido (sex drive) and the frequency of erections. However, testosterone also affects things such as memory, concentration, and spatial tasks.
Aside from testosterone, the brain is also responsible for the release of neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin – these are neurotransmitters that are rampant during sexual activity. (Click here for more information about the role these neurotransmitters play.)
For men, an erection is often the first sign of sexual arousal and excitement. However, sexual attraction and arousal start in the brain. In order to have an erection, we must first understand and explore desire and arousal. If you click the above link, you can read more about attraction and the different phases. Sexual activity starts with the desire to want to engage in sexual activity, whether that be alone or with a partner – the bottom line is that we have to want to want to have sex; and that starts the brain.
Sexual attractions and arousal are complex; they are complex because we as humans are complex. Pleasure, both mental and physical, is influenced by our thoughts and physiology – the mind/body connection; and we are all built differently. What we find attractive and what gives us pleasure differ from person to person, but is largely driven by psychological forces. Our sexual motivations are the mechanisms for sexual expression. That is, what we (and our brains) find attractive leads to sexual arousal and pleasure. Which can explain why some people more easily get off to oral sex while others derive sexual pleasure from other areas, say for instance, armpits. Armpits, and other erogenous zones, do not contain a higher concentration of nerve endings like the penis, but being psychologically turned on by certain characteristics of them allow people to find pleasure from them.
Psychological attraction is not necessarily inherent. There may be some link between attractions and genetics, but we are also greatly influenced by external forces. Such external forces include past relationships, media images, and experiences others have had; this also holds true for our turn-offs. Further, these attributes to which we are attracted are both psychological and physical. We are not just attracted to the guy with killer eyes and a great smile, we are also attracted to his sense of humor or his intellect. Or, while he has great physical features, perhaps your personalities just don’t jive well, or you find different things humorous. There are many factors that dictate what we find psychologically arousing – which is the first step to physical arousal. This can also help explain certain types of “bedroom problems” such as erectile disorders.
Because most of our arousal comes from things to which we are attracted, if the psychological attraction is not present, maintaining an erection can be difficult. Along with that, if we are not psychologically aroused, or the desire is not there, obtaining an erection can also be very difficult. (Keep in mind, this is a very simplistic explanation for erectile dysfunction (ED) and does not fully encompass the complexities or treatments for ED.) Even when everything is there, we are attracted to the person, we want to have sex, the erection is present, things can go south. This “stage fright” of sexual activity is common and largely has a psychological component to it. Engaging in sexual behaviors with a new partner or when there is undue pressure can cause a person to be unresponsive to physical stimulation even though the psychological arousal is present. If you find yourself in a less than full salute position, remember a few things: not every erection you obtain will be the strongest, hardest, most perfect erection, and if you are nervous or concerned or feel uncomfortable about what’s happening, talk about it! Open communication, comfort level, and trust are great for erections and psychological arousal.
Again, while our sexual organs are the stars of play we can and should consider the brain as the director, the orchestra, and the crew; without them we don’t have much of a show. In order for everything to run smoothly and for everyone to get the most pleasure, communication from person to person and brain to body needs to be open. Know what turns you on and what turns you off, then find someone who fits and hope they have the same turn-ons and offs. If you do experience persistent ED, make an appointment with a health care provider, therapist, or someone who can help solve the issue. While medication like Viagra can be helpful, it tends to be a temporary solution for a more permanent and serious issue.
If you have any questions regarding sex, sexuality, or sexual health, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!