[Advantages of Intercourse over Other Sex]

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Sex missionary under fire

lovers

by Gillian Bowditch

Sex is good for you. It doesn’t sound like a controversial assertion, but work by Professor Stuart Brody, one of Britain’s leading "sexperts", on the physiological and psychological effects of sexual intercourse has sent the radical left into a lather and has led him to fear political correctness is in danger of stifling academic research in Britain.

Brody is the American-born professor of psychology at Paisley University. At the heart of his thesis is the claim that one kind of sex - penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI) or, in tabloid parlance, a good old-fashioned "bonk" - is better than any other. According to Brody, no other form of sexual activity conveys the same benefits. If he is correct, his work has profound implications for the way sex education is taught in Britain and how sex therapy is practised.

In a week in which gay rights were extended to prevent businesses discriminating against homosexuals and in an era that has seen the removal of social stigma from a wide range of sexual practices, the instruction to lie back and think of Scotland is not a fashionable message. But Brody, who could become Scotland’s answer to Dr Ruth - the suave New Yorker has been approached by a television company with a view to making a series about his work - believes his research has important health implications.

Brody’s findings show that sexual intercourse, but not other forms of sex, can be an effective stress-buster. To keep the nation in the peak of rude health, GPs, it seems, should be dispensing sexual advice along with the cholesterol-lowering statins to patients with high blood pressure.

"One of my particular research interests is to look at physical and psychological differences between different sexual behaviours," says Brody over coffee in Glasgow’s Merchant city. "Since the time of (Alfred) Kinsey it has been asserted, but never supported by evidence, that all sexual behaviour is equivalent. That has been more an assertion of ideology than fact.

"I have been measuring with hard variables, such as blood pressure and hormone levels, as well as softer variables, such as psychological reports, the differences between major categories of sexual behaviour."

In his most celebrated experiment, Brody asked 24 women and 22 men to keep sex diaries for a fortnight. The volunteers then took a stress test that involved public speaking and doing mental arithmetic out loud. Those who’d had intercourse but none of the other kinds of sex were least stressed and their blood pressure returned to normal faster than those in the other groups.

The abstainers had the highest blood-pressure response to stress. The effects were not attributable to other stress-related factors such as work, anxiety or the quality of the relationship and the findings were equally valid for men and women.

According to Brody, the health benefits of "bonking" can last up to a fortnight. "They certainly last beyond the immediate warm physical and emotional feeling," he says. And the more heterosexual intercourse, the greater the benefits. "There is no critical threshold, but the more days per month you do it - and that is the issue rather than number of times - the better it was. Zero was bad, 30 days out of 30 was great."

Because of the difficulties of getting ethical approval in Britain for his research, Brody often uses European subjects. In another study using German health workers, heterosexual volunteers were assigned one of three activities in the lab: watching videos; watching videos and masturbating; or watching videos and having sex with their partners. While this was going on their blood was measured for the hormone prolactin, which is associated with satisfaction.1 The results were bad news for Woody Allen, who described masturbation as "sex with someone I love".

"What I found in that study was that the post-orgasmic surge of prolactin was 400% greater in the intercourse group than in the masturbation orgasm group," says Brody. "That has some implications for mental health."

The findings, while highly controversial, are not unexpected, according to Brody, who also works on transmission of the Aids virus and has published more than 100 papers in a variety of journals. "I wasn’t surprised by my findings at all," he says. "There are many reasons why it should be so. Evolution is not politically correct. It strongly rewards any behaviour which has even a trivial association with an increasing likelihood of passing on genes."

Not surprisingly, his work has been condemned by radicals at both ends of the political spectrum. "The anti-scientific right not only denies evolution but would rather no sex research was done at all," he says. "That is less of a problem than the radical left, which wants sex research done, but only if the results are politically acceptable to them. It’s not the gay lobby per se that objects, but a subset of the radical left. I’ve met a lot of homosexual men who have a great interest in truth, but there will always be some people who put maintenance of their ideology above science. Ultimately it’s counterproductive. Truth is no enemy of compassion."

Sex and sexual preferences are far more subtle and emotional than even the most objective research experiment can accommodate. How can Brody be sure the positive results he has found are not due to some other factor, such as a happy marriage? "I’ve looked at that," he says. "The results were not confounded by whether subjects were in a relationship, their age or a number of other sociological predictors. As a scientist in the research study I can say love doesn’t matter. As a man, I know love matters a great deal. Some things are mechanistic, but in the softer studies I can look at the effects of emotion."

Brody, who is in a heterosexual relationship, finds it distasteful when the American religious right twists his work for its own purposes - "having sex the way God intended" - but he maintains that at the very least we should be teaching that different sexual behaviours are not equivalent and that PVI is the only sexual behaviour consistently associated with better psychological and physiological function. He believes that among the scientific establishment there is "a seemingly intentional avoidance" of looking at differences.

"I’m in favour of people being made aware of the relative benefits and then they live their lives as they choose," he says. "Sex education and sex therapy need to be rewritten. A lot of what they teach or practise is either false, or at least doing a disservice to the clients. We could do it much better. There are also practical applications for health care."

