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The role of orgasm

In order brain scanto realize fully why porn and masturbation can be addictive, you need to understand a bit more about how orgasm itself affects the reward circuitry in that primitive part of your brain. Like reaching for a high-calorie treat, orgasm is certainly natural. However, it is closer to recreational drugs than you may think. In fact, a scientist watching brain scans of men having orgasm concluded that the scans resemble those of people shooting heroin. Similarly, Bart Hoebel a psychologist at Princeton University said:

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

Like a drug high, intense sexual stimulation triggers a neurochemical hangover. You can think of the hangover as an uncomfortable withdrawal period. Dopamine drops, a sexual satiation neurochemical rises, and testosterone receptors decrease - all of which can radically affect your mood for the worse or even bring on withdrawal symptoms. It is at this point in the sexual cycle that you do things that you will regret later. For details on what science knows about the post-orgasmic hangover, see 'Sex and Addiction.'

Cigarettes might be the closest parallel to orgasms. At some point after his previous smoke, the smoker feels irritable and like he needs a cigarette - even though he would be better off without one. Withdrawal means feeling cranky and anxious until one's brain chemistry returns to equilibrium. In our experience, sexual orgasm can dampen feelings of well-being for as long as two weeks after the initial buzz. Since few of us normally wait that long between orgasms, we're anxious a lot.

Moreover, the more intense the passion, the more your body apparently struggles to regain equilibrium by down-regulating (temporarily decreasing) the nerve cell receptors for dopamine in the reward circuitry of the brain. This means that during the withdrawal phase after sexual satiation, you need more stimulation to obtain the same dopamine "hit." This is the classic addiction cycle that is also behind recreational drugs. In the case of alcohol or a drug, you condition the reward circuitry to need more and more of the substance to get the same buzz. In the case of pornography, you train the reward circuitry to need increasingly shocking or novel pornographic images for the same effect.

"I can't be bothered."

orgasm cycle chartThe uncomfortable withdrawal period after orgasm has been a part of your life for so long that you don't even recognize it as a separate phenomenon. You may think that life, or those around you, are making you feel bored, fatigued, hyperactive, irritable, depressed, discouraged, or any of a host of other symptoms. To comfort yourself, you may reach for some dopamine-elevating substance or activity like alcohol, junk food, or gambling. However, one of the easiest "fixes" is another orgasm. The dopamine blast of orgasm will temporarily stop the discomfort - just like another cigarette stops the smoker's discomfort. However, far from solving your problem, it ensures another uncomfortable withdrawal period just ahead.

If you have a partner, you may be motivated to use your partner to self-medicate by having orgasmic sex. An intimate connection with another offers more benefits than a sexual encounter with your computer screen. However, when making love during a sexual hangover, one tends to 'scratch an itch' rather than profit from the potential for love or closeness. For example, under the influence of withdrawal, he may tend to be grabby and particularly hungry for climax, while she is likely to be hard to please. Unfortunately, the issue isn't simply one of technique. The truth is: while you're not "right" at a brain chemical level, whatever you do in bed is not going to feel right, even if it offers a fix.

While feeling depleted (low dopamine), no lover is inclined to nurture a partner with generous, caring lovemaking. Raw sex encounters - however "hot," and whether on your computer screen or your kitchen table - are less deeply satisfying for both partners, probably because oxytocin (the bonding hormone) drops as dopamine does following orgasm. (Read The Big 'O' Isn't Orgasm to learn more.) Lovers can feel drained or needy in the days following such encounters. As a result, they tend to perceive each other as overly demanding (naggy), or selfish and uncaring. This is how intense passion creates disharmony over time.

The more you are hooked on orgasm, the more porn can seem to offer the cheapest, most hassle-free relief for your constant state of uncomfortable withdrawal (frustration). If you don't like this downward spiral, you have to do something differently.

If you have a partner, you have two possibilities. You can make love only when your neurochemistry is in balance (and then wait out the uncomfortable withdrawal periods), or you Psyche and Eroscan learn to make love a lot, but without orgasm. This is the solution that this website addresses. Sages from various traditions have taught it for millennia. It soothes cravings, improves health, increases the harmony between mates, and heightens spiritual awareness.

With balanced brain chemistry, you will find that generous lovemaking is more deeply fulfilling than your primitive brain's proposed solution: a series of addictive highs that leave you unsatisfied, yet lethargic or jumpy.

