"Is the fallout from overheating during foreplay the same as from an orgasm?" asked a reader. She and her lover had carefully been avoiding orgasm…most of the time, but were still experiencing some ups and downs.
In our experience, passionate foreplay, alone, can indeed set off subsequent uneasiness. The reason is that high levels of dopamine - not orgasm - trigger the post-passion distress of lovers. Of course, conventional orgasm implies a high-dopamine build-up, so in the normal course of things, you can’t maintain the ideal, moderate levels of dopamine and still experience conventional orgasm.
The Daoists, however, report an experience called the valley orgasm, with no peak orgasm, and no intense build-up. Instead, it is an experience of total relaxation, profound fulfillment, and deep merging with your partner.
How do you have it? By not striving for it. In other words, it’s an experience you fall into spontaneously. Someday, when science measures such phenomena, we think they will learn that this experience is not preceded by the same neurochemical rush that accompanies conventional orgasm. That is, the valley orgasm may be the bliss neurochemicals without the prelude of intense "hunger" neurochemistry.
Dopamine is the "hunger" neurochemical. When it is surging during lovemaking you feel intense cravings for more and more stimulation. It’s that "I’ve got to have it, whatever the consequences" feeling. In short, it’s biology’s way of ensuring that we humans grab all opportunities to pass on our genes.
Why should high levels of dopamine present a problem? Because they are followed by unusually low levels of dopamine (and other mood-changing neurochemical shifts), as our body seeks to restore homeostasis. By studying addiction, scientists have learned that surges of dopamine are behind all addictions. The high is compelling, and the low is uncomfortable…driving many to seek another experience of excess dopamine. Equilibrium gradually becomes a distant, seemingly unattainable, memory. The solution is consistent with recent findings about the best way to control bingeing on sugar:
There is something about this combination of heightened opioid and dopamine responses in the brain that leads to dependence....Withdrawal symptoms and dips in dopamine levels aren't evident when meals are moderate and regularly scheduled.
The same neurochemicals are at work in the brain during conventional sex.
To avoid the discomfort of dopamine-induced ups and downs, choose a bedroom strategy of "a balanced diet of regular meals" instead of bingeing. Once you make the adjustment, it leads to a profound sense of well-being and inner equilibrium. It also permits a deep sense of oneness, which is not only nourishing and enlivening, but also helps to ease all addictions. This was the wisdom that the ancients recorded in different cultures across the globe.
What does this mean for lovers? That true satisfaction cannot be found by seeking hungry thrills. The thrills are compelling precisely because they get our dopamine going. As spurts of dopamine subvert our willpower (which is, of course, their biological job), they drive us to engage in more and more heat-up foreplay. If we don’t finish with orgasm, we may feel deprived and resentful. And, above all, hungry for more.
To achieve a lasting sense of satisfaction and wholeness, we must overcome our habitual mindset of seeing each other as a tasty dish. When instead we perceive each other as opportunities to cherish and nurture, we naturally counter the effects of too much dopamine by producing more oxytocin.
If you want to move away from the instinctive addictive cycle in your love life, use your time together to feed each other, rather than eat each other. This distinction may seem subtle, because you can touch the same area of your lover's body with these two different mindsets, and yet produce quite different cocktails of neurochemicals in yourself.
How do you know which track you’re on? Consciously feeding each other doesn't produce feelings of frustration, while devouring each other does. Suggestions: ask what type of non-sexual contact your mate likes best and deliver it…focusing entirely on your mate. Spread your touch beyond your lover’s erotic regions to encompass the entire body. Look into your lover's eyes. Touch the area over your mate’s heart. Allow your mate to do the same for you.
Remember, the goal is to exploit the same mechanism in the primitive brain that bonds us to our children and pets for life: the production of more oxytocin in the brain’s limbic system. How can we move in this direction? With generous affection, selfless nurturing, and genuine appreciation. Think reverence and adoration. The biological itch is a deception. It does not lead to lasting satisfaction - with or without orgasm. It just saps peace of mind in order to push us toward biology's objective: more offspring.
Why not move toward increasing contentment instead?