Brody believes GPs should ask their patients about their sexual behaviour as part of their general healthcare, but only if GPs are properly trained in sexual medicine.

"There are countries where this happens," says Brody. "In France, for example, sex is an important part of life. Its absence is noteworthy. It can be a sign of depression or one of the first signs of heart disease. When one looks at the magnitude of difference in terms of blood-pressure activity between the different sexual behaviour groups in my study, and knowing that blood-pressure activity relative to stress is a good predictor of the long-term development of hypertension as well as other cardiovascular diseases, it becomes something people need to consider."

Dispensing sex advice with the Solpadeine may be some way off. Brody acknowledges the Scottish reluctance to be open about sexual matters. "It’s not just reticence about sex, it’s reticence about any emotional expression other than rage and that’s a big problem," he says. He recently got ethics committee approval to do an anonymous online survey in Scotland, which may shed more light on Scottish attitudes to sex.

In the meantime he is concerned about the tacit censorship of academics whose work does not fit the politically correct ideology of the left. "I am unable to play the piano, but it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate Vladimir Horowitz," he says. "I don’t say that he doesn’t exist and I don’t try to break his fingers. We need to let the science speak for itself."

What the science appears to be saying is: "Yes, yes, oooooh yes!"

[Original story]

  • 1. More acturately, prolactin is associated with sexual satiation, and it may have little to do with the benefits from intercourse, which we believe come from intimacy itself, and are probably more closely tied to oxytocin than prolactin. Prolactin, in fact, may account for the cooling effect that partners notice over time. Intercourse more often leads to fertilization than other kinds of sex, and the big jolt of prolactin may simply signal that "the job is done." In any case, high prolactin has also been associated with some unpleasant symptoms, which are suspiciously like the things lovers complain of as their relationships cool. These include weight gain, mood swings, low libido and, in women, hostility.

Comments

Letter to Professor Brody

Dear Professor Brody,

I have been following your research with great interest, and I believe you are right that intercourse offers health benefits that people should know about...whether they like it or not.

However, I believe you should look more closely at your assumption that those benefits are due to prolactin. More accurately, prolactin is associated with sexual satiation, not "satisfaction," and it may have little to do with the benefits from intercourse, which my husband and I (after years of tracking research in this field) believe come from intimacy itself, and are probably more closely tied to oxytocin than prolactin.

Prolactin, in fact, may be a big player in the emotional cooling effect that partners notice over time. There is an inverse relationship between prolactin and dopamine, the neurochemical of desire, which, with oxytocin, helps to sustain pair bonds in monogamous rodents (and perhaps humans). When dopamine is low, attraction to a partner may easily suffer because a partner just doesn't look as good. Prolactin may be the foot on the brakes, just as dopamine is the foot on the accelerator.

Intercourse more often leads to fertilization than other kinds of sex, and the big jolt of prolactin that follows orgasm with intercourse may simply signal that "the job is done," as it is not when one merely masturbates. In any case, high prolactin has been associated with some unpleasant symptoms, which are suspiciously like the things lovers complain of as their relationships cool. These include weight gain, mood swings, low libido and, in women, hostility. (Abstracts available here: http://www.reuniting.info/science/research/sexual_hangover#prolactin)

The most fascinating implication of your research is still being overlooked...perhaps because it is so foreign to modern sexologists. The implication is that it is the intimacy of intercourse, or the exchange of some as-yet-undefined current - rather than orgasm itself - that benefits us. Even holding hands has produced similar benefits: http://www.reuniting.info/science/articles/supportive_relationship_good_.... This principle (that intercourse is beneficial due to the exchange between male and female, rather than orgasm) is consistent with Taoist thought (http://www.reuniting.info/wisdom/lao_tzu_tai_chi_of_sexual_transcendance and http://www.reuniting.info/wisdom/taoism_chinese_sexology_wile), and has been "rediscovered" since then by those who practice Karezza (http://www.reuniting.info/resources/free_online_text_karezza_male_contin...).

Often people get confused that orgasm is the source of benefit during sex because intercourse and orgasm are so often linked (and because a big rush of craving dopamine is followed by a bit hit of knock-out prolactin, and they mistake relief for fulfillment). Then they hear that oxytocin surges (in the blood) at orgasm (which it does...for about 5 minutes in both sexes), and think they are getting the benefits of oxytocin, or even "cementing their emotional bond" via orgasm, since oxytocin is the bonding hormone (when released in the limbic system). These assumptions may be misplaced. Researchers have suggested that the brief plasma surge of oxytocin at orgasm is linked to the contractions, or spasms, of orgasm (oxytocin is also associated with birth contractions and milk letdown contractions). In short, the surge of oxytocin at orgasm may contribute little to bonding.

Affection and intimacy, on the other hand, do help to sustain oxytocin levels. I suspect that this is the real gift of intercourse. Again, the orgasm may, in contrast, be what triggers emotional distance over time...as sexual satiation "hits" of post-passion prolactin continue to follow fertilization-driven sex and become associated with one's partner. (Orgasm is addictive, which forms an intense, but unreliable, bond, and which doesn't seem to last more than a year or two according to various other research.)