Masturbation and evolution

Are you on your own for the moment? You might find a few facts about the biology of masturbation interesting. Scientists surmise that masturbation serves an evolutionary purpose by ensuring that "fresh," i.e., more fertile, sperm are always at the ready - especially in enthusiastic young men. The human race owes much of its success in overpopulating the earth to the fact that evolution favored reckless teenage pregnancy. According to this theory, when we lived in tribes, grandmothers raised the kids while young people engaged in casual sex. Evolution, after all, cares about sheer numbers of genetic vehicles to move genes into the future, not quality of life for parent or offspring. (Moving us onward to novel partners increases the genetic variety of our offspring, which also results in better odds for our genes.)

As sperm age in a man's reproductive tract, they break up. In other words, the longer a man waits between ejaculations, the less likely he is to impregnate his partner during the next ejaculation. (This means that when you learn to make love without ejaculation you will increase your ability to prevent unwanted pregnancy.)

Another interesting masturbation fact that is that after orgasm with a partner, you produce 400% more of the sexual satiation neurochemical prolactin than you do after orgasm on your own. In other words, sex with a lover "knocks you out" more than sex with yourself. Biology clearly wants us horny until our job (fertilization) is done.

flat ratSome argue that a high-prolactin "knockout" (after penile/vaginal intercourse) is evidence of deep satisfaction, but high prolactin is the neurochemical behind PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome). High prolactin has also been associated with some unpleasant symptoms in both sexes: loss of libido, mood changes, depression, weight gain, and so forth. While neurochemicals certainly play multiple rolls in the body, it's not clear that deep satisfaction after sex is a function of a post-orgasmic rise of prolactin.

Addiction to sex

Evolution wants us addicted to sex to meet its goals - which are not necessarily ours. Our reward circuitry is designed to urge us to pursue drug-like orgasms, suffer a withdrawal afterward, and go for the next one. As a Dutch scientist who does research on sex and the brain explained,

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.

The belief that sex, porn, and masturbation are "sinful" is nonsense. However, it does not follow that the mainstream media is behaving responsibly when it blithely promotes the benefits of orgasm, sexual enhancement drugs, and masturbation - as opposed to lovemaking itself, which is healthy.

For example, if the media is correct that masturbation is a good idea, then it follows that looking at sexually stimulating images must be positively healthy. Yet this implied endorsement of pornography is misguided because it ignores both the addictiveness of porn and the hidden costs of intense passion. If the media were right, porn addicts would be the happiest people on the planet.

In short, whether today's sexologists would define your behavior as sexual addiction or sexual sobriety is largely irrelevant. You're a member of the human race, and sex is naturally addictive. It is not calculated to lead to lasting satisfaction. In fact the more you scratch, the more you itch.


"I have a confession; I'm in love with another harem."


Sex has created problems for mankind for a long time, but it probably wasn't as big a problem for our distant ancestors for several reasons. First, who succeeds in passing on their genes most frequently? Those with high libidos. In other words, evolution has unwittingly been selecting for sexual passion/frustration for a long time. So if you're hypersexual, blame all the fun your ancestors had.

Second, our distant ancestors had fewer opportunities to pursue their sexual urges due to stressful conditions and small tribes. Thus they had fewer opportunities to throw themselves into an addictive cycle, and probably spent less time in withdrawal.

Finally, their lifestyles revolved around mutual aid and close relationships with extended family or familiar faces. Relationships with others and selfless service actually soothe cravings - and balance neurochemistry. Think how good you feel when you help someone voluntarily, or feel grateful for another's help. Today, many of us lack these close relationships and opportunities for helping those we love. At the same time, advertising philosophy is based on stimulating our dopamine cravings, urging us to please only ourselves by buying things. The computer offers plenty of "pleasure" only a few clicks away.

Surprising as it may seem, we can tap a lot of the same benefits that tribal life once offered - and on which our brains thrive - by learning to make love generously and affectionately with a partner. By avoiding the addictive cycle of ups and downs associated with orgasm, we remain mutually attracted and balance our brain chemistry. This increases feelings of well-being - once we're through the withdrawal period of the cycle. In fact, by the roundabout route of porn addiction and recovery, we may actually end up discovering enlivening potential in our intimate relationships that our ancestors rarely stumbled upon.

"But I'm drawn to REALLY outrageous images."