In short, we humans may be programmed to lose interest in mates...and orgasm itself, perhaps with its big hits of prolactin, may be a key culprit. Remember that fertilization-driven sex is what triggers a lack of subsequent interest in a particular mate in bulls and rams. Pheromones are now being shown to be active in humans as well. Perhaps pheromones and prolactin are both at work here. Whatever the mechanism, the fragility of intimate bonds suggests that biology wants us to move on to new mates, to increase the genetic variety of our offspring. This is not what is best for us as individuals, however. Research shows that we are better served by close, trusted companionship, than by an endless mating dance of brief thrills.

I confess that I view all of this related research through the eyes of someone who has seen the increased harmony and health benefits of Taoist/Karezza lovemaking. I am now curious as to the physiological reasons behind these benefits. I am very glad that researchers like yourself are conducting this research. However, I hope you won't let your pro-orgasm bias blind you to the other possible implications of your research.

Thanks for allowing me to share my views.

Best regards,
Marnia Robinson

Brody's reply

The substance of Brody's reply follows

Journalists often get their accounts wrong for various reasons, including bias.

Therefore, he attached the full paper of one of his many research articles.

Missed the boat

I think Prof Brody needs to conduct a little more research on the subject. He is on to something, but I think his findings could be more comprehensive. I think his research simply assumes sex of any kind will inevitably lead to orgasm.

Personally, I fail to see why the vast majority of people out there do not seem to grasp the concept - nor appreciate the rich and lasting benefits - of contolled, non-goal-directed, non-orgasmic Karezza sexual relations.

Thanks friends.

Brody and I are continuing our "duel," and I hope to post more of it over the coming days. He basically thinks I'm a weirdo (referring to sex without orgasm as a "paraphilia"), but he's at least willing to dialog, and in my experience, people open up to this very foreign concept in the strangest ways sometimes...so I'm still exchanging thoughts with him.

He's also the kind of academic who could possibly do the research needed to demonstrate the benefits of this approach, so it's worth taking some abuse, just in case his light goes on....

Keep your curage up Marnia

I think one of the great benifits of the freedom that's associated with following a spiritual path and the letting go of ego is the ability to not take things so personally. You may speak your truth without getting caught up in the emotional shields that go along with conflict.

If, at the end of the day, Brody doesn't let his "status" shield down long enough to open his mind and his heart to the potential of a different way of looking at the world - then it is certaintly no loss to you.

And like you said - his light just may go on and he can turn into a great ally.

So I commend your courage in your dialogue with Professor Brody.

Right on Ryan

I agree completely. If Brody cannot speak from personal experience that gives him reason to reconsider old familiar positions then it is his loss. It has nothing to do with the subject that we have been privileged to know and understand a lot thanks to Marnia and Gary and friends.

Thanks, friends

Your encouragement means a lot. I've just written him a 9+ page letter....I'll share it soon.

Whoever's right, it's important that humanity get to the bottom of it in my view. We now have more and more tools for measuring what's really going on. I say we look at the evidence objectively, and not simply through the eyes of what's currently in fashion among sexologists.

As I've just written to Brody,

With all due respect, your research on the benefits of PVI (compared to other orgasm-producing activities) suggests that the Taoist view may have more merit than Reich's view. I hope you will at least determine clearly that this is not the case.

xx--M

Brody's second reply

The substance of Brody's reply follows

There may be a distinction between the short-term surge (phasic effect) of prolactin after orgasm (400% better after PVI orgasm than after masturbation orgasm) and the tonic levels of prolactin. High tonic levels are associated with diminished sexual function (probably largely because central dopamine is suppressed). The phasic effects (when delivered optimally) likely have a beneficial effect on mental health, but high tonic levels might have the opposite effect.

A variety of studies indicate that frequency of PVI (specifically) and at least frequency of female PVI orgasm is associated with the quality of the relationship (and few if any of the participants are likely to be
deliberately avoiding orgasm). There are also studies showing that sex with condoms vitiates both the mood-elevating and immune-enhancing effects of PVI.

Sexual stimulation in the absence of orgasm might indeed induce a form of anxious attachment (not the healthiest sort). There exists an orgasm-withholding paraphilia.
There is a reason why there is both an excitation/plateau phase and a discharge phase.

Given the health benefits of full orgasmic PVI, it may not be ethical to run such a trial.

My reply to Brody's second reply [LONG]

Dear Professor Brody,

I realize from your reply that I should have given you more background for my hypotheses.

Is there a neurochemistry of separation?

I'm sure you're familiar with the work of Helen Fisher. She suggests that there is neurological programming in the brain for attraction, infatuation, and attachment. It is perhaps even more apparent that there is a neurochemical program of “we're done; time to move on to a new partner.” We humans don't like to acknowledge its existence, but it shows up in hunter-gatherer societies (for example, the !Kung and the Mehinaku, both of whom are quite sex positive). These people reveal a pattern of lots of romance and sex…and lots of heartache and churning in relationships.

This pattern of normal behavior (passion and separation) has been veiled in the West, thanks to a few thousand years of social and religious pressure to stay married…and a Hollywood-like faith in “happily ever after” unions. However, now that the societal/religious pressure is disappearing and our sexual mores are more flexible, this fundamental pattern is reasserting itself. This is not due to any unfortunate repercussions of Jewish or Christian moral prescriptions. It's far older and more deeply rooted. It is natural that divorce is becoming more common in the West; it has always been more common where it has been easier to obtain, as in Islam, for example.

In short, humans seem to be programmed for some version of the Coolidge Effect, in which novel partners are more attractive than familiar partners…however delicious or available the orgasms with PVI. (Indeed, Western women are undoubtedly having more orgasms these days, and relationships are more fragile and casual than ever.) Since numerous studies show that longevity and morbidity rates are lower for those in stable relationships, this phenomenon does not serve us as individuals – and certainly not as families. (It, does, however, serve the genetic “goal” of greater variety in our offspring.) In short, we are programmed, not for wellbeing, but for the survival of our genes.

It is not an unreasonable hypothesis that mating neurochemistry has something to do with both the initial attraction and the later deterioration of our relationships. Many have noted that good friendships with the opposite sex tick along nicely indefinitely, but a friendship that turns into a love affair often disintegrates rapidly, despite the added benefit of PVI.

Surely it would be interesting to find out what neurochemical programming is behind this unfortunate, agonizing pattern of separation. In my view, humanity would benefit far more from learning what options it has, if any, for overcoming this built-in separation program than it does from learning about the neurochemistry of infatuation (although that is interesting, too). Certainly, we do not, as a race, want to continue to indulge blindly evolution's mandate of more mates and more varied offspring. Knowledge is critical if we want to see our choices better.

Can we learn anything from the sages of the past?

When I began to ask the question, “what is behind this pattern of passion-followed-by-distance?” I happened upon a Chinese Taoist book that explained that men can have feelings of irritation and resentment toward a partner due to the “loss of energy” associated with ejaculation. That shocked me. I love men, am very sensual, and was quite good at inducing orgasms in my partner (and having them myself). Yet here was a book, written by a man, for men, saying that my accomplished lovemaking might be contributing to the phenomenon of friction and separation that I had experienced repeatedly in my life.

I began to experiment with the concept out of curiosity, but also because I valued my relationships even above my considerable affinity for passion. The results surprised me. My partners were more loving and generous when they didn't orgasm. They stayed more attracted to me. Not only that, over the years I learned that orgasm wasn't my friend either. Despite a short-term high, I noticed mood swings and irritability for up to two weeks after conventional (orgasmic) lovemaking. So did a close female friend who is also quite orgasmic. Clearly “energy loss” did not explain the phenomenon, since we don't ejaculate. We, too, were more loving and forgiving when avoiding orgasm.

This is when my husband entered the picture. He had read about the Taoist lovemaking concept, but never tried it. However, he was somewhat curious, so he agreed to give it a try – going from 4 orgasms a week to zero. The results surprised him. Among other improvements, his chronic depression began to lift, and within a year he was off of the prescription antidepressant he had taken for 6 years. (He had a family history of chronic depression, too.) A lifelong problem was much improved and has continued to improve over the five years since then.

We also both noticed a stability and sanity in our relationship that was consistent with my earlier observations, but not with our earlier, orgasmic relationships. You suggest that our relationship must be based upon “unhealthy attachment,” but I would say that, having experienced both approaches, my relationships based on sexual passion had a far more obvious quality of “unhealthy attachment.” This is consistent with the addictive nature of orgasm (more in a moment).

In contrast, this new, affectionate, non-goal oriented approach, in which the reliable harmony of the relationship virtually guarantees that you make love (PVI) frequently and regularly, is far more relaxed, sane, humor-filled and forgiving. Others have had similar experiences. If you're curious, see http://www.reuniting.info/fan_mail/practice_of_controlled_intercourse or http://www.reuniting.info/testimonials. Perhaps one has to try this approach to see the wisdom in it. Until one does, it is easy to imagine that it must be a recipe for intense frustration and discomfort. In fact, one stays away from the “edge” of orgasm, so it is fairly easy to avoid discomfort, especially if one makes the transition carefully and gradually.

The addictiveness of orgasm

My husband Gary teaches anatomy and physiology, so he was naturally curious about what might be going on physiologically that would account for his improvement. It became clear from his investigation of the research available that his improvement likely had two elements: escaping the addictive cycle of orgasm, and sustaining oxytocin levels.

As for the addictiveness of orgasm, as Dutch researcher Holstege says,

We are addicted to sex as you know, as everybody is. [It is the] orbital frontal cortex that is controlling whether we can do it or not. And for example people that don't have this part of the brain—and these people exist—these people really go for [orgasm] all the time.

http://www.reuniting.info/science/orgasm_pill_sex_addiction_holstege_all...

In short, intense pursuit of orgasm sets in motion the same fundamental dopamine cycle of all addictions. Since the time my husband hypothesized this, researchers have begun saying the same thing. Here's a quotation from Princeton professor John Hoebel:

Highly palatable foods and highly potent sexual stimuli are the only stimuli capable of activating the dopamine system with anywhere near the potency of addictive drugs.

The addictiveness of orgasm is a vital point, because addictions are cycles of highs and lows. Gary now believes that these recurring lows from his frequent orgasms were contributing to his chronic depression, and that sustained oxytocin from this more generous, non-goal oriented approach helped counter his depressive tendency. Research shows that oxytocin may counter depression and ease addiction and withdrawal symptoms in rats. Certainly, low dopamine can have profound psychological effects. Remember this abstract involving a healthy young medical student? “Subjective Experiences During Dopamine Depletion” http://www.reuniting.info/science/articles/acute_dopamine_depletion_caus...

Addictive cycles do not generate genuine wellbeing. Wellbeing seems to be a function of balance and balanced dopamine levels, not dopamine that is often too high or too low, as it is in the cycle of orgasm (intense sexual hunger or satiation). Yes, PVI with orgasm is better than orgasm by other means, but you still have not convinced me that it is the orgasm that furnishes the benefit. Any good Taoist would agree that sex without a condom is better and more satisfying, but he would certainly not agree that this is due to the orgasm. Instead it may be due to the exchange of other fluids, of skin touching skin, of the greater intimacy and sharing of the act, or even the exchange of a more subtle essence that scientists can't yet measure.

Sadly, researchers, many of whom are seeking the next sexual-enhancement drug to guarantee their fortunes, think of the orgasm cycle as merely foreplay and climax. In fact, the complete cycle has a third phase…recovery. Who knows for sure what this recovery translates into at a neurochemical level? Yet, it is not unreasonable to theorize that this low, recovery phase – when repeated in an intimate relationship – gradually leads partners to associate one another, not with the orgasmic highs, but with the recovery lows. I think this may account for the typical divergences of testosterone levels and changes in NGF over the two-year honeymoon period. In any case, it would be interesting to find out.

Incidentally, the low, recovery (or withdrawal) phase of the orgasm cycle often manifests as intense desire for sex. However, I would call such desire “false libido,” since it emanates not from healthy balance or genuine desire for emotional union, but rather from a (sometimes rather desperate) desire to get one's dopamine up again even if it means using a partner like a drug fix to rush to the brief relief of orgasm as a temporary cure for the low-dopamine blues. This type of hungry, self-medicating behavior is often a turn-off for the other partner…increasing the emotional distance between them. Sure enough, men report that women lose interest in sex, while women report that men lose interest in being affectionate. “Sexual Motivation and the Duration of Partnership” (http://www.reuniting.info/science/two_types_of_libido). These results would be consistent with the orgasm cycle I've just described. After talking to people for over 15 years about this issue, it is also clear to me that these results are not, in fact, always gender specific.

Orgasm hangover?

Before I continue, I just want to state the obvious. Ask anyone just after orgasm, and he or she will say, “I feel great.” But if the cycle of orgasm extends beyond climax, and includes a recovery phase that lasts for days or even longer, then research about the merits of orgasm is incomplete unless it considers the neurochemistry and effects of the full cycle. An alcoholic also feels great after a drink, but it would be irresponsible to tell him that therefore he has only benefited from his behavior.

So is there a neurochemical component of a post-passion hangover? (I say post-passion, because, in our experience, the trigger seems to be a very high elevation of dopamine, whether or not orgasm occurs. This might explain why intense sexual frustration also has ill effects.) After much review, Gary has suggested three potential neurochemical culprits behind the recovery/withdrawal phase of the orgasm cycle. The first is low dopamine. This often shows up as feelings of lack, fatigue, neediness, hyperactivity, emotional distance, apathy, or irritability - perhaps accounting for the Taoist belief that ejaculation is a loss of energy via semen. Our guess is that loss of semen has less to do with this subtle hangover than post-passion low dopamine does. If the true culprit were a neurochemical event, rather than a loss of semen, it would explain why both sexes would experience post-orgasmic symptoms over the days and weeks following sexual satiation.

Another possible culprit is prolactin, primarily because it holds down dopamine. Notwithstanding your assertion that high phasic prolactin is good for mental health, I still find intriguing prolactin's association with mood changes/stress (and its tendency to surge for two weeks in mated rats) in other research. Again, satiation is not the same thing as fulfillment. Satiation means one has temporarily lost one's appetite for something, and may even find the food or lover associated with that feeling repulsive (especially when one compares a lover to a novel partner…). As with other addictions, regular relief may feel good, and yet not be one's best option for managing desire/ libido.

A third possible culprit for post-passion emotional distance is a decrease in androgen receptors. This has been observed in rats for up to 7 days following sexual satiation, and corresponds with observed changes in libido. (“Pharmacological and physiological aspects of sexual exhaustion in male rats”)

Critical role of projection

As a psychologist, you will quickly understand a point that many hard science researchers completely overlook. Namely, subtle changes in neurochemical levels can radically change how we feel – and how we feel shapes our perceptions. When dopamine is high as we pursue climax, we see a sex partner as “Mr. or Ms. Right.” But when dopamine is low and androgen receptors are fewer, then our lower libido will be projected onto our mate, and the mate will simply not look as good. (Biology will see to it that a novel partner will look delicious, however, by ensuring an encouraging jolt of dopamine.) Meanwhile, as our addictive attachment to our partner erodes due to such projections, we may feel increasingly certain that we have irretrievably “fallen out of love.” In fact, we may simply need to manage our mating neurochemistry better, so our perceptions don't shift for the worse with the neurochemical highs and lows associated with the orgasm cycle.

Gary suggests that this cocktail of neurochemical changes (low dopamine, high prolactin/or prolactin surges, and androgen receptor decrease) may well be behind the infamous Coolidge Effect. However, we don't doubt that there's more to the equation, such as possible related pheromonal signals. Pheromones and hormones interact, and can become associated arbitrarily with new triggers, such as, perhaps, built-in biological aversion based on recurring lows during the orgasm cycle between committed partners. Could such changes be why some women develop allergies to their partner's sperm? Or why a heterosexual person's desire for same-sex partners may bloom?

What is the source of the benefits of PVI?

As you have noted in one of your studies (“Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile–vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity”) the benefits of PVI may well be related to oxytocin, more than high phasic prolactin. We are still curious why you say prolactin likely has a beneficial effect on mental health…other than the tests that show the predictable short-term benefits. However, often my husband and I can only get the abstracts of studies, so further grounds for your assertion may be contained in something we haven't yet read.

With all due respect, we still wonder if the main mechanism of benefit isn't the sense of companionship and closeness of PVI, rather than phasic prolactin. Intimacy may help sustain oxytocin levels, which, in turn, may counter the effects of cortisol, thereby having a positive effect on health. (Dose-response relationship between plasma oxytocin and cortisol and adrenocorticotropin concentrations during oxytocin infusion in normal men - inverse relationship between cortisol and acth and oxytocin in humans). In any case, oxytocin has been shown to be associated with all the benefits that your studies show PVI is associated with. Oxytocin seems to counter overeating, reduce pain, stress and depression, and increase sexual receptivity.

We couldn't help noticing that in your experiment “High-dose ascorbic acid increases intercourse frequency and improves mood: a randomized controlled clinical trial,” the benefits of ascorbic acid were associated with decreased prolactin, and increased oxytocin release. We know the evidence is still somewhat murky. But we think prolactin still bears watching as a negative influence (perhaps indirectly, via subconscious satiation) on mood, regardless of self-reports about how much better we human orgasm-junkies feel after orgasm with a partner.

Whatever the neurochemical cocktail behind PVI, the key point is that close, trusted, and especially harmonious, companionship seems to speed healing, stave off illness and increase longevity. It makes sense that the intimacy of PVI is another aspect of this phenomenon. Emotional bonding, or even a fleeting feeling of deep connection with another, may be the critical element behind any benefit. Obviously, we don't deny the benefits of PVI with orgasm; we just think it may, ultimately, not serve partners as well as PVI without.

Emotional bonding

We have a few thoughts to share on bonding, too. Bonding may be a function of oxytocin's release in the brain. (Yes, vasopressin plays a great role in males, but research shows that it bonds to oxytocin receptors in some cases, so we'll generalize for the moment.) Since oxytocin apparently doesn't cross the blood/brain barrier, except via peripheral injection or nasal spray "an imprecise and dangerous way to interfere with hormone levels" it appears that plasma levels of oxytocin may be somewhat independent of bonding levels in the brain.

This hypothesis is consistent with human behavior. Clearly orgasm can't be relied upon to create a stable emotional bond, even if a rise in plasma level oxytocin often briefly accompanies the event of orgasm.

I should quickly add that orgasm does often bond couples during the honeymoon period, but it is likely an attraction based largely on an addiction. That is, it is not unlike the bond that an alcoholic has with his alcohol. It is based on feeding the lows of the dopamine cycle (in the lovers' case, with more passion), and perhaps not upon sustained oxytocin in bonding centers of the brain. The bond may therefore prove unstable because it leads to intense projections of both the highs and the lows of the orgasm cycle. Eventually the lows often create uneasiness, and frequently lead partners to create emotional distance in their relationships, or move on to new/additional partners. (This phenomenon may even erode a “true” oxytocin bond formed in the brain, of course.)

In any case, wouldn't it be great if research would focus on finding out what does bond us, and how we can outsmart biology if it is predictably eroding our precious relationships by turning them into fragile, addictive exercises?

Could the observations of the Taoists and others be right about how to gain the benefits of PVI without igniting the addictive cravings/projections of lows associated with fertilization-driven sex? To us the Taoist suggestion is a reasonable hypothesis, given the addictiveness of the orgasm cycle and its capacity for mimicking the recreational drug cycle. Thousands of years ago the Taoists observed the addictiveness of sex, and found a way to bring themselves into balance naturally. Their wisdom certainly deteriorated over the years (e.g., trafficking in young girls came into fashion), but the principal of controlled intercourse may still be valid.

Need for research

I hope you didn't seriously mean your remark about it being unethical to compare lovemaking with orgasm to lovemaking without it. That would imply that it's unethical to keep teens from having sex on impulse, and that monasteries are also doing something unethical.

We would agree with you that intercourse is very beneficial, but surely it is important not to assume where that benefit comes from without considering all reasonable hypotheses, whether or not they are popular at the moment. I know you're concerned that sex education be based on truth rather than prejudice. If it turns out that substantial benefit comes from affectionate contact between the sexes (apart from hot foreplay or orgasm), then that would be useful for all of us to know, and especially for teens. If it turns out that the addictive cycle of orgasm may be driving committed partners apart as the honeymoon addiction fades, due to projection of the natural lows in the orgasm cycle, then that would surely be useful knowledge as well, regardless of any short-term benefits to mood following orgasm. Without asking these harder questions, researchers may naturally, but incorrectly, assume that orgasm is purely beneficial, and that the increasing turnover we observe in intimate relationships is unrelated.

Unfortunately, Gary and I (and our colleague Mary) are not in a position to do research. We can only ask, encourage, and perhaps arrange funding. This we will continue to do in any event, as we follow up with our other leads. I admire your courage and strong views. The friction of strong views can sometimes produce the sparks that illuminate truths that neither party could illuminate alone. Just in case this is one of those rare opportunities I hope you will give our observations genuine consideration.

If you have any interest in this subject, you may wish to read this short book, written by a doctor over seventy years ago. It's available in full on line here: http://www.reuniting.info/karezza_method_lloyd. I found it only a couple of years ago, long after my interest in this subject began. He stumbled upon the same insights we have. Two other doctors who have written about the phenomenon of the benefits of controlled intercourse are Alice B. Stockham and Rudolf Von Urban.

These views are, of course, quite out of fashion at the moment. However, if you've been following the research about diabetes and diet, you are aware that sometimes there is a lot of truth in ideas that are out of fashion, and a lot of risk in those that are popular. http://health.msn.com/centers/diabetes/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=10...

Finally, in response to your labeling the practice of controlled intercourse a paraphilia, I can only respond that someday academics' use of derogatory epithets in lieu of substantive responses will justifiably be regarded as its own pathology. Smile As Douglas Wile pointed out in his book (“The Art of the Bedchamber,” State University of New York Press (1992) http://www.reuniting.info/wisdom/taoism_chinese_sexology_wile ), a western-centric point of view is just that; it is not necessarily truth.

For Reich, the function of orgasm is to discharge sexual tension, and full orgasmic potency is characterized by “involuntary muscular contractions” and “the clouding of consciousness.” The feeling of pleasure is derived from the decline in tension and the return to equilibrium. This to the Chinese makes a narcotic of sex. For them, contact and arousal are the most fundamental biological needs, not orgasm. The energy discharged during sex should not be drained from the body, but shared with the organism as a whole, and particularly the brain. This results in a state of spiritual illumination” (shen-ming), which may be said to be diametrically opposed to Reich's “clouding of consciousness.” The spiritual “irrigation” experienced by the Chinese sexual yogis is a far cry from the Western waters of oblivion.

With all due respect, your research on the benefits of PVI (compared to other orgasm-producing activities) suggests that the benefits may well be due to contact and arousal, rather than orgasm. I hope you will at least use your research capacity to determine clearly that this is not the case. As a cyber friend, who has been experimenting with this alternative approach recently wrote,

Personally, I fail to see why the vast majority of people out there do not seem to grasp the concept - nor appreciate the rich and lasting benefits - of controlled, non-goal-directed, non-orgasmic Karezza sexual relations.

We know why. The limbic system is designed to sneer at this approach. But it may also be designed to lead us into relationships based on addictive attachment, increase our unfortunate projections, and then move us on to new partners. Is it possible that we have a way to forestall biology's plan safely?

Possible experiment design

As I mentioned, we thought that perhaps an experiment designed like this one would be able to show if there were a greater physiological benefit to PVI with orgasm or PVI without: Hostile Marital Interactions, Proinflammatory Cytokine Production, and Wound Healing http://pni.psychiatry.ohio-state.edu/jkg/JKG%20Article%20PDFs/171.pdf#se.... In this experiment, researchers used a blister technique to measure speed of healing. Couples who showed more conflict, healed less quickly, and vice versa.

I was intrigued to notice that in the following brief video about the experiment the older couple (possibly less-sexually active) showed less conflict (and healed faster) than a younger couple. You may wish to watch this video. If so, go to this link: http://www.pbs.org/saf/1310/video/watchonline.htm and then scroll down to “To Heal or Not to Heal.” It's a short segment. To be sure, if people try to avoid orgasm without understanding something about the potential benefits of foregoing orgasm, they are guaranteed to feel frustrated due to the pro-orgasm media prejudice at work in all our lives. Therefore, designing the experiment would be a challenge.

Thank you for your time, and all the best with your research, which we will continue to follow and analyze with great interest in light of our own experience, and that of many careful observers both past and present.

Best regards,

Marnia

Brody's third reply

The substance of Brody's reply follows

A variety of empirical research studies (not assertions) have found that frequency of orgasm is associated with longevity, less risk of prostate cancer, greater marital satisfaction, awareness of sexual arousal state (psychophysiological integration), and other physical and psychological benefits.

Some of these studies might in theory confound frequency of orgasm with frequency of intercourse or of other sexual activities, but others explicitly contrast the issues, and find the benefits for intercourse orgasm. [None were cited]

My reply to Brody's third reply

I'm sure that most studies confound the benefit of intercourse with orgasm. In the Cardiff study, for example, the men were largely in stable relationships, benefiting from the company of their wives. The surveys asked only about intercourse, not orgasm by other means, so it did not necessarily say much about the benefits of orgasm itself. This point seems to be overlooked consistently by researchers, which is absurd, given the proven benefits of companionship. And it is always overlooked by journalists, who cheerfully cite it as proof that orgasm increases longevity.

I agree that some of the studies that included masturbation (like the Australian one) could be interpreted to show that if one is engaged in orgasmic stimulation, then more is better than less vis a vis prostate cancer. I suspect that heavy masturbators have well-exercised, and perhaps healthier, prostates, but are not necessarily in better psychological or other health over all. (Just as a runner might have better cardiovascular health, and yet have severe knee injuries.) I would be interested in their level of addictions, the quality of their relationships, and so forth before I become convinced of the greater benefits of frequent orgasm. And I confess that it bothers me that the people whose life work it should be to ask those questions are not asking them.

I would be very interested in what other studies you believe contrast these issues of benefit from orgasm v. intercourse.

In any case, I thank you for your time....As you can see, I feel very strongly that humanity is overlooking some important aspects of its mating neurochemistry (the full orgasm cycle of highs and lows, the effects on intimate relationships of those projections of changed feelings due to those neurochemical fluctuations, etc). While I am confident that, eventually, the validity of these insights will become so obvious that they will be widely acknowledged, current views in sexology are impeding humanity's understanding for the moment by defining certain behaviors as pathologies based on insufficient understanding, and failing to question pet assumptions.

For what it's worth, I actually think you are one of the brightest lights on a rather dim horizon in your field. And I do sincerely send you my admiration for your work and your courage.

Brody's perspective

In a way, we are asking someone who has lived his whole life in a cave to describe the view over grand canyon ... If he has not had the experience of the intentional non-orgasmic love, it is entirely possible that he doesn't have a clue what you are talking about and that his only association with no-orgasm is frustration and anger. I cannot see how he could stay so consistently pompous otherwise – I bet he is convinced that he is right.

-----------------------------------------------

I hear you

My exchange with him was interesting for me, because I hadn't fully understood that a researcher can't even arrange a study that asks people to engage in a "paraphilia." In other words, by defining lovemaking without orgasm as a paraphilia, researchers can't ever find out if there are merits to the approach. Why? Their peers (who have to approve their experiments) would prohibit it as unethical.

In other words, for the moment, they are not only in the cave, but they are STUCK in the cave. Human nature being what it is, this fuels their arrogance. They have to insist they're right, because they can't even check if they are in an objective study. Smile

It's kind of comical...but also sad.

Anyway, it is my experience that sometimes people who start out the most opposed to this idea become supporters of the concept down the road. So, who knows how this chapter will turn out?

However, I am less hopeful than ever that our team in England who were making some progress on designing a study will be able to do so. The young psychologist who agreed to spearhead the effort would be damaging his career...a result I, too, would want to avoid.
M

Design of Experiment?

Hello, Marnia!
Yes, in somewhat degree – we are in cage! We are experiencing the great value of these practices in each and every aspect in our life! In our inner mental functioning, first of all, which predetermines the way of perception of the others in our relationship and social exchange. Our attitude toward the objective world is only a reflection of our inner world. If we are in instable mood swings, irritation, cravings, fear and hostility, caused by our “normal” sexual orgasms, we will project these states immediately and automatically on the surrounding world, people, situations. Even being alone, we will feel depressed, week and unhappy!
All of us, who communicate here in this site, know by their own empirical observation the enormous and indispensable advantages of the sacred sexuality we practice. These effects go far beyond the act itself. They penetrate in each aspect and every movement of our daily activities.
Lately I was thinking – Actually what would happen if Humans were thought since their early childhood, trained in the methods of the sacred inner sexuality, the proper use of their libido, this energy, which in fact, conducts every higher level in the human behavior? I think, the answer is: The whole way of perception, thinking, feeling andd acting of the Humanity will inevitably change in virtually each domain. Sex impacts every one of us invisibly more than we think. And – here is the fatal gap – we do not really realize the link between our ability to love, Feel the Beauty of live, to know our purpose as a human beings on that earth – and the way we undergo our sexual habits!
In my opinion the link between these two – SEX and LOVE – is not only direct – something more! They are ONE! Our libido is just more tangible and condensed form of the Love. This very same Love that we seldom feel in our lives, but because of our ignorance we loose rapidly!
Here comes the question: why we are in this state, why we have lost this knowledge and big deal of Humanity lives their life in hormonal, emotional and mental misery? May be somebody is interested in keeping us in such a weak and ignorant position, so we can be easier manipulated? I guess so. But this is out of my present thought direction.
In practice, from the one hand, we are in unprofitable position of pioneers, who have to push their way through the piles of “scientific” and social prejudices. But, from the other hand – we have the advantage to be the first, who are living at the proper time, when this well known, but temporally forgotten knowledge insists to be recovered! The epoch is requiring that!
So, what can be the practical Design of Experiment, that we can conduct, what can be the theoretical frame and the practical steps of such design?

Be Healthy!!!